I am inspired to write this post by a forum I saw today on exercise intensity: Short and Sweet or Slow and Steady? I think this a great topic that is not given enough thought in the average person’s training plan. Ideally, for both optimal health and weight loss, you do both! The reality of the situation for most people is that our easy workouts are too hard, and our hard workouts are too easy! We tend towards middle of the road intensity every time, and in doing this our gains become stagnant and we stop seeing real physical and performance improvements!
What should an easy day look like?
An easy day should be really easy. As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t feel like you are really working out at all. Your heart rate should stay under 130 beats per minute, and you should stay away from strenuous activities like weightlifting. Walking, gentle yoga, or a slow and easy bike ride are some examples of what an easy day workout looks like. When your heart rate stays nice and low, your body burns stored fat and you won’t experience increased appetite. A large part of fat loss is attributed to easy workouts! A gentle increase in blood flow to your muscles helps them to recover better than a complete rest day, but it’s not enough to stress them and prevent recovery.
When your easy day turns into a moderate workout because you made the effort to go to the gym, or maybe because you just feel the need to feel the burn, or maybe you’re tempted to burn more calories. Whatever the reason may be, you’re doing more harm than good! If a walk turns into a jog or you decide to bike some hills instead of sticking to the flats or you lift weights, your not giving your muscles the chance to recover. Then when it’s time for your hard workout your muscles aren’t able to perform at that high intensity level because they still haven’t recovered! Now your hard day has turned into a medium day as well and you’re on your way to getting stuck in moderate intensity exercise no mans land!
How hard should a hard day be?
A critical point to this program is that your hard days have to break beyond the medium no mans land barrier as well. It’s not enough to go through the motions in the weight room or go for a jog. You need to push yourself and it’s not supposed to be EASY! If you’re lifting weights you should be lifting heavy, performing 8-12 reps and those last couple reps should feel really hard. If they don’t, lift more weight! Squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, snatches, dumbbell rows, kettlebell swings, push ups, pull ups and planks are a few of my favorite strengthening exercises. It’s ok to take breaks between exercises if you need to. It’s better to take a break and follow through with the intensity than to try to power through and fizzle out. Interval sprinting or biking is another great way to do a hard workout. When you are sprinting go ALL out! Maintain the sprint for 10-30 seconds and then slow down to walk or gentle spin until you catch your breath. Repeat for 4-8 sprints. You will be reaching 80-95% of your max heart rate at points during your hard workout!
Remember to warm up before your hard workouts. Get the blood flowing and heat up your body for 5-10 minutes before jumping into the workout. Give yourself 5-10 minutes to cool down and stretch at the end of your high intensity workout as well!
Why the hard day/easy day combo works for weight loss and optimal health
Easy days are awesome because your body burns stored fat to fuel these activities and because of this you’re not experiencing the increased appetite you would with moderate exercise. Easy days get your blood flowing and your body heals and restores itself you so you look awesome and feel awesome! In our society these walks, hikes, gentle yoga sessions, or slow bike rides are unfortunately dismissed as too easy or for not burning enough calories. But the reality is that easy exercise is the foundation of an optimal fat loss fitness pyramid. Grab a friend or a dog or just yourself and get some nature time every day!
Hard days are awesome because these are the days that the fitness gains occur, and the metabolic benefits go far beyond the 300 calories you would burn on a treadmill during a moderate workout. High intensity exercise is what gets you strong and gets you looking lean! But you can only train at your limit if your body is recovered and trying to incorporate high intensity training for the average person more than 2-3 times a week is too much. When you try to do too much, you’re workouts will fall in the fitness no mans land of medium intensity blase. That being said, you may need to work up to high intensity exercise depending on the level of fitness you start at. Lifting heavy weights, circuit training, and sprinting are 3 types high intensity exercise that I incorporate into my hard training days. And the day after a hard day? Easy does it! I let my body tell me when I want to go hard, and when I want to take it easy.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far!
Do you alternate hard and easy days? What do your workouts look like?