Physical change requires hard work, but do you always need to train to your limit in each workout?
I always believed the body only changed when you pushed it right to the edge of what it can do. Holding back, even a little bit, would fail to stimulate any change.
This sentiment has been echoed in internet memes and social media showing the virtues of pushing yourself as hard as possible. As admirable as it may be, I’ve come to question it for the following reasons.
#1 Training to your limit requires more/ better recovery
More stress requires more recovery and modern living can make optimal recovery a real challenge. It’s difficult to always eat perfectly while maintaining stellar sleep habits and keeping stress low.
Saving a little each workout gives you a buffer against over stressing your body and mind. You can have a more flexible diet and lifestyle and still fully recover from each workout.
#2 Training to your limit increases the risk of injury
It’s natural for your technique to erode under fatigue. This isn’t always terrible, but it can increase your risk of injury with some exercises.
This isn’t as much of an issue with moves like progressive push-ups and rows, but some moves like handstands require at least some energy to maintain a level of safety. Saving a little juice in the tank helps keep you from going over that edge.
#3 Training to your limit requires more motivation
It requires a lot of motivation to start a workout when you know how much discomfort is coming your way. It can be tempting to skip the workout when you’re not feeling 100%. Why bother even working out at all when you can’t give it everything you’ve got?
There’s still plenty of value to a workout even if you don’t give it everything you’ve got. At the very least, you maintain your momentum and consistency which can make the difference between failure and success.
#4 Training to your limit reinforces mental limitations
Pushing to your limits can reinforce those limits over time. For example, say you’re current pull up limit is 10 reps. You give that 10th rep everything you’ve got believing that’s all you can do. Then you do that again in the next workout, and the next and the next. Within a few weeks, you’re starting each pull-up workout continuing to believe 10 reps is all you can do.
Leaving a little in the tank prevents this mental reinforcement which helps you believe you can progress in the next workout. It’s this progression that’s truly responsible for your long term success.
Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard and push yourself. Hard work is certainly a requirement of accomplishing anything in life. Sometimes, it’s beneficial, or even necessary to give it everything you’ve got. The field of competition is one such example. The case I’m making here is that it’s not something you need to do all of the time or even most of the time.