In our experience, most people tend to compete when they exercise; they want to beat their previous time or weight or training partner and set new personal bests. Whilst this may be motivating, we should ensure that each workout we do has a purpose, and that purpose must move us closer toward our goals.
When athletes compete, they’re being tested; they push themselves beyond their limits in order to win. In competition, they’re not trying to improve their technique or get stronger, they don’t have sufficient time to recover fully – the purpose of competing is to win. Competing, therefore, is detrimental to their short-term health.
We believe that for the general population, most of our time should be spent practicing and training. Practice is done with low heart rates, light loads (<60% of max), it’s very controlled and focused, and the goal is to improve quality of movement. Training is done with high heart rates, heavy loads, and the goal is to improve our “engine” or strength. Imagine we had 60 seconds. If we were practicing, we would say do two to three reps every 60 seconds – very focused and controlled. If we were training, we would say do the exercise for around 40 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds – elevated heart rate, more taxing on the energy systems and muscles. If we were competing, we would say do as many reps as you can in 60 seconds – go all out. We advise that practice and training should account for around 90% of our total workouts, 45% of each, whilst competing/testing should account for the remaining 10%.
Beginners usually see a big improvement, quickly, however, over time, the room for improvement become more and more marginal. For example, a beginner could go from an air squat to back squatting their body weight fairly quickly with good technique, however, if they want to go from back squatting their body weight to double their body weight, they will need great technique. In order to master great technique, we need to practice with great technique. Repeatedly back squatting their body weight with good technique every single day will have the opposite of the desired effect, because they will reinforce the good technique, instead of the great technique – we master what we practice.
Working out with intention means that every workout we do has a specific purpose; we should know exactly what we’re aiming to achieve by the end of the workout. We should know if we’re practicing, training, or competing – they’re not mutually exclusive, a workout could include one, two, or all three, but we must know why we are doing what we’re doing.
5 Ways to Work Out with Intention:
1. Aim for virtuous movement – the priority should always be to perform exercises with flawless technique. For example, if we are unable to do a pull-up or unable to do a pull-up well, attempting to repeatedly do a pull-up is not going to help much. What we could do instead is break down the movement and practice it. We could use a resistance band for assistance, we could do TRX rows, one-arm rows, reverse curls – all movements that mimic the actual exercise and/or recruit the same muscle groups. This will help us develop strength and skill, as well as establish the correct neuromuscular pathways. When we’re in our 80s and 90s it’s not going to matter how much we could back squat; what’s going to matter is being able to get up off the sofa, climb out of the car, or be able to pick something up from the ground safely.
2. Break down the workout – if the main part of a workout is to do as many reps as possible of a particular exercise in 15 minutes, we could start the workout by doing a warm up; then we could do specific drills at a low intensity to prime us for the exercise (practice); then we could do a few sets of the exercise with a light load (practice); and then we could do the main workout at a high intensity with a heavy load (training).
3. Reduce the load – as with the back-squat example mentioned in paragraph 4, if our technique is only good with a heavy load, but we insist on practicing with that heavy load, we’re going to reinforce good technique. If we want to practice with great technique, we should reduce the load to a level that would allow us to do so.
4. Have a purpose – every workout should have a clear purpose that is directly related to our overall goals. If our goal was to run a marathon, but we’re trying to set a new personal best for the back squat every day, the purpose of our workouts would not be aligned with our goal.
5. Have a growth mindset – a fixed mindset says “everything is a test, and there’s a pass or fail. If I didn’t beat my score from the last time, I failed.” A growth mindset asks “how did it feel? How did it look? Did we get better? Did we move closer toward our goals?”
Thank you for reading this post
We truly hope that you found this post valuable. If you have any questions or if you’d like to work with one of our experienced personal trainers, please feel free to contact us