Are You Killing Yourself In The Gym?

It seems like workouts just keep getting harder and harder these days. People are lifting more, getting their heart rate up more, and even exercising more, but is it really necessary to work out that hard?

March 30, 2016
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You’ve probably seen those fitness memes that say “Oh, are you sore from working out? But did you die?” No matter how hard you actually do work out, everyone can relate to the feeling of dying from an intense workout.

It seems like workouts just keep getting harder and harder these days. People are lifting more, getting their heart rate up more, and even exercising more, but is it really necessary to work out that hard?

On the one hand, there are many people who don’t work out hard enough. They never really know what it feels like to push a heavy weight or get their heart rate up where it should be.

On the other hand, you have people who are addicted to killer workouts that leave them on the floor begging for a chalk outline to mark the evidence of their death. Instead, a photo is normally taken so the brutality can be posted for all to see on social media.

People are paying big money to be physically beat to a pulp in the gym. It’s a phenomenon that is spreading like wildfire, and I don’t see it dying down anytime soon.

Why do people enjoy the pain? I have a few theories.

1. You are killing yourself in the gym because you are killing yourself in the kitchen.

Many people lack self-control when it comes to eating so they work out more so they can eat more. If they were as disciplined in the kitchen as they were in the gym, though, they’d get results so much faster, and they wouldn’t have to work out nearly as hard.

If you think about it, it’s a lot easier to eat 1,000 calories than it is to burn them. One meal out can cost you 1,000–2,000 calories if you aren’t careful, and it would take you several workouts to erase what you ate in 30 minutes.

When people understand the math of calories in vs. calories out, they end up trying to make it up in the gym with more workouts, tougher workouts, and longer workouts.

Unfortunately some of these crazy hardcore workout peeps never really reap the benefit of their beast-mode workouts because they never get control of their eating. So they become addicted to training because really they are addicted to food.

2. You think that every workout has to be tough to be effective.

Before you can determine what is effective, you have to determine what your goal is. An effective workout means a host of different things depending on the purpose of your workout. You also have to determine what is realistic, safe, and maintainable.

Tough workouts are great, and I do believe every workout should have a certain level of intensity to it, whether your intensity comes from heavy weight or less rest time. But you don’t have to feel like you are about to die every single time you work out for it to be effective.

On the contrary, sometimes you need a light to moderate workout to allow your body to heal from a previously challenging exercise routine. You also have to give your joints time to heal and your muscles time to repair between tough workouts.

Unfortunately, some people (especially the competitive ones) can get more focused on beating a time or getting a new personal record than doing what their body needs that day. You should always listen to your body, whether it is telling you what you need to do today (short-term goals) or it reminds you of your endgame (long-term goals).

3. You have misconceptions of what defines a good workout.

Most people think a hard workout is a workout that takes your breath away. If your heart is racing and you feel like you are about to pass out, then you think that’s a good workout. Or maybe you think a good workout is when you lift a really heavy weight.

In reality, if you want to be physically fit and balanced, you need to train your body using all three metabolic pathways: phosphagen (high power/short duration), glycolytic (moderate power/moderate duration), and oxidative (low power/long duration).

I won’t bore you with the scientific explanation of each metabolic pathway; just understand that we should avoid sticking to one training style.

If you love long-distance runs and think a short run is ineffective you are wrong. Long runs only train our oxidative (aerobic) system. Try short runs with sprint intervals mixed in to build strength and power and improve lung capacity.

Or if you love lifting heavy weight with a lot of rest time in between you’re working more of your phosphagen and glycolytic systems. Try reducing rest time, reducing weight, and increasing intensity with a faster pace to improve endurance.

If you have a magnetic attraction to the iron, you may actually entertain getting off the bench press and getting on the treadmill. Don’t cry, bodybuilders and powerlifters, I know it will be hard but you can do it.

Bottom line, you should never be stuck applying only one training method. Whether you train all three metabolic pathways in one workout or mix it up throughout the week, your workouts should incorporate all three training systems.

4. You enjoy feeling like a beast.

Seriously, some people just like a crazy hard workout because it makes them feel tough. However, there are a lot of people out there doing workouts that are very tough but are the wrong kind of workout for their goals or body type.

There are overweight women powerlifting because they are already strong from lifting their heavy bodies around. So, sometimes heavy women love lifting heavy simply because it is something they are good at. They actually may need to reduce their resistance and do more cardiovascular training to burn more fat and calories.

The fact is, everyone hates doing stuff they stink at. I’m definitely one of those people. I’m the most unflexible person on the planet so I hate yoga, but my body needs it. I will never leave a yoga class feeling like a beast, but it’s what my body needs.

5. You feel guilty if you don’t beat yourself up hard enough in the gym.

I think many people use the gym as a form of punishment for all they do wrong throughout the day. Whether it’s making poor food choices or feeling out of control in other areas of their life, sometimes the only thing people feel like they can control is their body.

So, they lift heavy, run fast, and beat their body into submission to make up for the rest of the day. I know because I used to be one of those people. When I was younger, I hated my job, I had no dating life, and I could barely pay my bills. My life was seriously out of control. The one thing I could control was my body, so I spent way too much time in the gym. I worked out all the time, to the point that it became an unhealthy obsession.

Although exercise is healthy and very important, over-exercise is very unhealthy and can damage your body—and even hurt relationships. Maybe the types of workouts you do are great, but you need to find balance with the amount of training you do.

If you are working out because you don’t feel like you deserve a compliment unless you hit the gym or if you are in the gym to erase the bag of M&Ms you ate the night before, you may be working out too hard for the wrong reasons.

Take the fit test

If you really want to measure your physical fitness, you shouldn’t measure it based on whether you can survive a brutal workout. A more accurate way to measure your fitness is to compare yourself to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) definition of physical fitness. ACSM defines physical fitness as having five specific components.

How many of these five components are you actively improving?

  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility/mobility
  • Body composition

If you are killing it in the gym but your body composition is still out of whack, something needs to change. If you can run a marathon but you can’t squat your bodyweight then something needs to change. If you are strong and fast but can barely reach your shoes, something has to change.

As you change up your routine to better match your goals, you’ll still have tough workouts. They just may look and feel a little different. The key to a successful workout is not whether it kills you, it’s whether it helps you reach your goals.

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