Whether its rehabbing an athlete or training an athlete there is always the need to challenge them. Appropriately challenging your athlete will keep them actively engaged in the process and reduce plateaus in their performance. Discerning the difference between appropriately difficult and hard just for the sake of being hard is key in successfully reaching the goals you and your athlete have set forth and decreasing the likelihood of injury caused by overreaching and overtraining. Not only is increasing the difficulty important but also knowing when to lower the intensity equally important, if not, more important. Having the ability to plan, adapt, and apply all of the subjective and objective information that you have received from your athlete is the difference in a successful rehab or your athlete peaking at the right times.
With that being said many Coaches, Personal Trainers, Cross Fit Trainers, Athletic Trainers, Physical Therapists, and Strength and Conditioning Coaches succumb to the pitfalls of making workouts and exercises hard only for the sake of being hard. There is no true rhyme or reason behind the workout or exercise other than it being hard. In some instances where we don't make a workout for hardness sake, we often forget every athlete is not at the same level as another athlete especially during group training. This leads to certain athletes being unsuccessful while performing the task set before them while others may excel. So here are 5 reasons that hard work outs and exercises aren't "better".
1.) Training until failure leads to short-term gains/decreases long-term gains.
Many of us have either done or witnessed an exercise routine that includes some sort of "burnout",repeat until you can't move that muscle group any longer, or run until you puke. While initially you will see gains from these types of workouts, in the grand scheme of things during a long-term training cycle the athlete will only get stronger for that specific exercise and when they see gains from a functional perspective they will plateau very quickly. Their long-term performance will begin to suffer due to this approach. The reason for this is because training to failure causes the body to fatigue the nervous system. Once a set of exercises is performed this way, all subsequent sets following will be performed at a lower capacity. Continuously doing so: decreases the bodies anabolic ability and becomes catabolic in nature and decreases force production overtime due to Central Nervous System fatigue.
2.) You May Be Working the Wrong Muscle Groups
Before you up the challenge on the next exercise think about this. Have you increased the challenge beyond your patient or athletes ability? This can come in a number of ways; lack of coordination, lack of balance, lack of range of motion, lack of overall skill, or lack of strength/endurance in the intended muscle groups. While challenging the muscle group sometimes the amount of sets, reps, or general body position may not be conducive to activating the intended muscle groups appropriately. By not paying attention to this detail you may be causing the muscles you are trying to train to fatigue rapidly, thus forcing another muscle group to activate in its place. This will certainly cause dysfunction and increase the likelihood of injury due to the wrong muscles working overtime in a deep state of fatigue.
3.) It isn't Functional
While the word functional is tossed around a bit too much, it still has its merits. There are times when an individuals creativity and ingenuity overshadows their exercise or workout plans intended purpose. While we applaud your ability to create exercises that are new and exciting and people want to do them just for the wow factor, please keep in mind that there is no practical reason for your athlete to do them or any athlete to do them. There should always be a rhyme and reason for implementing an exercise as well as the athlete demonstrating the capability to go from the simple to the complex. Taking into consideration the athletes individual abilities and needs in regards to their respective sport goes a long way. Lack of functionality only leads to increased likelihood of injury and decreasing the overall chances of your athlete becoming successful.
4.)There is No Foresight
Planning is critical to the success of any workout plan. Each day, week, month, and in some cases the year needs to be planned to ensure the success of the athlete or team that you are training. Without appropriate planning:
-You have no baseline to ensure that your program is moving in the direction you want it to.
-Your plan has no starting point so you are guessing where to begin and where it will go.
-There is no injury prevention sewn into your plan.
-Your program will lack the ability to adapt from the previous days and weeks in comparison to the subjective and objective information that may or may not have been gathered.
-Your program will either lack consistency or is stale because it grows harder and harder or stays consistently hard with no tapering off.
-Plain and simple you are guessing at what to do next.
-You are not using any evidence based materials therefore you are hoping that if the workout is hard your athlete or patient will benefit from it.
5.)It is Dangerous
There are two main reasons that "too hard" is dangerous. The first being the short-term version, you may be having your athlete perform an activity that is beyond their means. This can be weight that they may not be able to lift appropriately leading to them dropping it on their chest or head and falls due to inability to perform the task. This can lead to fractures, dislocations, strains, and sprains of all degrees. In the long-term, you may be overtraining your athlete. This gradual breakdown of your athlete can lead to overuse injuries, chronic fatigue, chronically getting ill, inability to sleep, changes in their moods and behaviors, and hormonal imbalances. This can cost an athlete their entire season or may set them back to the point they are unable to recover and perform to the best of their ability causing them to lose their spot or chance to play at a higher level. This can also lead to affecting their lives in general with their grades suffering and constantly being sick all of the time.
Audric Warren MS, ATC, CAFS, NASM-PES, NASM-CES