The Difference Between Difficult and Effective

My favorite workouts are the ones that take place with a few good friends on a Saturday morning: a pre-workout coffee, a grueling session in the gym, following it all with greasy foods that we really shouldn’t be eating. These workouts are just for fun, to help blow away stress and give friends a chance to catch up on life and training.

During these workouts you are guaranteed to hear us use at least one of the age-old gym phrases, “Feel the Burn, Push through the wall, Chase the pump” usually meant more as entertainment than motivation. My personal go to is always “No Pain, No Gain”. It did wonders for Arnold, who is one of the most iconic fitness personalities, and it serves as a simple reminder that without hard work many of our goals will not come to fruition!

This does raise a serious question though - If there’s no gain without pain, does that mean more pain will lead to more gain? If we were to push ourselves harder and harder, follow more demanding programs or force ourselves, would we see better results? As you’d suspect, it’s not always as simple as that….

A few years ago I heard an analogy that perfectly sums up this question:

If you went out for a night of heavy drinking (which I do not condone by the way, despite being Irish) got very drunk and woke up the next day to find yourself feeling fresh and hangover free, would you say that the alcohol didn’t work? Of course not! You’d be thanking your lucky stars and wondering why you don’t enjoy more of your favorite beverage each weekend!

For many though, the same logic doesn’t hold through in their training: If they don’t experience soreness, shortness of breath, discomfort, physical pain or even just a good sweat, they think they’ve wasted their time! The reality is whatever physical activity or training you do affects your body in numerous ways. Our muscular, skeletal, respiratory, nervous, immune and hormonal systems are just some of the major body systems that are affected, but not all give obvious feedback that adaptation and growth is taking place!

For example, a quality speed and agility program will often have you still feeling fresh at the end, because it’s neurological adaptations that fuel these changes, rather than depletion of muscular energy sources.  On the other hand, an effective hypertrophy (muscle gain) program will likely leave you hurting.

The best thing to do if you want to optimize your performance and reach your goals whether they be weight loss, body building, increased performance or improved health is to choose exercise protocols that have helped similar people get the results you are looking for.  When you're looking for a coach or trainer, search out someone who has experience helping others achieve similar goals.

Measurement of a training program shouldn't be through how much you sweat, how much pain it gives you or how exhausted it makes you but through regular measurement and tracking of things like body fat, acceleration, strength, blood pressure and cholesterol.  This will paint a very clear picture as to whether your training is actually working for you or if it’s just working up a sweat.


Shane Carberry

Shane Carberry is a senior strength and conditioning coach at the Athlete Factory, specializing in speed and acceleration training. Originally hailing from Ireland, Shane also worked as mechanical engineering before transitioning to a strength and conditioning coach. Read his articles, check out his website and give him a follow on Twitter @somethingawsome.

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