When it comes to fitness and bodybuilding, there are many different schools of thought.
You have CrossFit gyms that push you like you’re a fresh recruit going through BUD/S trying to become a Navy SEAL. Then you have laid back gym-goers who would rather chat and scroll through their smartphones than actually get their hands dirty and do a set.
So what exactly is the happy medium? How hard should you really push yourself in the gym?
Let’s dive in and explore this conundrum a bit further…
What are YOU Training for?
Before we can uncover any meaningful answers here, you have to be aware of what it is that YOU are training for.
If you’re like most guys, then you probably just want to build muscle and burn fat. And that’s completely fine.
But maybe you’re preparing for a specific event. Maybe you’re a basketball player who needs to be able to jump higher, improve your agility, and increase your lung capacity. Maybe you’re preparing to go to BUD/S and become a Navy SEAL and you need to be able to do lots of push-ups and pull-ups, hold your breath underwater for long periods of time, and build trust in yourself that you can keep going and going even when you feel like quitting.
Who you are and what you’re training for directly dictates the type of training you should do. The average dude who’s just trying to look better naked doesn’t need to go as hard as the aspiring athlete or Navy SEAL. At least not in regards to his conditioning and lung capacity.
Sure, he needs to go hard on the weights to see results, but he won’t get to his goals any quicker by pushing himself to the point of exhaustion and nausea every workout.
But tread carefully: this is NOT an excuse to take it easy…
You Probably Could Be Going Harder
Most people don’t push themselves anywhere even remotely close to their limits. And it’s usually due to pure laziness.
Before you get defensive and place yourself above this mistake, realize that just because you go to the gym consistently and work up a sweat doesn’t mean that you’re pushing yourself.
I can tell you from my years of experience as a trainer that people tend not to push themselves when they workout alone. Nearly all of my private clients have told me that they fail to match the intensity of our workouts when they hit the gym without me. They usually claim that they feel like it’s not even possible!
If you played high school football or basketball, then you can probably remember a whole bunch of times when your tank was empty and you felt like quitting, but your coach kept you going for hours longer by challenging you and screaming like a madman…
For me, I tend to hit PRs at the gym when I’m with a buddy who’s pushing me to get better. His expectations elevate my strength. And when I train at my Muay Thai gym, my coaches constantly push me and remind how much more I actually have in the tank, even when I feel like I’m about to collapse.
I’m no exception to this rule. Neither are you.
Pushing Yourself Has Many Benefits
This ability to deal with discomfort – or become comfortable being uncomfortable – will do a lot more for you than just help you build muscle and perform better.
It builds mental toughness… and this is invaluable.
When you’re able to enter a situation where you feel uncomfortable, and stay focused and present instead of feeling sorry for yourself and quitting, you become stronger and more confident. You build trust in yourself and your ability to accomplish difficult tasks that most people wouldn’t be able to.
This could mean anything from staying alive in a hypothetical life-threatening situation like being lost in the wilderness or held captive, to staying focused in a high pressure business or social setting like a interviewing for a new job or approaching a cute girl.
Keep these less-obvious benefits in mind when you feel like bitching out and taking the easy route at the gym. Giving in and giving up will only train your mind to be weak in other areas of your life as well.
So Exactly How Hard Should You Go?
Simple: as hard as you possibly can… and then some.
There’s no downside to going hard. Only growth and gains – both physical and mental. Just be sure to pick a workout routine that matches your goals.
The best way to make sure you’re actually giving it 100% is to work with a coach, trainer, or motivated workout buddy. If you’re a solo gym-goer then your best bet is to increase your focus during your workouts. This means dialing in and focusing completely on the exercise at hand. Push any extraneous thoughts out of your mind, turn your smartphone on airplane mode, and concentrate fully on what you’re doing (check out these other ‘hacks’ to increase focus as well).
You need to train your mind to deal with the discomfort of feeling completely exhausted and pushing on anyway. This means focusing on what you’re doing rather than how shitty you feel in the moment. Stay present and don’t let your mind wander, otherwise you’ll just convince yourself to just take a break or call it a workout.
A Note on Overtraining and Overdoing It
I’ll end this article with a quick word on the dangers of pushing yourself.
The term ‘overtraining’ gets thrown around in the bodybuilding world a lot. What it usually means is that either your connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) or your central nervous system is stressed and needs time to recover.
The dangers of this are injury (if you strain or tear a ligament or tendon) and just feeling like shit (if your nervous system is fried). But all of this is extremely rare in the general population. It applies more to athletes doing intense two-a-day workouts or powerlifters capable of lifting serious weight.
However, one risk that you do need to pay attention to is injury as a result of poor form. You can easily avoid this by making sure your form is on point for every rep. This doesn’t mean to use light weights and take it easy. It just means to drop the weights and end the set when your form breaks down… even if it’s just a little bit off.
P.S. Pushing yourself hard without following an effective program won’t get you anywhere, so I suggest getting on a proven routine like Shredded Beast 2.0 for optimal results.