Exercise: Is it better to be the Tortoise or the Hare?

by Shaun Angel, CPT and Owner

As a personal trainer, one of the biggest training mistakes I see people make when I talk to them about their program is the lack of understanding that exercise is a positive stress.  I think the pendulum has swung so far to the side of trying to reduce chronic, negative stress that is so high in our lives and culture that we forget that positive/acute stress is how we improve our mind and body through exercise. 

Life is hard.  Our body loves to be in homeostasis…to be balanced.  But, to improve our body, whether on the court or in general life, we have to move out of our comfort zones when we exercise.  Now, we should not go so far out of our comfort zone that we don’t function well.  Sadly, many programs do this and cite it as a badge of honor to not be able to walk the next day.  Or, they allow no time for recovery.  This much stress takes too much out of the body and requires much more recovery than what people think, which is why injury or burnout sets in if we continue this for long periods of time.   

Our bodies work best when we push them in small increments, and then allow recovery.  Then, we push again a little harder after our body has had time to strengthen.  We have to really pay attention as everyone is different and we want positive stress yielding positive results, not distress.  On the other side of the spectrum are those people who exercise like the tortoise and become frustrated when they get no results.  The reason here is they didn't require the body to produce an adaption.  Since the body didn't receive a signal it was doing anything hard and meaningful with its muscle, it stayed the same--this is the homeostasis we discussed earlier.  That is why walking is positive for the body in so many ways, but I do not consider it exercise.  Now, do not take this to mean that you should not be walking.  10,000 steps a day should be your goal.  That's movement.  Exercise should safely cause a stress stimulus to the body that produces an adaptation, and thus make you stronger to do more work the next exercise session.  Exercise should not compromise your health in the name of fitness.   

The better approach is to be like the hare during your workout—short, intense sessions, but staying methodical and incremental over the long haul like the tortoise.  This gets you used to getting out of your comfort zone, which then makes your exercise program work but not so much that you burnout and quit after 90 days.  So, if you are comfortable where you are and you just want to stay comfortable, that’s fine, but that isn’t the best way to improve.  Your body and mind have a hard time with maintenance…generally, things are either improving or stagnating.  Think of your next workout like a rubber band….stretch it a little but not so much you snap it.  You will likely be in the sweet spot.  This will stretch your comfort zones and the goals you have now will be passed quickly as you go to another level on your health horizon.  This can go for your nutrition as well.  Stretch yourself.  Try that new recipe with better ingredients.  Go for 2-3 days clean, but watch stretching your perfection so hard that you ‘snap the band’ and return to baseline and binge, setting yourself back. 

If you have questions with either exercise or nutrition or how to implement this hybrid “tortoise and hare” approach in your life, give us a ring.  All of our programs are based on this philosophy and our team is great.  We are here to help.