You Don’t Need High-Intensity Exercise

This is the second blog in what is slowly becoming an ongoing series. If you missed the first one, check it out here: You Don’t Need a Barbell. Before we get going, I want to remind you of two important lenses that you should view these posts through:

  1. The audience is not athletes, but rather the overwhelming population (99%?) served by microgyms
  2. I am intentionally getting you to ponder some (very likely) deep rooted beliefs

With that, let’s get to it: contrary to what the market asks for (because they do) and what many white papers put forth, the reality is that while high-intensity exercise can provide a beneficial training stimulus, you don’t actually need it. In fact, I’ll go further -> you’d do better in achieving nearly any goal that you, your business, or your clients have without using high-intensity exercise.

Before we go deeper, let’s review what high-intensity exercise is…and is not.

Although googling provides thousands of different descriptions, most of it is consistent in describing it as:

“Repeatable, maximal, high power production efforts where energy is derived through anaerobic means and where the work effort is stopped upon a drop in power.”

There are a few things worth highlighting here:

  • Work is stopped when power production stops
  • At least two bouts of this “interval” of work must be performed so you can measure for repeatability
  • The client has to be capable of producing power in order to elicit the desired stimulus
  • The movement(s) chosen have to allow for fast turnover. (eg sprinting, not squatting)

What is it not? Well:

  • It’s not unsustainable repeats of work
  • It’s not prolonged suffering after power spikes and then drops dramatically for duration of workout
  • It’s not functional for general population clients
  • It’s not well understood or implemented effectively or appropriately
  • It’s not sustainable for life
  • It’s not necessary for survival

I know what you’re thinking:


“But FUN!”

“But metabolic response!”

“But cognitive improvement!” (Really? Ever try to have a coherent conversation after 4 x 20s HARD assault bike repeats? Exactly.)

“But energy system training”

Ah…perhaps. But remember your physiology folks – the glycolytic pathway is unsustainable energy production. Why would you want to get better at unsustainability?

Here’s another thing that is pervasive in the fitness industry: the promise (and often delivery) of quick results.

Want to get ready for beach season? CHECK OUT THIS SIX WEEK CHALLENGE!

Doctor telling you to get in shape or else? CHECK OUT THIS THIRTY DAY RESET!

Need to knock off those last few stubborn pounds? JUST GIVE US 24 HOURS!

(A bit comical, I know. But things like this always remind me of the race to be the fastest program to get someone abs – ‘8 minute Abs!’…No, I’ve got it – ‘6 minute Abs!’…No, no, no – ‘ONE MINUTE ABS!’)

Now of course it goes without saying that nutrition is a key component to what I picked out above, but for the sake of argument – how many fitness programs will lean up against high-intensity exercise as “the answer” when it comes to what a client will do inside the gym? If we’re being totally honest with one another, I’m betting most.

So what’s the problem with that? The biggest is that the fast-track answer is not sustainable for the long term. And by long term, I don’t mean a length of engagement of just 12-24 months. Your clients can only show up and beat themselves into a pulp before they break…or stop showing up. And that’s not good for the coach, the client, or the business.

I’m willing to bet we’d all agree that we could get a client sustainable progress if we saw them 2-3x/week for a year versus someone who came every day for a month straight and then disappeared, right? In other words: consistency > intensity.

Again, I’m not saying high-intensity exercise doesn’t get results. I am saying that you don’t need it, and there are better, more effective methods.

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