• Performance vs Punishment

    Performance vs Punishment

    What is your training programmed around? Performance or Punishment.

    I’ve noticed a trend evolving over the last few years in the fitness world, and it’s one that I don’t like. I’m talking about people who judge the effectiveness of a workout by how hard it was. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard something along the lines of “I did such a hard session this morning. It absolutely destroyed me. What an awesome workout.” For a lot of people, the measure of a workout is the amount of discomfort they go through, and how sore they are the next day. I’ve even heard trainers brag about how many people threw up during their session. I’d much rather that people measure a workout by how much closer it brings them to their goals.  This article talks about Performance vs Punishment.

    To make two things clear right away, I’m certainly not saying that people should never train hard. Nor am I saying that being sore the next day means that you are doing the wrong thing. Reaching your goals will take hard work. Probably a lot of hard work. You will need to get through arduous sessions, and you will be sore at times. Having said that, discomfort is a means to an end, and not the end itself. Some people lose sight of that.

    Different people have different goals. Some people are training to get stronger, some people are training to drop body fat, some people are training for a sport, but I doubt that many people are training to be in pain. Yet time and time again, that is the standard that I hear people measuring workouts. The reasoning goes like this: getting fit is hard work. All fine so far. Therefore if this is hard, it must be getting me fitter. This is where the problem comes in.

    There are a lot of things that are hard, and a lot of things that are uncomfortable. Unfortunately, some things can be hard or uncomfortable without necessarily being good training. Getting hit in the face with a cricket bat every morning is hard, but I wouldn’t recommend including it in your program.

    There are dozens of times that I’ve been told that I should include some new exercise in my training because “it’s so hard, dude.” I’ve definitely been guilty of that sort of thinking myself. But there has to be a better reason than because it’s hard. There needs to be an outcome-based reason i.e. ‘you need to do this hard thing because it will make you ____’. Not ‘you need to do this because it’s hard’.

    I knew a guy in the Army who really liked making his platoon do hypoxic training, which is basically exercising in oxygen debt. They swam laps underwater, holding their breath. They often did this several times a week. Now, these guys were all Infantry; they weren’t Navy divers, and swimming underwater had very little to do with their job. He made them do it because it really sucked to do it. In my opinion that’s a pretty crappy reason.

    If someone is training for a sport, or to improve an attribute (like to get stronger) then there are a lot of things that aren’t going to help them make progress. I can take a powerlifter and make him run laps until he pukes, but I’m not going to do that because it’s not going to be very effective at making him a better powerlifter. Likewise, I can take a swimmer and get him to do a hundred burpees every morning. It’ll be a tough, punishing session, but it just won’t be very good. It’s not going to do anything to improve his times in the pool, which is why he is training in the first place.

    There are trainers who really hang their hat on their reputation as a tough, brutal trainers. In my experience, that usually just means that he’s not very good at his job. It can be tricky to help someone get better, but it’s easy to make them suffer.

    There is a type of workout known in the Strength and Conditioning world as the Any Idiot Workout. It usually is a random combination of tough exercises thrown together with high reps. The name comes from a saying “any idiot can make you sweat, but it takes a real coach to make you better.” They don’t take any skill to design. Want a “hardcore” workout? Run 10km then do 1000 burpees with a weight vest on. Tough? Yes. Useful? Probably not.

    When I hear someone boast about their ‘insane workout’ I always ask them what that session was designed to improve. The majority of the time they don’t have a good answer.

    There is definitely a time and place for hard training, and good training can often be hard. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s doing anything other than making you hurt.

    I run Strength and Conditioning for guys competing in MMA, and a lot of their fight training is brutal. But that’s necessary for their sport, and it’s brutal in the right way. They’re doing round after round of sparring, with fresh opponents every minute. They’re simulating a hard fight. What they’re not doing is one thousand squat jumps. They’re training in a way that’s bringing them closer to their goal.

    Make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing in the gym. Banging your head into a brick wall is tough, but it’s also pretty stupid. Make yourself stronger, faster and better than everybody else, and you won’t need to brag about how tough your sessions are.

  • sam

    Nice blog James, agree with the trend thats arising from CF and outdoor PT circles about having a ‘killer session’ and the harm that it may cause towards achieving ones goals.


    In my experience from working in many mainstream gyms, these people are peering through looking glass at what ‘conditioning’ is all about. Many of the regular ppl I see working out in these globo gyms wouldn’t know what a real work out was, to busy doing heavy lateral raises whilst staring at the mirror or sitting on a exercise bike reading a book or watching a movie on a big ass TV inbuilt into the cardio machine.

    Im not saying doing these exercises are bad, anything is better then nothing but its in the same basket as doing the wrong type of training as to what you are talking about. Other side of the coin.

    I personally like it when I hear someone say they had a hard or killer session. My hope is that they are under the guidance of a trained coach or PT so that their efforts are being directed towards their goals.

    Cheers fellas

  • Sam, totally agree with you that a lot of people need to increase the intensity of their exercise, especially when they’re flipping through a magazine while on the spin bike.

    This article was more about people one the other end of the extreme. I had a mate who used to spend his rest day flipping a truck tire 400m for time. I’m not joking, that was his rest day.

    Mostly, however, I was talking about trainers who try and culture a ‘tough’ reputation by proscribing workouts far beyond a client’s level of adaptation in lieu of good coaching and sensible progression.

    Like I said, I’m not against hard work, I just think it should be done in aid of building people into better athletes, and not just to drive them into the ground.