When it comes to exercise and fitness, the most common solutions put forth are most often the extremes. We are bombarded by late-night infomercials selling us fitness programs like Abs in 10 Seconds which is followed immediately by one literally called Insane. We are constantly being told that we should do either way too little, or much too much. Two distinct yet completely contradictory messages are thus being put forth:
- Do the least amount of work possible, or:
- Push yourself to the absolute breaking point.
It’s no wonder people are so confused when it comes to being healthy and getting in shape. Which one is right?
The problem is that, when it comes to exercise, both of these extreme messages (too little versus too much) do work. Not at helping you achieve your desired long-term results though. Rather, these messages sell the product, whether it be a book, DVD, or piece of fitness equipment. It also applies to the never-ending barrage of fitness programs and diet plans. These opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum approaches have been around forever and, yes, they will continue to be around for many years to come.
So, which message should I follow?
Unfortunately for those people that follow one of these extreme approaches, neither works long-term. If they did, we would have a much fitter society rather than the one we have today. The too-little approach is not enough to truly bring about change, and the too-much strategy often results in mental and physical burnout, as well as injury. One person stops exercising because they fail to see results while the other is forced to stop. And therein lies the problem:
Inevitably, both stop.
Extreme Approaches to Exercise Result in No Fitness Gains
I completely understand these two extreme approaches to exercise, having personally experimented with each one at different points in my career. I learned quickly how trying to do too-little simply doesn’t work. I then swung the pendulum in the opposite direction, pushing my body to the extremes with too-much. I focused on challenging my endurance capabilities, completing in numerous marathons, ultra marathons and Ironman triathlons all over the world, many in extremely harsh environments. I also spent a few years competing in natural bodybuilding events, a different kind of extreme. I do believe we all have to push our bodies to their limits at some point in order to discover our strengths and weaknesses, and where our boundaries lie. It is then that we can truly know our bodies and how we should challenge ourselves on a daily basis.
Knowing your boundary helps you avoid extremes
But once we do find that boundary, our personal red-line, we must be careful not to overdo it. Excessive exercise can be just as detrimental as being inactive. The problem lies not in the discovery process of finding what our upper limit is, but rather in the continuing to cross it at the expense, rather than betterment, of our health.
I often hear people use the term “just” and “only” when talking about their exercise programs. They say things like “I did just 20 minutes of strength training today” or “I ran today, but only three miles.” We need to take both of these terms out of our vocabulary when discussing our fitness programs. These workouts are indeed worthwhile and provide numerous positive health benefits, both mental as well as physical. We should be proud of having completed each and every workout session. Small steps still bring you closer to your goal.
When it comes to exercise, consistency is key. It’s not about doing a little bit, it’s about doing a little bit a lot. Frequency is what ultimately makes all the difference when it comes to long-term success. The clichés are indeed true: Slow and steady wins the race. It’s not about who goes the fastest, but who slows down the least.
So what is the answer? After spending more than twenty years in every aspect of the fitness industry, I came up a term that describes what I have found incredible success with, both personally as well as those with whom I work:
Not doing too little exercise or too much, but rather seeking out the middle, that “sweet spot,” and making that the primary theme of your workout routine. Focusing on quality and consistency. Being open-minded and willing to experience many different forms of exercise. Finding what you love and doing that frequently, while mixing in other forms of exercise to keep your body and mind challenged.
Go too easy all the time and nothing will change. Push your body too hard and you will be forced to change. Find that middle and then do it on a consistent basis.
I love to exercise and plan on doing it in my nineties and beyond. Engaging in either extreme won’t allow me to do that. Excessive moderation will.
Please don’t misunderstand me: Not only can you still engage in easier workouts as well as hard ones, you absolutely should do both from time to time. But not exclusively at never at the expense of your health. Make the overall theme to your long-term fitness plan excessive moderation. It’s manageable yet motivating, fun yet challenging, and best of all, it works.
For a lifetime.