Workout levels, my observation from 25 years of working out

Right off the bat, I want to make sure people don’t take this post as a criticism of anyone’s workout intensity.   Everyone has their own idea of “high intensity” and only you (and maybe your trainer) can tell whether you met that level.

That being said, I have 3 levels of exercise,  none, recovery, and normal.

For me, normal is hard.  There’s no such thing as a “light workout day”, if I didn’t work hard, I count it as a recovery day.  

OK so what is hard,  hard means out of breath, maybe a few spots in front of your eyes.  Muscles are quivering with exhaustion,  joints might be a little sore, sweat everywhere (I spend about 1/3 of my workout time in the gym wiping stuff down.).

It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing, these features (or subsets of them) are universal.  After my 3rd squat set I am shaky walking and sweating like and S.O.B.   After my HIIT training I’m sucking down water, dripping sweat everywhere,  unable to speak other than the random grunt.  After a run, similar to HIIT except my feet generally hurt, and I have that well known “heat divot” in front of my eyes making walking in a straight line a little difficult for a minute or 3.  If I don’t have these symptoms, I know I didn’t push myself, thus I didn’t improve my physical fitness that day.  

So now that you know what is hard (from my perspective), I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret,  I only go this hard 2 to 3 times a week.  And yes, I’m in very good shape.  Being in great shape cardiovascularly and being strong doesn’t require 6 days a week of “hard” workouts, it requires being consistent in your weekly workouts, and watching your eating habits.

If you’re trying to become healthier (and yes, that includes fat loss) it doesn’t mean you have to spend 2 hours a day training, heck I rarely spend more than 45 minutes (30 of which are “hard”) working out, it requires that you work hard when you work, and that you do it every week a few times.  

So the next time you go to the gym or the track or lace up your running shoes with the intention of a “hard” workout,  think about how you feel during and immediately after it, if you don’t feel similar to what I described above, you probably didn’t push it very hard.  Just my two cents.




About banks1850

I'm a regular guy, very happily married, I have no kids, 1 dog (ok he's sort of a kid), love sports (playing and watching), and enjoy helping others. I'm an ACE certified personal trainer since early 2010 and I focus on impact athletics performance training and also beginner development for both nutrition and exercise. I'm a bit of a nerd, as such I love to read about health and wellness and much of my nutrition and biological knowledge comes from college and advanced text.

Posted on September 7, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi,

    I actually wanted to know what you suggest for someone that has just had surgery? I had a cesearian 5 months ago, so I’m more than able to workout, but I’ve found that when I push myself too much (usually not the case in doing cardio, everything else though) I feel a pulling at the incision.
    As many women do after childbirth, I’m trying to get back to my pre-pregnancy fitness & body. So far Im failing. On the fitness front I’m slowly getting better (from three months ago when I was cleared to workout) but I swear I was in better shape when I was pregnant. And as for any weight loss there has been none. I have been told that may be because I’m nursing, but I find it hard to believe that’s the sole culprit. I know diet plays a role in any fitness regime, I’m pretty confident I know how to eat a healthy balanced diet, even though I don’t always, but it’s a work in progress. My question for you is more on the exercise front. How I give it my ‘all’ while ensuring I don’t hurt myself in the process? I always fear that my workouts aren’t intense enough because I air on the side of caution. And how will my fitness improve if I’m always stoping myself?


    • All good questions Ashley, and really there’s no such thing as absolutes with the human body when talking about intensity levels. Nothing that you can translate across different people at least. In my experience, when coming back from an injury, most people will always be tentative at first, and make no mistake, with regards to your question a Cesarean can sometimes result in a separation of muscles (although normally the muscle is just moved out of the way and not cut). I am not a physical therapist, and thus I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong advice so my best advice would be to make an appointment with a PT that specializes in this type of recovery. They should be able to work with you and give you a program to getting back to a high degree of mobility and functionality. I suspect that program will involve both strength training and stretching programs such as Yoga. As to answering your question at the end. There’s no promise you won’t re-open the area, but program designed to push the intensity over a course of months is probably how I would handle it, an incremental increase in time at high intensity while keeping mental notes on how it feels at these levels is how I would handle it. You can push the envelope a little at each session, but especially at the beginning, don’t over-strain the effected area, eventually you’ll be able to work out harder and longer without discomfort or pain. And of course stop anytime you feel it move from discomfort to pain, and check with your doctor in such a situation.

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