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An Intelligent New Year’s Resolution: Workout Less, and Produce Better Results

“I’m going to work out more” is a popular New Year’s Resolution.  On the surface, this has merit.  However, a more intelligent resolution would be this: “I’m going to work out less than I did last year, but I’m going to get in far better shape and see better results.”  If your Resolution is at all related to exercise, I encourage you to focus on some variation of the latter Resolution.  The amount of exercise we perform has very little to do with the results we produce.  “How” we perform the exercise is far more important.  Intensity is the primary stimulus our improving our fitness.  As intensity increases, duration (how long we do something) must decrease.

Here are some simple, tangible, and incredibly effective tips that relate to this Resolution:

  • Strength train no more than 2 times per week.  Avoid any other form of resistance training in addition to this.  It is an individual’s fervor to workout more that most often leads to a stalling or plateauing of fitness results.
  • Cut out one steady state bout of “cardio” that typically lasted 45-60 minutes and replace it with a higher intensity interval style workout (on a treadmill, bike, elliptical, or stair-master machine) that lasts between 15 and 30 minutes.  This can be as simple as a 5-minute warm-up followed by a 1-minute intense bout of exercise followed by 2 minutes at an easier pace (aim for 5-8 of these bouts).
  • Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish.  Link the results/outcomes you desire to the type of exercise that stimulates those results.  Stated otherwise, don’t expect Yoga to help you lose weight or running to help you increase muscle.  Surprisingly, the vast majority of exercisers are performing exercise that does not stimulate the physiological changes they desire.
  • Make an exercise or fitness related decision based on scientific research; not on the current regimen of a celebrity.  Adam Levine has a nice singing voice and is handsome… but he knows nothing about exercise.
  • Focus on the process, the form, and the technique rather than the outcome.  Stated otherwise, don’t focus on how many you did.  Focus on how you do them.  Exercise is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  Lifting X pounds for X number of reps does nothing positive for your fitness.
  • Don’t tell your friend how long your workout was or how often you workout.  Tell them how intensely you work out and how great your form is.

My favorite quote to think about when the topic turns to resolutions comes from Dr. Steven Covey.  Speaking of the habit of “Sharpening the Saw,” Dr. Covey states, “This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life – Investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and contribute.  We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw.”

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