Burnout, overworked, sore — maybe your familiar with these words. Maybe you’ve used these words as part of the narrative that runs through your head on the way to your workout. Well, you’re in good company as we’ve all been there and I have felt this way many times too, but recently, I’ve been starting to challenge why I feel this way. I’ve always done the things that society has conditioned me to believe will me healthy with energy for days. Like you, I’ve been bombarded with the same messages of “go hard, go home”, “no pain, no gain” and consistently pushed myself in every workout. I thought that feeling like I’d been hit by a truck was a good measure of success, yet I was wrong, oh so very wrong. Little did I know, after years of following this mad method that mass media was not that educated after all. A physical exercise regime is not about breaking yourself and holding onto a handrail for dear life walking up the stairs after every deadlift session. It should be a process to improve my condition, produce more energy and free movement, not make me feel like a stiff board that has to crawl from the sofa to the toilet.

I began to look for another way

I kept telling myself that I had to find a way of keeping fit and healthy without slamming into the wall in every session. It’s a common theme in our busy society that we presume we have to do everything to the max to get the required affects and this can be a dangerous mindset. As I’ve noted, I was feeling more exhausted and beat up from consistent hard workouts, plus I found that now being in my early thirties, the ability to recover was not as good as it was before. Of course around this time, it was poignant that I came across a podcast from Joe DeFranco, a popular and extremely knowledgeable strength and conditioning coach whom I’ve been following for the best part of a decade. In many ways Joe’s content has been responsible for keeping me healthy, mobile and ahead of the game for some time and I highly recommend his podcast the industrial strength show. Speaking of Joe’s podcast, this is where my views on the intensity of my workouts started to shift. I was listening to episode 147 of the industrial strength show which had a segment on the concept of taking a micro-dosing approach to workouts.

What is a micro-dosing approach

My understanding of a micro-dosing approach to workouts is simply instead of smashing myself and going hard 3–4 times a week, I would lessen the intensity and volumes of my workouts but spread these out into short sessions everyday. Basically I would half my reps in each exercise, which allowed me to get to a point of still pushing myself yet not breaking beyond a point that induces exhaustion. An example of this for context would be that if in my original upper body session I would do 5 sets of chinups for 10 repetitions, I would convert this to 5 sets of chinups for 5 repetitions. This meant I was still getting the work in, pushing my body and keeping fit but not pushing myself to exhaustion. This is by no means a new approach and has been explored before by a number of strength coaches, most notably from the man who popularised kettlebell training in the west — Pavel Tsatsouline.
Back to the podcast (which I highly recommend you check out to get the full details) and Joe had switched on a lightbulb in my head. My next step was to take the learnings from this episode and put them into practice. The next week I changed my programme to take a micro-dosing approach and this is what happened:
  • I’m able to workout smarter in a shorter time frame.
  • I have more energy in my day to day and don’t feel like I’m as broken as usual.
  • My conditioning and muscle mass has improved not diminished.
  • I’m actually excited and look forward to my workouts more than ever. My sessions have become more like a physical meditation which allow me to calm my mind and body.
  • My general anxiety has decreased, which again I think is really important to note as working out is a stressor to our system, so of course going balls to the wall each session will cause chaos for my mental state too.
  • I’m happier and that’s the most important point, changing my approach to micro-dosing has had a positive affect on my mind and body.

It’s not for everyone

Let’s be straight here, this post is about my experiences and what works for my lifestyle and goals. I’m not an athlete nor do I pretend to be, I design routines and processes that work for my life as you should use what works for you. Micro-dosing has been a great help for me personally, it’s allowed me to have a healthier relationship with my physical fitness practice and most importantly actually find benefit from these sessions instead of suffering. Of course not everyone will agree with my opinion or this approach and nor should they, do what works for you but consider what your goal is in your workouts. My objective/goal is to keep healthy and mobile to enjoy my daily life, I’m not in it to go into beast mode or deadlift a truck. It’s cool if you are, but I invite you to consider the long term consequences of that approach.

More knowledge bombs

My thinking on this subject was explored further and more recently by world leading MMA coach Firaz Zahabi (head trainer of legendary MMA fighter Georges Saint Pierre) and man of many talents Joe Rogan. On a recent episode of Joe Rogans podcast, he and Firas discussed why a go hard or go home approach just isn’t the way if you want for most people. They explored why working smarter is best for overall health, longevity and improved performance — you can watch this video for the full conversation.

The takeaway for you

If you’ve read this far, I hope the content in this post has been of help to you or even made you consider the approach you take now. The takeaway here is that any physical activity you partake in should make you feel and perform better not worse, you should be happy and not exhausted or riddled with anxiety from smashing into wall after wall.

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