December 07, 2013 / Workout Smart, Not Necessarily Hard
How you workout is sometimes more important than how hard you workout.
It is really common to think that the harder your exercise and the harder you work, the better it is. This is true to some extent, and particularly true for many cardio intensive activities; however, often times, working out smart can be more effective than simply working out hard.
Know your goals
The first step to working out should be knowing your goals. When you get to the gym what are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to look good or become stronger for a sport? Are you trying to shed excess fat or gain muscle mass? Are you training for a marathon or a power-lifting competition? Are you trying to workout your chest muscles or your forearms? Fitting your workout to your goals is by far the most critical component of working out. Difficulty is secondary to this point. For example, running 10 miles a day on the treadmill is harder than lifting 20 minutes three times a week, but the latter is much more effective if your goal is to gain muscle mass.
Avoid difficult but "stupid" exercises
Exercises like pushups on your finger tips and "one arm pullups" where your other arm grips your pulling arm are difficult but also pointless exercises. Doing an exercise that is difficult for the sake of difficulty is often a mistake and can actually be less effective than an "easier" exercise. Take pushups on the finger tips for example. The push up is a great upper body exercise that works chest, shoulders, and arms. However, if you start doing pushups on two fingers, it’s going to be harder but you are going to be limited by the pain in your fingers and you will actually end up with a LESS effective workout for the big muscle groups that matter. This leads me to another important weightlifting point about "limiting muscle".
Know the limiting muscle
When you are working out, make sure you are not needlessly tiring out ancillary muscles with various exercises that might be "hard" but get in the way of the greater goal. If your goal is muscle mass gains, you do not want to do a lot of exercises where you are limited by cardio or tired forearms (a really common one). You want the limiting muscles to be the large muscles such as chest, shoulders, lats, quads, and glutes. I should also point out rep range and rest is important for many goals such as body building. Doing a bunch of reps and jumping from exercise to exercise is probably harder than low reps with plenty of rest, but it is not nearly as effective for mass gain.
Not everyone’s goal is to gain muscle mass. However, even if your goal is to improve your cardio for a marathon or perhaps a sport, there are still efficient and inefficient ways to do it. In general, the best way to improve cardio in something specific is to train that specific thing in a cardio intensive way. If you want to run a marathon, improve your cardio ability at running long distances. If you want to train for a grappling contest, grapple with many people with little to no rest. All forms of cardio are interchangeable to an extent, but doing the cardio that is most correlated to the activity you want to improve in is by far the most efficient, despite often being easier than other options.
Rest has its benefits
A lot of beginners think that the more they lift or do cardio, the better the results. This is only the case to an extent. Rest is important for the muscles in the body to repair themselves and the central nervous system to recover from the stress of working out. More is not always better when it comes to exercise; rest is a critical component that should not be ignored.
Being lazy isn’t a way to get ahead in anything, but don’t assume that working out harder is always better. Work out smart first. I would say that this advice applies to life as well: work smart, not necessarily hard.