As humans, we naturally seek the path of least resistance. It’s usually a good thing, but in training it’s important to overload the body in order to adapt. Studies show that the vast majority of exercisers tend to over-report their exercise intensity and duration (calling a 25 minute jog a 30 min run), and under-report their caloric intake. It’s understandable to blow it on the calories, but intensity and duration are very measurable.

Once in a while, it’s OK to change up the workout a bit, but changing it can destroy it, much like a complicated  recipe. Let me give you an example. Say your plan prescribes 10 exercises, 4 sets each, for 15 reps, at 100 pounds. This makes a total workout load of 60,000 pounds. You come into the gym and hammer into the workout, but realize you won’t get finished in time for your coffee date at Starbucks. You decide to back off on a few reps, and sets, and a little weight.  And you hate lunges, so you skip them.

In the end, you have a pretty good workout, and damn, you worked hard. Let’s say your total was eight exercises, averaging 3 sets each, at 12 rather than 15 reps. And you backed off just a little on the weight to 90 pounds. Your total workout load is now about 26,000 pounds. Although this might look like a similar workout on paper, it’s about as similar as an ’82 Datsun and an ’11 BMW.

Effective workouts are not the sum of the exercises performed. A great workout is truly built like a recipe, a balance of several ingredients. These ingredients begin with volume and intensity, and the exercises, sets, reps, tempo, and weight are chosen according to the two principles above. Doing half a workout, then, is not like making half a batch of cookies, it’s like trying to make cookies with half the ingredients.

Naturally, in the course of your training plan, you will have some ups and downs. However, you’ve got to remain vigilant to avoid dumbing down all of your workouts, or skipping some altogether. There is nothing wrong with just keeping in shape, but if you want to change the way you look or the way you perform, you have got to overload yourself.

A workout is nothing if it is not followed. If you modify it every time, or just make it up as you go, you will never achieve optimum results. Never.

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Published on October 26, 2010

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