“Go hard or go home”
We have all heard this phrase muttered through countless gyms, but what does it actually mean? Can you truly go “hard” every day that you train? A better question is should you push that much every day? What most people perceive as effort could actually be fatigue, over-training or low recovery. Simply grinding through workouts day after day leaves an athlete in a state of not knowing: not knowing what should feel easy versus what should feel difficult.
There are many factors which determine how we feel each day. One such factor is our Central Nervous System and how it recovers between efforts. If you are constantly “going hard” every day you train then the end result is often CNS fatigue. Our central nervous system connects the brain with the spinal cord and creates a relationship within our muscles via the PNS (peripheral nervous system). Think of it as your brain controlling your muscles.
When you’re tired or sluggish, particularly if your mind is foggy, there is a great chance you are under-recovered. Maybe your sleep was poor. Feeling stressed out? There is a good chance that could be contributing to your sluggish mood. How many of you have continued training on those days, maybe even performing multiple training sessions? Instead, this is a perfect time to step back and take that day off!
When you are constantly coming in giving full effort on high-intensity workouts or performing heavy, compound movements such as squats or cleans, your body is being taxed. There is only so much the CNS can endure; it needs time to recover fully. As coaches we understand that everyone wants to improve. Unfortunately, most people think that more is always better. In reality, doing less in the gym and more recovery outside of the gym will eventually lead to bigger fitness gains.
There are many other factors leading to an increased ability to “go hard” including training years, accumulated volume and proficiency with the movements being performed. Athletes who train at a high level know the difference. They have years of training and good recovery habits; they understand that working at sub-maximal loads will make them more proficient in the long run while reinforcing basic skills; they understand that performing long, slow aerobic work will build their capacity. Most importantly, they will recover faster than the people who just mindlessly push themselves as hard as possible each day. They have prepared themselves to “go hard” over a long period of time through intelligent work. These athletes know that training as hard as possible every day isn’t the answer.
Ask a regional- or games-level athlete how many days a week they train, and how many sessions they perform in a week. Chances are they probably perform fewer than some of you who try to take 2 classes a day for 6-7 days each week. Then ask these athletes how they recover, because that is one of the main reasons they are performing at such a high level. By now you are probably saying, “but we aren’t all regional-level athletes!” Exactly, so why are you trying to train like one?
As coaches we love having enthusiastic members who enjoy training and working to get better. Over time your ability to progress through training will suffer if you can’t differentiate between when you should push and when you should take a day off.
- Every training day should have a purpose, a reason and intent behind why it was programmed
- Always strike a balance between easy days and hard days
- There is no secret pill or shortcut; time has to be spent building up skills and volume! A quote I like along these lines is “If there were shortcuts they’d be called routes.”
- Listen to your body (and your coach); chances are they are both giving you the same advice!
- It’s okay to give 70-80 percent effort in a workout (What did he just say?!?!?). Longer workouts are a perfect opportunity to focus on your movement and breathing (see Coach Nate’s article on that)!
Lastly, let’s discuss your approach before you arrive and when you enter the gym. Lifestyle choices play a major role in your ability to perform and recover. Are you well-rested and do you have a regular sleep schedule?
Are you well-nourished with a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats? Are you hydrated and consuming at least half of your bodyweight in ounces of water per day?
Are you on time (early so you can prepare your body)? Lateness is a choice, so choose to be on time. When you are late it shows your classmates and your coach that there time isn’t very important, and this causes class to run late. Sometimes things are out of your control and keep you from being on time every day, but make an effort to prioritize your fitness too!
Am I paying attention to the coach as they explain the intent of the day’s workout? The social aspect of the gym is important, but giving the coach your attention is crucial to understanding what you should be doing during that hour.
Am I asking the coach questions? Oftentimes there is a lot going on in that one hour of class. Asking questions is important to understanding our goals for you during that class, and all of us would rather have you ask questions than be lost or confused.
Maybe my CNS is fried and I am under-recovered; this is a great day to do some mobility work or sit on a bike for some light pedaling. On days where there is a lot of heavy barbell work and squatting in the CrossFit class, maybe go to endurance and scale down your effort if you are feeling fatigued. If your movement quality needs work then take a gymnastics or weightlifting class to slow things down and fix your posture and core strength.
After thinking about these questions, ask yourself: how prepared are you to “go hard” that day?