The one where I admit I was wrong

exercise intensity

I was wrong. Flat out.

I harbored a belief. I promoted it. I even got rewarded for it. And then I grew up (grew older, more accurately) and I learned that I was wrong.

Here’s the set up.

I used to be a “beast mode” guy. I came from the hard-charging mindset that all workouts needed to be high intensity in order to be beneficial. I scoffed at lower intensity workouts and even had cute but stupid mantras like, “walking is one notch better than napping.” 

I don’t even know what that means, but I know it’s stupid. 

I wrote an article that was published by Muscle and Fitness Online, you can read it here, about the “Holy Sh** Moment” that accompanies high intensity training.

In the article, I pose this question:

“If you’re NOT experiencing the HS Moment in your training, what the hell are you doing?”

It’s not that the article is bad or inaccurate, it’s legit. It’s just that the CONTEXT of the article is that every workout should be one that pushes you to your absolute extreme and that any workout that falls short of that is a failure.

It may not read exactly like that to you, but I can assure you that was my belief at the time.

I’m here to own up to the idiocy of that mindset.

First of all, I sound like a meathead.

Second, it’s just not true.

Let me clarify: I do believe in high intensity exercise as a part of your training. I even believe in the “Holy Sh**” Moment. BUT NOT ALL THE TIME.

I believe that everyone should have the WILLINGNESS to go to that intensity when necessary, that you should be WILLING to give your all in your workouts, if needed. It’s just that it’s not needed every time. Or smart. Or the best way to get into shape.

The SCIENCE says that a mixture of intensities is most beneficial for us. A mixture. Even for competitive athletes! Research shows that even elite endurance athletes perform better when their training is about 80% low/moderate intensity and 20% high intensity.

Now, please understand that I’m talking about the best way to promote health and wellness, to build and sustain a healthy physical body and mind. I’m not talking about FAT BURNING, I’m not talking about getting RIPPED ABS, I’m not talking about any of that stuff. I’m talking about real, biological health.

If you know me at all you know that I believe that, in order to understand where we are now, we need to understand how we evolved and adapted as a species. 

History tells us that for millions of years as hunter-gatherers, we had three distinct gears:

LOW INTENSITY:

  • This was WALKING, which was our primary mode of physical activity every single day and was our FORAGING speed. Five to ten miles per day, every day, no days off, no holidays.
  • This gear is in the 50% to 65%-ish heart rate zone, though there’s no absolute definition.

MODERATE INTENSITY:

  • This was RUNNING, which was the gear we slipped into when we saw prey and began to track and hunt. This was done less often than walking but was critical for survival.
  • This gear is somewhere in the 65% to 80% heart rate zone. Maybe 85%, tops.

Side note: Anyone who says running is “bad for you” has no idea what they’re talking about. We evolved and adapted to become the greatest endurance runners on the planet. Look up “persistence hunting.”

HIGH INTENSITY:

  • Known as “escape or capture,” this was the gear we used the least. It was the explosion of short-duration intensity we expended to kill or be killed.
  • This gear is in the upper reaches of our capacity and is only sustainable for a matter of seconds. It’s the 85% to 100% heart rate zone.

This is how we survived as a species for thousands upon thousands of generations. We walked, we ran, we dug, we climbed, we dragged, we fought, we built, we carried, and we did all of these at different levels of intensity.

Which is why we still should.

We are largely the same animals we were 50,000 years ago. Our bodies still have the same biological needs. Each level of intensity triggers different biological responses and yields different biological benefits.

Why train as if we are constantly at war when there is almost nothing in our environment that requires it?

Doesn’t make sense. Even for the elite and/or competitive athlete.

If you’re a hard-charger, if you adhere to the “balls to the wall” mentality with every workout, I admire your grit. But I recommend you do your research.

Just like I should have 10 years ago.

We age and we learn. We stumble and we grow. We screw something up and, hopefully, we fix it.

Don’t give up the “Holy Sh**” Moment. Just keep it in your back pocket for when you really need it.

The rest of the time, slow down, be smart, establish a practice and the body will follow.

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Jonathan Aluzas is co-owner of Arena Fitness, a fitness center that offers group training in Encino as well as personal training in Northridge.