So I had a long argument with one of my buddies the other night who didn’t agree with my idea that training using minimal effort is the most effective way to do things. He believes that training while uncomfortable and always striving to put yourself in progressively more uncomfortable training situations will yield the greatest results. Now that’s pretty fucking vague so I’m gonna try to clear this shit up. First lets consider the word uncomfortable. What exactly does he mean? I am assuming he’s not talking about all uncomfortable situations because training while totally hung over is definitely not the way to go, nor is training with an injury. These are both uncomfortable situations but clearly not optimal for improving physical performance. So, considering my friend is speaking from a martial arts/combat perspective, I am going to have to assume that he means that training uncomfortably produces physical and mental toughness to both prevent pain from physical trauma and continue strenuous exercise under trying conditions i.e. continuing to throw punches while bleeding from your face. This makes sense because in a street fight/martial arts competition situation you cannot stop and say owwwie my face hurts, wait while I apply ice and a band-aid. So now that that’s cleared up, lets talk about training to improve physical performance while in an uncomfortable situation. I think it is reasonable to assume that pushing yourself to the limit while training is also quite uncomfortable and something he would be an advocate of. Anyways time for a new paragraph.
Ahh, that’s better. Now where was I? Right, training uncomfortably. Ok now this is the part where I tear apart his argument using logic and science. Training uncomfortable is not the optimal way to train to attain greater physical performance. There are loopholes in this statement and I will address them later but for now I will speak in defense of my beliefs. Okay, so the goal while strength training is to improve either maximal strength, muscular endurance, aerobic endurance or body composition. These are performance goals, I did not include muscle hypertrophy because it is not beneficial in many sports and beyond a certain point, it is detrimental. Now, you wouldn’t perform bench press in a blizzard, run a marathon with a fractured tibia, go for sprints on a 40 degree humid day or… shit you get the idea. These things are most certainly uncomfortable and some quite painful, they will increase your physical and mental toughness… but they will NOT increase your physical performance compared to training comfortably. It is irrational to assume that putting yourself in these situations will help you achieve your fitness goals. Example time: Go set up your bench press outside in the middle of winter. I will leave mine inside in a heated gym. We will do bench press 3 times a week for a month. I GUARANTEE that your strength will not improve more than mine because you were uncomfortable while doing bench press. Shit, lets ramp it up. Do your bench press with a drill sergeant screaming at you with a friend tickling your foot and someone else burning your hair with a lighter while doing a bench press outside during a blizzard. You are significantly more uncomfortable than me in my comfortable gym at room temperature minus people testing my sanity but once again it is ridiculous to believe that you will acquire some additional training benefit by putting yourself in such an uncomfortable situation.
Now that I’ve finished my rant about why it is silly to train with the focus of being uncomfortable, I want to discuss training to failure once again. I’ve spoken on this before and made it pretty clear that I am not an advocate of training to failure. I believe it causes unnecessary muscle soreness and undoubtedly increases the risk for injury as you are intentionally ignoring your biofeedback telling you to stop exercising. Additionally, I see no valid argument about why a person should train to failure if improved performance is their goal. Fuck, I mean think about it. In the wild, failing means you are dead! Eaten by a fucking tiger! Why someone would continuously do this to themselves, pushing their muscle and connective tissues to the breaking limit (remember that things BREAK when they are pushed to the limit), regularly draining their bodies energy systems and severely limiting the frequency of training sessions they can have is completely beyond me. If you get better at things that you do most often than by training to failure you are getting better at failing. Think about that little tidbit of logic for a moment. There is definitely a better way.
Now when I began this article I said that there was some benefit to training uncomfortably, and there is. By training in uncomfortable situations (i.e. doing a military press while being punched in the stomach and having your ass branded) you are undoubtedly improving your physical and mental toughness… if you don’t start crying that is. People who get in fist fights all the time become less sensitive to pain or at least are able to ignore that pain. This is good if you are probably going to get in future fist fights. Training to failure will also have this effect. You will be able to ignore your bodies biofeedback (pain, discomfort, burning acid feeling) and continue lifting/exercising. Do the benefits surpass the consequences? I say fuck no. But never the less, there are benefits, and who says you have to train uncomfortably all the time to get the benefits of improved toughness and pain tolerance? Lifting weights without using effort doesn’t make you a pussy. It will make you tough. Although definitely not as quickly as intentionally causing pain to your body.
Training uncomfortably is especially useful for some people and much less so for others. If you participate in an elite sport, it is very likely to benefit you if you have high physical and mental toughness. It should be noted though that many elite athletes are genetically equipped with high physical and mental toughness.
This is all I have to say on this matter. For now at least.