Why is Exhaustion so Polarizing?

Dave Thomas San Diego Performance360Written by Dave Thomas
Owner, Performance360

Exhaustion is one of those things in fitness that creates very strong opinions on both sides of the continuum, almost to the point where there is no more continuum, just the polar ends of it.

On one end, you have gyms who focus their programming on brutality over productivity, laying plastered on your back every workout, snorting chalk lines off the floor.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have those who seem to think that working hard automatically precludes you from working smart.

I’m here to tell you that you’re allowed to fall somewhere between maniacal AMRAP gym and fitness hipster who hates sweat and hard work.

It all depends on the individual and their tolerance.

Too much exhaustion can be very detrimental. You’ll fry your CNS making you chronically weaker and if repeated on a hypocaloric diet, a potentially damaged metabolism, jacked cortisol and promotion of fat retention. Going to redline can take days to recover and if your training is based on executing that weekly, you’ll never become a good athlete or get in the shape you desire.

However, never going to exhaustion will leave a lot on the table for you. Sometimes we can come to the gym merely to work our ass off and leave with the enrichment of taking yourself to the edge and that dark place.

I believe that very much, and I think that’s where those who shun that often get a little to caught up. It’s okay to push people past where you and they are comfortable. It’s part of the process.

As my partner Pritz said on our podcast about The Worst Damn Fitness Advice Ever, “You learn a lot from failure. So if you’re never reaching and defeating it, how do you learn?”

I’ve seen highly intense physical training improve the lives of those with depression, anxiety and other social issues.

Talk to enough clients and people and one improvement you hear the most is confidence. Performing physically where one didn’t think they could enriches another area of their life outside the gym.

Where I want to stand up for exhaustion is this mental side of it. I do believe it makes you a stronger person. I do believe it makes you a more capable person.

Not every benchmark of success we make needs to be so calculated and entirely tangible.

On the reverse end of this, let me be clear that the term “No Pain, No Gain” is among my least favorite in fitness. We recorded an entire podcast about this back in April.

I don’t find repetitive exhaustion to be the culprit of injury, as is commonly portrayed. I think more often it just leads to bad, inefficient training and a poor service in return to what your clients are paying you.

When you take beginners and have them go balls out on the first day of their membership, you’re bypassing the timeline of learning basic endurance and important motor skills required to be successful.

(P360 Athlete Brenna after a timed challenge that lasted seven minutes for her, something that we don’t do very often. Someone of her caliber, a competitive powerlifter and former endurance athlete, I don’t bat an eye at this reaction once in a while. However, a new member doing this consistently and I have failed them.)

There’s a difference between selectively applying it to an experienced population and blindly programming it for everyone.

You don’t run the clock, “3, 2, 1” go and send 20 people off on a kamikaze mission like a moron. But, a tiered approach where your stronger, more advanced athletes pushing harder and faster while your newer athletes are going slower and longer? (#TWSS)

That makes a lot of sense to me.

Don’t take beginners or pretty much anyone without a strong level of fitness anywhere near performance failure.

If you can’t deadlift for strength, don’t deadlift for time. If you can’t squat flawlessly under load, don’t squat without load for speed. If you can’t run a respectable mile, don’t try and post a respectable timed workout.

Learn how to work smart before you learn how to work hard.

As humans, I believe we need to know where we stand. Not where we stand with some arbitrary time, but where we stand in our ability to internalize and work.

If you don’t know where your work ethic stands, you don’t know what you’re ultimately capable of achieving.

Getting someone to puke is not a trophy for your coaching wall. Nor is smugly resisting the benefit that near maximal intensity can bring to someone simply because it’s cool to be in the circle that shits on it.

Going to exhaustion isn’t for everyone. It’s not for most folks and if you apply it to a general population with regularity, you’re going to make a lot of people worse.

However, never taking experienced athletes there because of a false sense of philosophical superiority is just as egregious of a mistake to those members. We’re responsible for all populations and their productivity.

Like anything, intensity is a developmental tool in which the dose should fit the person, and a good coach throws out no tools.

Agree? Disagree? Lemme know where you land on the matter, and please hit that SHARE button below. 

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