How hard should a workout be?
Pretty damn hard!But you probably don’t need to be spewing your guts up each time or aim to be sore for days on end after it every time.Of course it depends on who you are and what your goals are, but for this workout advice blog let’s assume you are a general member of the public simply wanting to look good for the beach etc.You should know by now that no matter how hard you work in the gym, it’s largely what you do in the hours outside of working out that make the largest difference. But this post is about How hard should a workout be? So I’ll get to that now.I will summarise what I’d personally recommend first for HIIT/Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT) and weight training, as these are the commonly performed for getting in shape and then go into further detail about different training types and why the timing of them matters.I believe that if you’re doing a true HIIT/MRT workout then you should be pushing yourself 90-100% of your max effort for no more than 30 minutes. If you’re doing HIIT/MRT that is longer than this, you’re probably at a class simply making friends and not working hard enough or drawing it out for too long that you can no longer perform the exercises in the way in which they are supposed to be done to gain the maximum benefit from them and simply enduring an unnecessarily long workout that may even be counterproductive for your goal.With weight training, anywhere between 30-60 minutes should be more than enough time for the average member of the general public to simply look better on the beach. But it’s not really about the amount of time you spend doing weights; it’s about how many sets and reps you do with the relevant rest times for the weights you are using over the course of a week that counts for more.I’ll refer back to HIIT/MRT for a minute as this is becoming an increasingly popular form of working out but many still haven’t grasped how to actually do it properly yet. You can be forgiven for thinking that the longer you workout for, the more calories you will burn, therefore this must be better for fat loss. You will still potentially lose some fat doing so but it may not actually be better than doing a shorter faster paced workout for getting in shape.It turns out that hormones are quite important in regulating how your body will function and what composition it will maintain also. Things like exercise, stress, nutrition, sleep, environment etc. can all have an impact on how they work. In case you didn’t know, exercise is actually a form of stress on the body. Depending on how you do it and what modality you choose, depends whether it is a good form of stress or a bad form of stress.It’s a fine balance between putting enough strain on the body to make it adapt and develop and not putting too much strain on it that it is counterproductive hormonally (too much cortisol build up) and potentially causing injury that will mean you cannot train frequently enough to get in shape.There will always be a build up of cortisol (a hormone that contributes to breaking down tissue and alerting the body to be prepared for action) during a workout, but some workouts will have a greater secretion of growth hormone (a hormone that helps with the regeneration of muscle tissue and aids with fat reduction!!) and Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1, known to help with muscle building also).Too much cortisol build up compared to Growth Hormone (GH) and IGF-1 for example is not optimal for getting in shape. You can generally assume that the longer and higher intensity a workout is, the more cortisol build up there will be and the faster your body moves during a workout or the more muscle tissue damage created (up to a point!), the more growth hormone and IGF-1 will be released.If I was to give you a rough idea of different types of workouts and the rough amount of the above mentioned hormones that are secreted as a result of doing them consistently, it would look a little something like the table below:
And now here is a table outlining what could happen if the same training types were attempted for suboptimal timeframes:
Cortisol build up is somewhat necessary for a workout as there needs to be some tissue damage occurring for your body to have a reason to have to reinforce itself and adapt to be better in future. But there needs to be enough of a buildup of the hormones that actually help with the rebuilding in order for your body to adapt and ultimately, change its shape.So the takeaway is, a lot of cortisol with little to no GH and IGF-1 = a lot of tissue breakdown with less than optimal conditions to repair and recover from. Whereas, a moderate amount or even a lot of cortisol with a lot of GH and IGF-1 = a lot of tissue breakdown with a greater chance to optimally repair and recover from.I’m no neuro-endocrinologist and have only based the tables above on what has been taught to me and also what I have studied. But based on the data that is out there, the above tables could be a good indication as to what happens as a result of doing certain types of exercise for various durations.So, on the assumption that Cortisol control and buildup of Growth Hormone and IGF-1 are important for basically getting lean and building muscle, you would need to bare in mind the types and lengths of workouts you are doing and what effects they are likely to have on your hormones and therefore, body composition.It should be noted that there are many many more hormones that play a role in our daily wellbeing and body shape but for simplicity, I have only covered these 3 in this post as they are among the more influential hormones for exercise and body composition in both sexes.There are subtle variances in terms of workout particulars that may suit females more than males and vice versa from a hormonal standpoint but that would require a whole other blog post to cover that as well. But following the premises mentioned previously in this post, will tend to work well for most people.People often take in more of the anabolic hormones (muscle building and fat reducing hormones) in the form of steroids so that they can counteract the effects of catabolic hormones like cortisol. They can generally get away with far greater volumes of work and not be negatively affected. Whereas those that chose not to take steroids will need a little more consideration when planning how hard your workouts should be.Asides from the hormonal effects of differing lengths and types of exercise, there is also to be considered, what is a practical length of time a workout should be for the average person’s schedule. Many people claim they don’t have time to exercise. The reality is, you most probably do and you don’t need to spend hours doing so anyways. I personally like to aim for something like the following each week when trying to get leaner:– x1-2 sprint type workout (30 minutes)
– x1-2 HIIT (20-30 minutes)
– x3 Weight training (45 minutes)When muscle building….:– x5-6 weight training sessions (45-60 minutes)
And when maintaining:– x3-4 Weight training (45 minutes)
– occasional HIIT or Sprint session (20-30 minutes)
If you want to know more then I’m always happy to answer questions and explain further. You can also find more workout advice on my Facebook page and other blog posts too!