How to Dial in Your Effort to Make Progress as Opposed to Overdoing It (all the time)


If you are an outdoor athlete, you have – no doubt – been guilty of excitedly running outside for some much needed adventure in the evenings, or on the weekend, to recover your spirit after work. But what too often happens? You overdo it and spend a few days (or a few weeks) recovering. So what’s the secret to jumping up from your desk, getting outside, enjoying your body, and getting some sunshine and fresh air? Well, as my old Track Coach used to say, “Don’t go out like a pack of wild idiots.”

Grease The Groove

When I first got into functional fitness training, I was aghast to see my kettlebell gym only had classes four days a week. My coach took that even further by recommending I only train three days a week (insert ‘Yikes!?!’ here). Did I follow his advice? Yes. Did I also climb all weekend, every weekend? Of course! I would then show up too tired to train every Monday, but what can you do?

Realizing I loved to train every day, my coach recommended I try ‘Greasing The Groove’, which meant I would practice an exercise with light weights several times a day to learn new movements and perfect skill sets. He had done a great job of recognizing my intensity level was redlining every day, and thought this might be a good way for me to balance that out with some low level, but high volume. Little did he know…

Excitedly, I added it to my training, while completely failing to understand it wasn’t a high intensity workout designed to tire me out and make me sweat. Instead of using a weight ‘you can easily lift ten times’ (as recommended) I crushed myself with the heaviest weight I could do. Only to, once again, show up at the gym too tired to do anything.

My entire first year of kettlebell training was like that; hit everything with intensity through the roof, come in too tired to train, get chastised, and then do it again the following week. At his wits end, my coach forced me to use light kettlebells only, to offset my crushing weekends in the mountains, and reminded me why I had joined in the first place: “You’re not training to win at kettlebells. You’re training to move better in the mountains.”

Wise words, but they took a few years to sink in.

Instructor Course

My second year of kettlebells involved more intensity as I trained for, and attended, a three day instructor course. Having received a major injury the year prior, which resulted in nerve damage and took a year of recovery, I showed up strong, but with serious mobility limitations and spasms.

When I arrived at the event, I found my team and told my cadre about my injury. They were very attentive and had me show them exactly what I could and couldn’t do and I thank them for showing me how best to interact with someone’s limitation. It wasn’t until the end of the certification, though, when we were to do the strength test, that my team leader recommended I not take the strength test. I reeled at this. No really. My ‘intensity at all costs’ mindset didn’t understand. Wasn’t I only there for three days? Wouldn’t I miss out on the certification? If I wasn’t willing to go ‘all out’, then why had I come?

She informed me that I was there to learn and I had, and there was no reason to risk the next few months in rehab and/or physical therapy for a five minute strength test. I should heal properly, prepare properly, and then perform properly when ready.

I spent the morning alternating between wanting to go for it -no matter what- and knowing I had spent half my life in a state of injury and not wanting to do that any more. Their words kept replaying in my mind:

  • Heal Properly
  • Prepare Properly
  • Perform Properly

My Lesson Learned

In the end, I got a certificate of attendance, but not my instructor certification. That was almost five years ago, and I am still working on range of motion and mobility, but it’s improving. I credit my instructors with my not getting injured, or re-injured, that day.

My key takeaways from that event are to evaluate the following;

  • Do you wake up naturally, feeling refreshed, and energized? (Or do you stumble out of bed like a zombie?)
  • Are you full of energy all day and can handle anything life throws at you, regardless of whether or not there’s any training that day? (Or do you spend all day preparing for the training to come, only to crush it, and feel crushed afterwards?)
  • Is your life a series of awesome adventures, which constantly replenish you? (Or do you need to recover from your last adventure, and border on injured and sick, even while you’ve begun training for the next thing, all the while hoping you don’t end up in bed or the hospital?)

If any of those second responses sound like you, you may be over-training and could do well with more rest. While intensity is great at times, having more variability in both your training and your life may serve you better. Look past the training stressors that are self-imposed and start looking at what other stress is affecting your body; how’s your sleep, diet, relationships, work/life balance, supplementation, environment, etc.

Yes, it’s great that running, hiking, climbing, cycling, or any other outdoor activity fuels you – but how are you fueling yourself to go do more of that activity? Remember, there are 23 non-training hours a day, the intensity and stress you amass overall may just decide how often you get outside and enjoy your thing.

My upcoming book “Total Mountain Fitness” (TM) teaches a minimalistic – and realistic – approach to fitness, including strength, conditioning, and recovery. If you would like to learn more, please sign up here to receive a free e-book version. Total Mountain Fitness will be released later this year.