The Effort Myth

A common question I get from clients is:

"I did the workout, but I don't feel very tired. Did I do something wrong?"

First, if you are doing what your coach planned, you are doing it right.  Assuming you hired a competent coach.

This question comes from the myth that exercise has to be hard.  That false rule is a load of crap.  But when we are constantly bombarded with images of the hard breathing, hard lifting, sweat-drenched athlete, who would believe otherwise?  The truth is less grunt, more one foot in front of the other. Regular, moderate activity will always produce the largest long-term benefit. 


In a word, balance. In more words, let us dive into the 'Hard/Effective Matrix.'

Workout Effort vs Time - The Hard/Effective Matrix

Basic Assumptions

In this training effort decision-making model, we assume the following:

  1. The theory of physiological overcompensation is roughly accurate.

  2. The athlete's goals are sustainable, positive physiological outcomes.(e.g. ride faster, run longer, lift more, etc.)

  3. The athlete has a roughly average history of describing their physical condition. (e.g. they have not spent more time than normal training specifically o tell the difference between levels of stress/strain)

  4. We assume that physiological capacity to do work over time is negatively correlated to sustained effort. (In other words, the farther we go at our best, the slower our average pace.)

So from these assumptions, we end up with the following matrix of the effectiveness of workouts related to duration and effort in the workout.

Hard-Effective Matrix: Workout effectiveness declines as intensity increases beyond a threshold specific to each individual. For most, that threshold is around the level of being able to hold a conversation.

That green 'beneficial' line is roughly at the edge of where you can carry on a conversation.  Obviously, this is a simplification, but if you take away three things I hope they are these:

  1. Any regular movement is beneficial.

  2. A consistent effort at a level that you can still carry on a conversation is beneficial.

  3. Exercise can be much more comfortable than advertisers want you to believe.

There are short-term benefits to working in that green-yellow interface, but the risk of injury and destructive outcomes escalate the deeper into yellow that you go. As an athlete, the benefit of a coach is their objectivity in balancing effort and risk within your short-term and long-term goals. 

If you're not sure your coach has your best interests in mind, feel free to contact me for a free training assessment. We'll review your history, physical capacity, goals, and current training plan to make sure you are getting the right balance.

Patrick SmithComment