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Addicted to Fatigue
Jim Kielbaso

The more programs like CrossFit and Insanity gain mainstream traction, the more people seem to use their level of fatigue as a barometer for the quality of a workout. Once you get accustomed to grueling workouts, it’s as though you crave the feeling of fatigue. If you’re not crushed at the end of a workout, you feel like it was a weak session. But, if we’re puking in a bucket or can barely walk, it MUST have been fantastic.

puking in bucket

Throw in all the positive reinforcement we get about this –non-stop social media posts about how hard someone’s workout was today, YouTube videos of people trashing themselves, etc. – and it’s hard to avoid this trend.

People also seem to judge their strength coach or personal trainer by the difficulty of his/her workouts. So, in an effort to establish credibility, many coaches crush their athletes/clients so they are viewed as the “best” or “most intense” coach on earth.

I certainly fell into this at one point in my career. I felt like I had to make athletes puke or crumble to assert my dominance. I’ve talked to several other coaches who have fallen into this trap. A recent conversation with University of Michigan Strength Coach Mark Naylor revealed that, when he was younger, he felt like he couldn’t go home at night until someone puked. This was obviously an exaggeration, but you get the point.

drill instructor yelling

Interestingly, this works for a lot of coaches. It did for me. I had a reputation as being a bad-ass, hard-core strength coach, and I loved it. Athletes would talk about how hard the workouts were and share stories about what they went through. We all hear people comparing stories about who creates the hardest workouts. It’s like a badge of honor to be able to administer a severe beat down.

It actually took me a long time to figure out that crushing people day in and day out wasn’t what was best for them.

Let’s be clear, I love hard work. I still love intense workouts. I love burying myself and my athletes with an intense training session. Developing the physical and mental capacity to overcome enormous obstacles is a huge part of strength and conditioning, and I’ve used just about every tactic in the book at some point.

I believe that pushing athletes hard and using training programs to develop work ethic and intensity develops the psychological benefit of being able to push through discomfort. In my opinion, the benefits of raising work capacity through intense training cannot be under-estimated. I’m not one of those guys who freaks out when a kid pukes or thinks that everyone should be “comfortable” all the time.  On the contrary, there is no question in my mind that intense, general physical preparation has a solid place in training, whether you’re working with athletes or you’re just trying to look good on the beach.

But, intense GPP is not COMPLETE training, and it definitely should not be used at every training session. It’s only PART of a comprehensive performance training program. If you’re just trying to get yourself in great shape, it can be great, but too much of a good thing can also lead to problems.

When done correctly, intense GPP-type training can raise your work capacity and allow you to train harder and longer. When done poorly, it can cause injuries, lack of progress, over-training and can develop a poor sense of what training is all about.

Prowler push 2

The trick is to balance this kind of ball-busting training with quality work and recovery so you can maintain your health, stay injury free and continue training toward your goals.  Maybe I’m older and wiser than I used to be, but seeing past today is definitely important in training.

Unfortunately, many attempts at including intensity are overzealous and misguided, and our clients aren’t always getting what they need….or deserve.

I’ve seen far too many people fall into the intensity trap and get hurt. They either over-train and develop over-use injuries or they let their exercise technique crumble in an effort to set a new PR on some meaningless workout, and they end up getting hurt.

exercise ankle injury

Interestingly, once a person gets injured, I often hear them say things like “I need to get better so I can get back to those great workouts.” Instead of recognizing that the workout was the cause of the problem, and making adjustments, people get so indoctrinated into a “workout culture” that they are blinded to the reality of the situation.

I recently read an article on a popular training site that was basically a short story documenting the details of a really intense training session. People were puking, fighting through injuries, ripping skin off their hands and covering up blood with chalk so they could continue lifting. While I respect hard work and determination, none of these guys got paid to do this, none of them got closer to a goal, and I’m sure the toll (and injuries either caused or risked) of the workout was far greater than positive stimulus.

calluses ripped

The issue here is that this style of training gets glorified and reinforced in the minds of many people, and they end up thinking that they should be training like this all the time.  My prediction is that the author of that article will look back in a few years and wish he never wrote it (like I’ve done several times).

What’s ironic about all this is that creating fatigue is very simple. It takes very little skill or knowledge to create a workout that would beat the brakes off of any client. Once you’ve done it enough, creating fatigue is mindless.

Creating a complete athlete or higher functioning human is much more difficult and requires far greater thought, patience and long-term planning.

U.S. Military Tactical Performance Coach Blair Wagner put it best when he told me “You need to have a plan in place that takes the accumulation of stress into consideration.  You don’t have to walk out of the gym feeling like you got the crap kicked out of you in order to have an effective training stimulus. If we beat people down day in and day out, there will be no performance enhancement, and we will probably cause problems for that person. Making people tired and sore is easy. Making them better is a much more difficult task.”

Always remember, just because you’re tired doesn’t mean it was a great workout, and a harder workout is not necessarily a better workout.

passed out crossfit

To be clear, I’m not talking about taking a few sets to failure or adding a finisher at the end of a workout. I’m talking about workouts that include so much volume you can’t walk for a week, spending an hour doing bench press so you get that “deep soreness,” or doing 100 reps on clean & jerk even though technique goes to complete crap. I’m also not talking about including brutally hard conditioning intermittently applied in order to increase work capacity. I’m talking about things like doing Prowler pushes, tire flips and Tabata sets every day for two weeks. I see this happening, and glorified, daily by people who mistake fatigue for progress.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that every workout needs to end in a puke-fest for it to be productive. Instead, concentrate your efforts on developing qualities like strength, speed and power – which take a lot more precise work to enhance – and learn how to insert intense GPP workouts at times that allow for recovery and continued training.

The next time you feel like administering a beat-down workout in the name of hard work and intensity, make sure that all of your bases are covered first.  Don’t be afraid of teaching good, old fashioned hard work or executing a ferocious training session.  Just make sure you start with some quality work before you induce complete fatigue, and take the accumulation of stress into consideration and plan your recovery so you can stay healthy and continue to train long-term.

BIO

Jim_Kielbaso_Headshot_Color

Jim Kielbaso MS, CSCS is the Director of the Total Performance Training Centers in Michigan.  He is a former college strength & conditioning coach and the author of Ultimate Speed & Agility and Maximum Football Training.  With over 20 years in the industry, Jim has trained thousands of athletes at every level including the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and Olympic competitors.  You can read more from Jim at http://UltimateStrengthAndConditioning.com or http://FootballTrainingPros.com.

 

39 Comments

  • Kellie says:

    This describes my brother to the letter. He’s a Naval chief and lives in Guam. In order to stave off boredom he exercises like a maniac. I mean Insanity everyday PLUS 3-10 mile runs. I am constantly reminding him to take breaks, but he is seriously addicted to fatigue. He loves feeling completely drained after a workout and he eats at such a caloric deficit, it’s just crazy. I wonder how long he can sustain this before he just falls apart?

    • Dunkman says:

      Or before he quits. I’ve known people to keep this up for a time (like during deployment) but I’ve never seen anyone sustain it over the long haul.

  • Dunkman says:

    Great article.

    I know this is heretical, but my advice to people training is “Do the minimum needed to achieve your goal”. It sounds like an excuse to be a slacker, but the reality is that beyond the intended training effect lies only the most marginal benefit. If an extra set (or extra circuit or extra mile) yields only a small degree of improvement or none at all, and raises the risk of injury and setback, it shouldn’t be done. The key is to understand what the goal is and what gets you there, and work hard within that.

  • Michael says:

    @Kellie…if he’s a Chief, he ‘can do’ it FOREVER! As a Senior Chief with almost 25 years in the Navy, I can relate to your story and the one by Mr. Kielbaso. In 1995 I deployed to Guam with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion ONE. A couple of my training partners and myself had ‘bulked up’ throughout the holidays (we left on Valentine’s Day) in order to do one of the first Met-Rx (Body for Life) transformation contests. At 5’9″ I was 190 lbs and about 33% body fat! We would get up at ‘oh-dark-thirty’ and lift, then ‘cool down’ by doing ‘regular’ PT with the Battalion, then work 14-16 hours in the field…then do another workout before chow! My training partners kept pushing me, but at 34 years old, I wasn’t about to let them out do me! At the end of the 12 week contest, I was at 165 lbs and about 6% bodyfat! Still going strong after all these years AND loving every minute of it! Deployments can be tough, mentally and physically, but sometimes they provide the BEST (challenging) opportunities to return home ‘better than ever’ instead of feeling sorry for oneself. In 2007, I came back from a 9-month deployment to Persian Gulf, onboard USS John C Stennis (aircraft carrier), and climbed Mt Rainer…two weeks before getting back I stayed up for almost 40 hours straight working during the day and walking on 15% incline treadmill with 75 lb pack at night to stimulate the climb! Bravo Zulu to your brother…you are VERY lucky to have a Chief for a sibling!!!

  • Rob Panariello says:

    “U.S. Military Tactical Performance Coach Blair Wagner put it best when he told me “You need to have a plan in place that takes the accumulation of stress into consideration…..”

    Anything in life that is substantial and has substance (i.e. education, newlyweds who would like a family, building a home or other physical structure, building a business, a retirement fund, etc…) is derived from a plan. It is no different in the field of training. Training derives from a plan with a specific goal or goals in mind. The type of training Jim has described in this article is “daily exercise” and not a “planned program”. Anyone can make someone tired. The real skill is the ability to not only bring the athlete or client to an “acceptable” level of fatigue with an appropriate amount of applied stress, but to do this repeatedly over time with results, the achievement of the goals set at the initiation of training.

    My partners and I own and operate 23 physical therapy facilities and we treat many individuals annually due to this type of training. These injured patients who continue to walk through our doors just re-enforce our philosophy to avoid this type of training in our Athletic Performance Training Center.

    Just my opinion

  • Gabriel Chan says:

    Long Term Consistency Trumps Short Term Intensity – Bruce Lee

  • African Booty Scratcher says:

    Man Brett, you’re a bitch. You ain’t trying to better the field; you’re only out to promote the “pump your butt movement” Create a world class athlete from the average and then you’ll get props. Until then, you’re just another dime a dozen guru with less buzz than a bag of oregano.

    • Sandy says:

      You can’t create a world class athlete out of someone who doesn’t want to be a world class athlete.

      • Kenny Croxdale says:

        EEOC

        The EEOC mandates a specific number or idiots be in any group/business etc.

        If there are not enough, the EEOC will bus them in.

        With that said, African Booty Scratcher is this site token idiot.

        Kenny Croxdale

        • Alex says:

          The mandate must apply to Trolls. The article was not even written by Brett.

          If you don’t like Brett’s blog, don’t read it.

          If you don’t value Brett’s research, ignore it.

          If you don’t think Brett’s the right trainer for you, don’t hire him.

          But by all means, troll his comment section with ad hominem attacks.

    • Mike Cruickshank says:

      I love oregano.

      • Mike Cruickshank says:

        P.S. How do you create a world class athlete from the average? People still don’t really believe that is possible. Do they?

  • Jen says:

    I just had a massive debate with someone on my Facebook page over “The Biggest Loser” style of training where I referenced the dangers of 20 obese (to morbidly obese) people running up and down several stories of stairs about a million times. They all looked like they were about to DIE. It was AWFUL! Granted I’ve only ever watched the show twice in my life, but those two episodes were enough to turn me off. But the Biggest Loser fan on my page protested about how “inspiring” it is and practically accused me of saying it was painful to watch because they are fat, not because of the injuries I was anticipating. The general knowledge of safe training is so much lower in the general population then I ever realized.

  • rippa says:

    haha i preach this same stuff at my box every day… luckily i personal train there as well so my personal athletes get the proper balance unlike the majority! i like where your heads at here

  • Magalita says:

    The timing of this article couldn’t have been better for me. Even though I’ve been training consistently, making sound adjustments around shoulder and hip issues, and following a well researched and well crafted program designed to get my lifts up, if I leave the gym with something left in the tank, which my better judgment tells me is probably good, or if I’m not soaked with sweat and exhausted, I beat myself up and berate myself for not having given 100%.

    I love the exhileration that comes with doing an ‘’insane” clothes-soaking workout in which you lose yourself and in which the group dynamic pushes you to new heights. But I now know that cycling in those kinds of workouts along with other kinds of work (i.e. slower-paced sessions which include max effort/DE work, stretching sessions, rehab/prehab, power walking outside) is really important for me to avoid burnout and to keep me injury free and balanced over the long term.

    Great article.

  • Carolina says:

    Hi there! I bought your book and have been doing the gluteal godess workouts for a month now. I’m loving it! I just wanted to know, doing spinning classes the days in between or going for a run is ok? Or it would be too much intensity to allow recovery for the next workout?

  • Tommy says:

    I like the article and the message a lot, but is it driving anyone else crazy with his use of intensity?

  • Mickey vullinghs says:

    I know the feeling, I was a competative runner for a long time, Now ( because of kneeproblems) I am in the gym often. The feeling of utter fatigue is more or less the same as the feeling after having given everything in a running race.
    The feeling is more or less an addiction.

  • since for some reason this thing tells me I already said this is a “fantastic article”, let me say again, fantastic article.

  • Keturah says:

    I loved this article so much. I have fibromyalgia. I always thought something was wrong with me because for many years extreme exercise left me nearly bedridden with fatigue and pain for several days. I couldn’t an still can’t do Insanity, P90X, Crossfit, tire flipping, etc.

    I finally got smart and started doing what I was capable of doing. I could lift weights, as long as I rested more and took it slower. I could walk for cardio. It’s taken me three years of consistency and hard work. I lift weights 3x a week using one of your glute workouts or Venus Index. I’m nearly up to 40 lbs on my my lat pull downs and have reached 25 lbs on my hip thrusts. This is quite the achievement, since I used to barely be able to liftmore than a 3 lb dumbbell. I can now run sprints. I’m still leaning out and building muscle. But I’m thrilled with how I look and grateful with my achievements. Best thing ever: I no longer suffer with fibromyalgia.

    Lifting is the best thing ever. And you shouldn’t be puking afterwards.

    xo

  • Zachary Wheeler says:

    Coaches who make their clients train till they are about to collapse for no reason other than for entertainment or just so they themselves can feel like “bad ass” coaches should not be allowed to coach people. Your coaching is for the improvement of your clients, not for you own self aggrandizement.

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