We've all heard the adage at some point in our lives.
"Work smarter, not harder"
For me, I heard it during a long day at my first job, landscaping (hydroseeding to be specific). We had to clear out all the rocks and junk that would make for an uneven and bumpy lawn...with a hand rake. One day I was busting my tail with this pile of rocks when one of my companions came over and said...
"Come on youngin' work smarter, not harder son. You are tryin' to move these damn rocks UP the hill instead of down it".
I can still remember his thick country accent saying this as I glanced at the slope of the soon to be lawn and came to realize that I was in fact busting my ass in 95 degree heat moving rocks up the hill. Well shit on me...
Gym culture has its fair share of work-harders as well. We all can think of that guy or gal that comes in and absolutely busts their own ass for an hour, sometimes two. They cover the floor with sweat, bang out endless repetitions, and seemingly have an unlimited supply of energy.
Yet, with the passing of time...nothing changes. Their body still has the same fat deposits, the same weakness, and the same inabilities that were there months, maybe even years ago. Injuries always slow them down, and they always seem to be struggling to reach their goal.
They keep trying to move the rocks up a hill.
On the contrary we also have those that are of the work smart crowd. Minimal effort, maximum density, optimal time. They are in, working, and out. Their bodies often reflect their training purpose, and rarely do they find themselves injured.
You can find them on foam rollers, and trigger point implements. They deadlift and squat, press and pull. Some may be trainers, and others just hold a passion for fitness.
They clearly know that the hell they are doing, but can be annoyingly lazy about it as they do a set, take a few notes in a scraggly notebook, sip some colored drink, and play on their i-phone until it is time to mount up and ride again.
Who is right? Who is wrong?
Undoubtedly the "work-smart" crowd is the correct bunch. They have purpose, precision and a system for planning, implementing, and recovering from the workouts.
Instead of just button mashing and hoping that they end up on the right side of the match...the work smart crowd knows every kick and punch combo, and never misses a fatality. (Mortal Kombat anyone?)
Here is why the "work-smarter" crowd is on the right path
1. Having a plan and executing it. Simply put, if you just walk into your gym and expect a great workout to just happen; then you are taking a chance. Sure, there are days when you don't really have an idea what you want to do...and by the end you find that you are feeling like a million bucks stacked on top of a million bucks.
Yet, most of the time...you'll wander aimlessly from set to set and machine to machine just going through the motions. In the end...nothing is accomplished.
2. Using your energy for what matters. Doing 14 sets for arms isn't going to make the fat around your waist. Spending more time on the leg extension and leg curl isn't going to make your legs capable of lifting small cars from parking spots.
The "smart" crowd knows that they need to prioritize the big moves and put their physical, mental, and neurological energy into them since they are the ones that will cause the most change.
The deadlift is paramount, the squat is king, and overhead pressing is more than just accessory work. The core is more than just some crunches and leg raises thrown into the end of routine.
3. Know what your goal is. Get in. Get Out. Knowing what you are training for relates back to my first point about having a plan and going after it. However, if we flesh it out a bit more we'll see that having a purpose behind your training is also going to make sure that you aim to land in that optimal zone.
The optimal zone is the space where a training effect begins to take place and imprint itself into the person's cells.
Trying to get stronger? The second your ability to push poundage begins to drop off...it's time to do a little accessory work and go home.
Trying to lose weight? Push your body with higher impact exercises that utilize a lot of energy, and top it off with some slow-steady work for no more than 20 minutes to keep that oxidation of fat going. Don't keep going for two hours...or else those proteins, AKA your muscles...will be what is breaking down.
Get Er' Done
Now, I've pointed out that the 'working smart" crowd is right in their approach to fitness and exercise.
Let's not devalue the effort, tenacity, and get-shit-done ability of the work hard crowd. If the entire world had the same level of ooomph in the tank we'd probably have a lot less problems.
There is something awesome about people who are willing to put their bodies through trials and tribulations workout after workout, set after set. They never decrease speed on the treadmill, and they always try to a little heavier, or do a few more reps. This attitude grows the willpower and the heart fibers (metaphorically, possibly literally).
Enjoy these treadmill fails as a free gift
The "work-smart" crowd could use a little bit of this back in the veins. In fact, I fear that with the growing amount of information and quality science in the field that we are going to lose our way and try to overthink everything we do in the gym....
Should I spend 2 minutes per Lat on the foam roller or 2 minutes and 10 seconds?
I need to stop my set at 8, because the program said 8, because 9 will cause a tsunami on the moon.
When you are looking to work out and cause change in your body it is more important to have a plan, purpose, and precise aim as you enter the gym. Yet, don't forget that while you can't measure kick ass attitudes in pounds or MPH...it can grow you just as well.