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It’s Time To Workout (LESS) Harder!

You’ve been to 7 classes this week.

You’re exercising your heart out but nothing’s changing.

The scale isn’t moving, you don’t feel energized anymore and some previously dull aches and pains are starting to be sharp and constant.

Clearly, you’re not working hard enough…at recovery.


“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” Hippocrates

Exercise is Medicine.

Study after study has proven exercise assists us through the challenges of life. From stress management, body re-composition, heart health, pain management and increasing bone density to goal setting and clearer thinking, exercise has been shown to enhance.

I think it’s safe to say I’m a firm believer in exercise. For most of the last 21 years I’ve studied, tested and implemented a wide variety of training methods trying to find the most effective forms of exercise to meet the demands and sometimes the excuses of a wide variety of clients. In that time, though I may have had to explain the finer details, I’ve never had to sell anyone on the benefits. Even the folks I’ve worked with who don’t want to do it and have hired me to keep them committed believe its good for them and much better than the alternative of a future filled with doctor visits or (preventable) chronic aches and pains.

kettlebell press recovery

As with different medicines there are many options and doses. You can pick things up and put them down, run daunting distances or punch bags and jump ropes. Depending on the modality that you pursue, exercise can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. It can be totally portable or can require specific space and equipment.

However, as long as I’ve been training people, I’m still surprised to find that it’s still a surprise to many that the progressive physical benefits of exercise don’t actually happen during an exercise session. Exercise is a stimulus the spurs an adaptive response that occurs between bouts. Basically, you don’t get massively stronger or 15 pounds lighter during your workout but during the rest, recovery and refuel periods that follow your workouts. It’s in these recovery periods that the magic happens.

And yet…

It’s hard for many of us to trust the time between workouts. How is it possible that not working out is getting us closer to our goals of faster run times or a smaller pants size?

So many of us keep working away with the mindset that if a glass of wine is good for us, a bottle must be better. We jump from workout to workout believing we’re supposed to keep training hard or we lose all our fitness and pour all of our intensity into intensity.

We need to find a balance. Yes, we need to work hard, but we might really need to recover harder.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” -Sir Isaac Newton

Exercising Isn’t Rocket Science…But Its Still Science.

If we’re exercising constantly and nothing we want to be changing is changing or worse, getting worse, maybe we need to look at our work/recovery balance.

Our bodies respond to all stimuli, both good and bad, the same way.


push up strong dad

Our bodies don’t differentiate. They don’t recognize one type of stress as enhancing and one destructive. They respond with fight or flight hormones for everything. The intensity and duration of stress is what really matters. And the outcome of stress depends on our ability to recover from it and adapt.

If work or life has our stress response constantly active, we’re never dropping into periods of recovery. We can’t adapt and change for the positive because we don’t have a window for it.

Stacking a week full of nothing but death match style classes on top of an already maxed out foundation, may be pushing us too far in the wrong direction. More doesn’t just become more, it becomes too much. But somehow, because it’s exercise, we’re willing to sacrifice quality for quantity.

Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate” -Lee Haney

Pick Your Poison.

If you’re not following a structured exercise program, there are still a gazillion choices for exercise out there; or at least 244, 400+ according to Class Pass.

You can: power lift, Olympic lift, box, row, dance, plyo jump, run, bike, swim, golf, pilates, yoga or bodybuild. Or seemingly any combination of those, like Olympic Aerial Kick Boxing or Drunk Yoga (I promise that exists). There are options for every personality and budget.

Not every one of these options is always right for everyone. Most classes aren’t designed with a progressive goal in mind. They’re an example of a studios concept and deliver a product built around that particular philosophy. If they’re a high intensity modality, you get a high intensity class. If they’re into power napping, you get a great snooze. (I would absolutely take that class).

Some things are going to speak to us more than others and we’re going to gravitate towards a sort of exercise “home base”. I totally understand that. If you love spin classes and hate yoga, why would you ever go to a yoga class when so many spin studios are out there?

lunge workout recovery

We just have to be aware that even though we love a particular kind of workout, if that’s all we ever do, it may not always be moving us in the direction of our immediate goals or our ultimate goal of healthy longevity.

For me strength training has always been my gateway drug back into better health and habit if I get off track. I picked up kettlebell training in 2010 and adopted it as my personal home base. I love vigorous exercise when the intensity is awesome and empowering. I love workouts that make you sweat buckets and hold your knees to catch your breath…sometimes.

Sometimes it’s the wrong dose of medicine. If I’ve been up all night with a cranky three year old or restless 8 month old and am running on no sleep and my stress response has been idling high, a workout that grinds me out certainly isn’t going to recharge me or move me closer to my goals. Like any medication, the poison is in the dose, as much in the frequency as the amount. It doesn’t mean I can’t do something to get moving, I just need to scale the intensity for the day or choose an option that will restore me (like power napping…I really want that to be a class).

Are the choices you’re making hurting or helping you?

“Everything in life has to have balance” -Donna Karan

Failing To Plan is Planning to Fail

If you’ve already tried the high intensity route maybe now is the time to get as jazzed about recovery as you have been about near death workouts. Take a lower intensity class, learn to meditate, work on a strength skill, take a walk, get some bodywork done or go out on a limb and try something totally new. I’d love to hear someone say, “ I really crushed my infrared sauna sesh!”

This is by no means a full discussion on recovery. There are so many other factors to consider. Sleep, nutrition, injury or therapeutic assistance could all be major players in finding our best results.

I’m just suggesting when scrolling through your exercise menu to keep your goal in mind and make choices based on including recovery as a part of your fitness strategy. It doesn’t mean you have to skip exercising, but it does mean you need to balance intensity with reason, particularly if you’re stuck at a plateau, going the wrong direction or actively in pain. Smart programming and planning go a long way to getting things back on track and recovery really allows you to reap the rewards of all your reasonable hard work.

If you need some help with establishing your foundation or making more fitness enhancing choices, check out the Essential Movement Method Workshop. It’s a chance to rediscover better movement and establish healthier workout habits for the long run.

Best in Health,

Matt Semrick