Training: More is not always better

Training isn’t everything...

But…let’s rewind for a moment

Most of us know we need to train really hard in order to get stronger. That’s not news to anyone. But for some reason, it seems like a constant theme I keep seeing in my coaching practice (and in myself) is this mentality of ‘more is better’. 

Let me know if this sounds familiar to you.

You look on social media, you see your competitors posting their lifts and you think...I must do more. You then ignore all other guardrails you’ve set for yourself and train harder. But, then suddenly, you realize that this level of training isn’t sustainable. You might be feeling beat up, washed out, or just thinking of quitting. That only then fuels your frustrations when you see the highlight reel of your competition.

I get it. I can relate. 

A few years ago, I was working part-time for Reactive Training Systems and working full-time in the corporate world. I was a leader in that organization and put in some pretty long hours. I also have a wife and three kids. From time to time, I would pick up side personal training jobs too. I slept 4-6 hours a night and consumed more caffeine than anyone should. But, I still trained hard and thought I could out-train my lifestyle. And…..I was wrong. 

What I failed to see was that I was neglecting all of the other inputs that drive my outcomes from training.

Ross Leppala said it best on a podcast I did with him a few months ago: “You don’t get stronger from training, you get stronger from recovering from training.”

Thankfully, I had an awesome coach/mentor (Mike Tuchscherer) who encouraged me to pull back on training a bit. This was after having some aches and pains and an overall downward trend in performance and mental resilience.

“You don’t get stronger from training, you get stronger from recovering from training.”

I have to admit, I thought “Am I going to lose my gains?"

Nope. Didn’t happen. In fact, reducing my training from 4 days to 3 days a week actually made me stronger. I said that right...I got stronger by doing less. I wasn’t ‘burning the candle’ at both ends trying to out-train my lifestyle.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you cut your workouts short, skip your accessories, sit on the couch and THINK about getting stronger, and somehow, magically, you’ll get stronger. That’s just not the case. 

At the same time, sometimes LESS is MORE. Remember, BETTER is BETTER.

My training sessions were shorter, more intense, and certainly more focused. Sure, I had to make some concessions about how many movements I could do in a week (Curls got the ax? Nope! There is always time for curls just like there is always room for dessert). 

I’ve changed the way I think about training stress balance over the past few years. Instead, of just thinking about how much training I can do, I’ve been reflecting more on how I can control all of the inputs of my life to improve my training satisfaction. 

Here is a self-assessment that I take every so often and encourage my lifters to do as well:

Be Honest

Be honest with yourself about what’s going on in your life. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • Am I happy with the balance in my life? Think about the mental, emotional, social, and physical domains of your life. 
  • Am I keeping up with life’s demands? Be honest.
  • Can I sustain this level of training over the next month, 6 months, or year? If not, am I only doing it for a short period of time to peak into an important competition? Do I plan to have a period of letting training ‘cool down’ after a competition? 
  • Do I psychologically ‘bring it’ to each training session or am I ‘going through the motions’ or dreading being there?
  • Is training still enjoyable for me? 
  • Am I able to recognize the difference between a down ‘session’ and a ‘downward trendline’ in my performance? 

Be in Control

You get to decide on how you spend your time and mental effort. Shift your mindset to what YOU have control over. That includes setting boundaries with other people and with yourself. A few questions to ask yourself:

  • How much sleep am I really getting? Would I be more recovered for training if I went to bed earlier? Am I willing to say ‘No’ to some things to say ‘Yes’ to sleep?  
  • Am I fueling my body with the right foods to make training effective? Am I being thoughtful about my nutrition? Does my intake of alcohol impact my recovery or training readiness?
  • Do I have a social support system? Am I getting in enough socialization time? That can include time in a gym or outside of the gym. 
  • Do I regularly use stress management techniques? 
  • Am I taking personal responsibility for my recovery?

Be You

While comparing yourself to your competitors can help increase performance, it can also lead to negative emotions. Here are a few self-assessment questions to see if your comparisons are self-defeating:

  • Am I feeling negative emotions when I look at my competitors on social media?
  • Do I often have negative feelings about my self-worth while I’m training?
  • Am I aware of my ‘why’ behind training, competing, etc?
  • If competitions stopped tomorrow, would I still lift weights and to be as strong as I could be?
  • What will my legacy be in this sport?

Remember, training is only one input that drives outcomes. Don't neglect the importance of sleep, nutrition, mindset, and stress management. Their influence has a tremendous impact on your progress. If you want to get the most out of your training (who doesn’t) then you owe it to yourself to take these other inputs just as seriously as the next time you get under the bar.

John Garafano

RTS Coach

John joined RTS as an assistant coach in 2018. Prior to that, he coached athletes through Strength is Life, LLC. which specialized in working with powerlifters and bodybuilders. He has worked with athletes at the local, state, regional, and national level from Collegiate to Masters 3. He also competes in USA powerlifting as a 74kg lifter, is a professional natural bodybuilder in the NGA, DFAC, and ANBF, and serves on the board of the ANBF as a drug test advisor.