Our culture seems to unconsciously accept the notion that hard work leads to fitness success.
And while giving high effort levels towards something is an undeniable cornerstone of success, I think we far too often over-value purely the concept of “working hard” and under-value other aspects that must be functioning concurrently.
In fitness culture, I believe the aforementioned statement is extremely well accepted and amplified.
Fitness culture values “hard”.
It is expected that your personal trainer will “push you”. Many people tend to equate sweat production & exhaustion with not only a “good workout”, but superior to one that creates less of those by-products. We cheer on those who display hard physical efforts in exercise. If we were to go for a 5km cross-country run, it is accepted that one should “push hard” at the end to “finish strong”.
Many firmly believe that the harder one works and the more one pushes themselves, the better results they will get in fitness.
I do think that many could benefit from knowing what it feels like to train harder and it is hard to argue that some net positives on mindset, self-confidence, and belief in one’s self can ultimately come out of the concept of “working harder” at fitness success.
However, I also think (and regularly observe) 2 things about the “nobody cares work harder” mindset in fitness:
1. People who adopt this as their sole governing decision maker are often unaware of what is truly needed to move towards a specific fitness goal.
2. The extreme end of the spectrum on this in fitness cannot last long-term (i.e. for decades).
Does simply working harder = more fitness?
I don’t believe this to be true. To quote Dr. Melissa Davis, PhD in neurobiology & behavior: “just being uncomfortable does not guarantee results of any kind”.
You can literally train yourself to complete physical exhaustion every day and see no positive fitness adaptations long-term.
You can sacrifice sleep to get up early to get your workout in, work really hard in the gym and be perfect on a diet you think is moving you forwards and actually get worse because of lack of recovery and proper intake for your goals.
You can suffer your way through an aggressive weight loss diet and actually have worse health & body composition long-term, and not lose any net weight over a 10-year period because it is unsustainable, leading to frequent rebounds (regaining the weight + some).
You can work your a** off at something, but if you are doing it wrong or moving in the wrong direction, you’ll end up no closer to the goal you set than when you started.
The real question should be: what is the intention?
Because hard work is relative, not absolute.
And without intention, direction, consistency, etc.. hard work is simply just hard work.
Don’t ask: “did I work hard today?”
Ask: “did I work hard at the intent today?”
What was the intent? Do you know?
Was the intent to walk easy and sustainably for 30 minutes? Was the intent to run 5x1000m @ sustainable pace? Was the intent to lift the weight for 15-20 reps leaving a couple of reps in the tank? Was the intent to test your 5-rep max? Was the intent to de-load and lift 50% of what you did last week so that you can be fresh for next week?
Did you “work hard” at that?
If you were supposed to go easy today, did you “work hard” at going easy? If you were supposed to really go for it, did you truly give it your best?
If you are wondering: “how do I know what the intent is or should be?”, get a coach who does.
This is what separates coaches who understand what they are giving their clients from those who do not. It is what separates purposeful action and consistent measurable progress from “conventional wisdom” and non-informed prescription.
It is not just writing a bunch of random movements on a piece of paper and pushing someone to their limits.
Prescribing great personalized fitness takes experience, close watching & measuring, knowledge and understanding of principles, biology, behaviour change, and more.
It is not just about making people “work hard”.
It’s about creating consistent progress daily -> weekly -> yearly, helping people recognize this and getting them to connect the wins to their long-term goals.
“Hard work” needs context and doesn’t always “look” hard.
As mentioned previously, I think hard work is a cornerstone of success in any endeavour.
But my definition of “hard work” is more than just “effort”.
It is giving consistently high relative effort with informed intentions.
Because as stated, just being uncomfortable and working hard does not guarantee results of any kind.
You have to know what you are working hard at and how it is moving you forwards.
Can we please push for setting good intentions and realistic goals, sustainable behaviour change, consistent progress, and more critical thinking.
Not for more sweat and suffering.