With social media we have a window into people’s lives, a chance to see what the people we find inspirational do on a daily basis. Or the parts they choose to reveal at least.
This access is a double edged sword.
On one hand it can serve as a source of motivation and relevant information to help us reach our own goals. On the other it skews our perspective as how we believe that person got to where they are, leading us to actually limit our own progress.
This applies to any major of your life; health, finances and relationships. But in this case I’m going to consider how it can influence your training, whether for athletic performance or aesthetics.
I have a question for you.
Which category do you fall into?
- You copy random workouts from social media.
- You use social media to inspire your training and carefully select the workouts.
If you fall into category 1 and follow random workouts you see posted by your favourite online personalities it might be the biggest reason you are killing your own progress.
We seem to spend our lives watching what other people do, including how they are working out and what they’re eating. And when we see someone that we find inspiring doing something it’s easy to think ‘if it works for them then why not for me’.
But before you do your next 1000 rep burpee/kettlebell session take a pause and weigh up if it’s actually going to benefit you (aside from being able to post it on your own Instagram story).
There are usually two reasons why you might copy a workout you’ve seen online:
- You want to be as fit as and/or look like the person posting it.
- You want to generally be fit and healthy.
Before we look at those scenarios there is one fact you should ALWAYS remember: Each one of us is an individual!
This is something we all know BUT don’t always fully appreciate.
- Differences in rate of improvement are determined by genetics, age, training, history, gender, and lifestyle factors.
- Your genetics determine your predisposition to adapt to training; some of us are programmed to adapt more quickly than others.
- Lifestyle factors such as diet, quantity and quality of sleep, general health, and various life stressors (work, finances, and relationships) all influence how quickly you recover from, and adapt to, training.
Only through experience will you learn what volume and intensity of training suits you best, but for a successful outcome you must go through this process intelligently and systematically.
And copying random workouts, without any thought as to how best they fit your own goals, is generally not the best way to achieve this! In fact it can often have the opposite effect and be damaging in itself.
More often than not people’s perception of ability exceeds their actual ability to perform a movement correctly. Which means they end up doing too many reps of an exercise that when done properly, would struggle to do one quality, proficient repetition.
Go Hard Or Go Home
Social media is built on instant feedback, and the easiest way to produce likes and comments is to do a hard workout. Higher ratings are always going to reside with high intensity training sessions.
But in truth, high intensity workouts form one very small part of a far more complex and dynamic puzzle.
The novice will look at someone they find aspirational and assume that to have reached that level they must have killed themselves in every workout to be in the shape they are. Therefore they assume that by doing the same they can get the same results.
We love to do high intensity workouts because you get a big endorphin rush, and it ‘feels’ like you’ve done something. After all if you’re not sore for days afterwards does it even count?!
But this is not the path to a high level of athletic performance or great results.
CrossFit is a perfect example to illustrate this.
Whether on the world stage or in your local CrossFit gym, there are some incredibly impressive individuals. And CrossFit is renowned for its brutal workouts leaving you on the floor in a pool of sweat.
CrossFit in itself requires a vast amount of skills, strength, fitness and stamina in order to perform at a good level. Therefore if athletes killed themselves each day they would burn out and fall deep into the land of diminishing returns.
Professional and strong amateur CrossFitters train very smart. They partition their weeks so they still get an extreme amount of volume in, but plan exactly when they push hard. Due to the vast amount of attributes these athletes need, they have to segment all components into each week.
So although the volume is large they might only reach 90% intensity in a small proportion of their conditioning. The other areas, they will keep to manageable intensity but follow the rule of progressive overload with a specific target to achieve.
This dominance of low to medium intensity is also ever present too for the endurance athlete population.
Some professionals run twice a day 6 days a week. They would never be able to do this unless 80 or 90% of the work they do is low intensity and manageable. Leaving that 10% where they can attain high threshold gains.
True Hard Work
Interestingly, even when an athlete/fitpro/influencer posts a variety of workouts the only ones you see copied and reposted are the high intensity sessions, never the long endurance training or mobility work.
When most people think of working hard to get fit they narrow the definition down to individual sessions that are physically very taxing.
But true hard work, the work that gets the success you see posted online comes from the “grind”. Consistency. Being consistent and layering the building blocks and foundations creates powerful results.
Working hard does not mean it has to be a beast of a workout. Working hard means the grind of boredom; mobility, aerobic conditioning, patience, planning.
We need to understand that attentive programming really is everything when it comes to success in training. This could be addressing a weakness in your body, prioritising prehab or mobility work, or embracing low intensity training that ‘feels’ like you haven’t done much of a session.
Often people struggle with this more than killing themselves in a workout, because the other stuff is not as exciting, it doesn’t give that big endorphin rush, and it doesn’t produce the soreness that people have wrongly come to associate with progress.
But if a session leaves you sore for 3-4 days, is it beneficial?
Most likely not, as it will affect your entire program. Not to mention increasing fatigue and cortisol, negatively affect your sleep cycles and cause you to make poor dietary choices.
You might make substantial gains in the early term when starting training or pushing into a higher intensity phase but consistent high intensity work over prolonged periods can have a hugely damaging effect and actually cause you to regress.
Smart programming and being intuitive with your body will mean you can continue to train all year round with less chance of injury and more chance of making steady, consistent progress.
On the other hand if you adopt a random, spontaneous approach to your body by partaking in ‘hard’ workouts that someone else has done you are unlikely to get the results you want.
When To Push Your Limit
So when is it appropriate to do ‘beast yourself’ and push your limit?
During our programmes we should always have the occasional “hard” session whereby we test our ability to endure a real challenge. And there is nothing to say that you can’t find inspiration from others.
BUT you should not be performing movements that are way too advanced for your current level.
AND it doesn’t mean you have to do these workouts that involve hundreds of reps.
Instead, perform exercises you are competent in doing and simply manipulate basic variables.
To greatly enhance the demand of an exercise, we can simply partner up a taxing strength move with a neurological movement that takes a significant effort to perform back to back (a superset).
This will change the stimulus hugely, tax you in a way you are not used too and produce smart overload.
Performing this weekly or by-weekly will increase your overall conditioning and enable you to chart a vast amount of mental and physiological progressions. And by following the 90/10 or 80/20 rule and restricting your really hard training, you will have the ability to really test your limits and push your boundaries.
My personal recommendations are to perform the ‘all out’ sessions once every 2 weeks and construct the week so that you have 2 rest days programmed in after.
Tapping Into Your Mental Game
Ultimately if we don’t test ourselves against our minds, we can only really expect to see physical gains, limiting the growth of mental resilience.
This comes in two forms, and when you are consistent with both you’ll start to see some amazing results.
- Committing to the ‘grind’ and being consistent with your training, including the ‘boring’ sessions.
- Testing yourself physically with hard workouts.
There are no two ways about it and no ways around it, to build mental resilience you have to get outside your comfort zone. But you can be smart and choose the best ways to do this.
By training intelligently i.e. 90% low to medium intensity, and having that 10% where you push beyond the level you thought was possible, you will elicit a mental adaptation to stress and that helps progress you forwards in your training.
A big part of the mental game is also understanding that gains are not made daily. You aren’t going to PB on every session. No process is linear and behind every failure or poor training session lies a multitude of lessons that can be utilised to develop from in the future.
An example of this is the climber that is attempting a multi-pitch route that is at the limit of their ability. The chances are they will not reach the top in one straight push from the ground. Instead they will be forced to stop and try multiple times before reaching the summit.
It will then take weeks of months of further training to solidify that new level of ability before again pushing the boundaries with a new and more difficult climb.
The same applies to your training; many hours of consistent grind interspersed with short intense moments that test you physically and mentally.
Achieving Good Health
For a lot of people they follow workouts they see online, not because they particularly want to look or perform like that person, but because they just want to be fit and healthy. And finding a workout on social media or in an article is an easy way to find something to do.
But in truth, all of the same points from above are just as relevant. It is highly unlikely that you are addressing the imbalances or weaknesses in your own body (which we all have) by copying random workouts.
Although it can be hard when you are just starting out, being able to view training and exercise as part of your everyday life will greatly benefit your overall experience.
You don’t want your train journey to work to be long, stressful and make you feel knackered for the rest of the day. You want it to be efficient, effective and reliable. The same rules apply to the way you train your body.
Continued, small actions built up over time are the cornerstone of a positive health and fitness journey. Whether looking at general health, or pushing your limits, it is the things you do day in and day out that will define your long term returns.
Added to this, your time is precious. So it makes sense to want to use the MED (minimum effective dose) to get the results you want. And if general health is your goal then following a structured programme that builds you a balanced, injury proof body, will be far more effective than following random workouts from your favourite celebrity.
As a case in point, many of the workouts posted on social media do not contain enough weak point training. This is critical because for good health we need to improve the most common muscles and joints that get limited activation during our more sedentary lives.
Where To Go From Here
Online media can be a great source of inspiration to add interest and variety into your training, but be smart and use it to your advantage, or you’ll end up stuck in a cycle of injury and fatigue.
Before you jump in and do that workout using random exercises and numbers to create a 1000 rep challenge ask yourself the following questions to see whether it’s going to help or hinder your progress.
- Does this workout align with my goals?
- Am I proficient in the movements?
- Should I modify the workout to better align with my ability and/or needs?
You may have noticed that there is an underlying theme to this article. I’ve focused on the problems with picking random workouts and using that as your training plan. But the real problem is that you have no plan.
The mistake killing your progress is that you have no structure to the training you are doing.
Having a basic plan in place is essential for success, regardless of whether you want to just look and feel healthy, or improve your athletic performance. This will keep you accountable, motivated, focused, and most importantly, help you stick to a routine. It all comes down to consistency, which is the only way to make real progress.
Hand picking random workouts you see other people doing is not going to get you the results you desire. The solution lies in a good structured programme that progressively builds your strength and fitness over a realistic timeline. And if you don’t have the knowledge and experience to do this yourself then using a good coach to build it for you.
If you want some useful tips on how to go about this for yourself you can read about it in our Plan To Excel Article.
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