Is Group Fitness Ruining Training?

Sarah couldn’t get off the bench.

Her rest period was over. The clock on her rower had started but the handle remained motionless in it’s holder.

It’s not as if she was only afforded a thirty second break. The goal of the previous interval was to complete two thousand meters about 40 seconds slower than her best 2k. Meaning that, if going all out, she could row that distance in 8 minutes, she was aiming to finish in 8 minutes and 40 seconds.

But she couldn’t do it. The thought of holding something back and not trying to end her life on the first interval did not compute. So she did it in 8:06. And now her three minute rest period is over and her ass is still on the bench.

Sarah, a real exercise enthusiast with huge potential, had only started training with us a few weeks prior. Before that she dabbled in various group exercise classes around the City and had a brief love affair with CrossFit.

And while all this was really helpful in giving her respectable movement competency and the ability to work hard, it left her lacking in one very key, very important factor. She didn’t know how to train.

And that is why her clock was counting down while she was still gasping for air.

Chasing That Feeling

The vast, vast majority of group fitness establishments are designed to deliver one thing – a feeling. And that feeling is the sense of accomplishment and euphoria that accompanies exhaustion.

And while this feels like this is the right thing to do – “I’m pushing so hard, this must be working,” you’ll tell yourself – it actually is not. Because how you feel should, for the most part, be irrelevant.

Let me illustrate this with another example.

Consistently taking Omega-3s or probiotics seems to be a pretty good decision for your well being. Yet very few people do.

Most people would also argue that regularly chugging energy drinks is probably not the greatest thing you could do for your health. Yet every convenience store, gas station and, yes, Vitamin Shop is stocked with those bad boys in glorious flavors such as Cotton Candy, Lemon Drop and Root Beer Blaze.

And the reason people will eschew the healthy choice for the unhealthy one is simple – energy drinks make you feel some shit. Your heart races, your confidence grows, you are on high alert. It’s awesome.

Taking Omega 3s makes you feel like a grandma and gives you fish burps.

Now, this analogy may seem bleak. It makes training sound routine and boring and devoid of feeling and that shouldn’t be the case either. Effective training has to be hard. You should be challenged and engaged and focused.

But effective training does not and, more importantly, SHOULD NOT be a day-ender every time you train. Because the strategy of simply pushing to your limit every time the bar is on your back does not yield the best result. And that end result, rather than how you feel, is really what you should be chasing.

Collusion With Russia

This is not simply a matter of my own opinion. If you are in the mood to nerd out about this simply search “Russian Training Methodology” or “Prilepin’s Chart”. Or you can do a deep dive and read Tudor Bompa’s work on periodization or “Supertraining” by Mel Siff or any of the Soviet papers that were translated by American Bud Charniga.

But since you aren’t going to do any of that, just take a leap of faith and believe that the people and nations that have spent their lives and resources researching the ultimate training methodologies do not recommend going to maximum all the time. In fact, they go to maximum very rarely.

The reason for this is pretty simple. They found that achieving technical proficiency, maximizing adaptations and ability to recover are optimal at certain percentages of maximum rather than going all out all the time.

Now I will admit that the Bulgarians famously trained to maximum effort and intensity multiple times per day. But these were also highly motivated genetic freaks who utilized some of the most aggressive drug protocols in the history of organized sports. If this sounds like you, feel free to ignore the pain and continue training to maximum.

The Takeaway

Yes, training should be challenging. It should require effort and focus and hard work. It should also leave room for systematic improvements in technique and include a variety of intensities so you can actually make progress and continue making progress over the long haul.

I realize that spending an hour feeling like you absolutely blasted yourself is good for business. But it’s not always good training. Be a pro. Don’t fall for bullshit.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go scrape Sarah off the floor and get her onto her next set.