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How Hard Should You Train?
Go hard or go home! No pain, no gain! These are popular sayings and beliefs, but really how hard should you train in order to get results?
The truth is that it completely depends on the individual and what the goal is. For example, an Olympian is going to train a lot harder and will be able to tolerate a lot more than your average person, hence why they are an Olympian! The trouble is that there are plenty of people who think they can train as hard as an Olympian and get results, but that isn’t the case.
How many of you think that if you don’t leave a session in a puddle of your own sweat, you aren’t training hard enough? Probably most of you. Unfortunately, this is a big misconception and we will address that in this blog.
Right, so let’s get into the pyramid.
The pyramid represents a rough guideline of where you should be training and how hard. I have made it as simple as possible but there are a lot of factors that go into each of the zones. The pyramid depends solely on the individual and is not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all method – it will depend on a huge number of factors – so one person’s pyramid may be at completely different levels to another’s.
There are 3 zones:

  • Zone 1: Sub-adaptation/technique training
  • Zone 2: Progression
  • Zone 3: Overtraining

As you move up the pyramid, overall training intensity increases. This intensity isn’t %1RM (1 rep max) which is the usual standard for training intensity, it encompasses everything to do with your training so volume, rest periods, weight used, distance traveled, etc. The bottom line represents your current accustomed level; this varies from person to person and isn’t a fixed point as it can move up and down. The upper line represents the point at which you begin to overtrain and cause tissue deformation.
Zone 1: Sub-adaption/technique training
When training in this zone, you are using intensities that are below your current accustomed levels. For the most part this is a zone where we don’t want to train, unless we are trying to improve technique in which case we want to make sure that the intensity is low in order to focus on technique. I want to really force the point that these zones are completely individual, as one person’s zone 1 could be another person’s zone 3. In this training zone we aren’t providing enough of a stress on the body to force adaption and in fact if we stay in this zone our accustomed level will fall, leading to a decrease in performance.
Zone 2: Progression
This is the zone where we want to be. When training in this one we are above our current accustomed levels so we are providing enough of a stimulus for the body to adapt. This zone isn’t just one set intensity, it has a large range and you can train anywhere in there to gain different outcomes. If you train towards the bottom of the zone you will be able to recover quicker but won’t provide a great stimulus.
If you train towards the top you will need longer to recover, but you will be providing a better stimulus. The main thing I want to stress for this zone, is that the top of the zone is not easy by any means, so you will still be training hard in this zone. When we stay in this zone our accustomed level will rise, meaning we can handle more and overall that leads to better performance.
This is why elite athletes need to train that much harder, because their accustomed level is probably in most of our zone 3s. It is also why you need constant progression. For example, if you select an intensity that is slightly above your accustomed levels and stick to it, you will progress at first causing that accustomed level to rise, but then that intensity is now in zone 1 which isn’t causing progress but in fact causing regression.
Zone 3: Overtraining
This is the zone that a lot of people think they have to train, when in reality this is where you want to stay away from. When we train in this zone we are forcing our bodies over what they want to be doing. Now, you may be able to train in this area for a week or maybe a month or so without any issues, but keep going and you’ll be left with an injury or be burnt out psychologically. In addition to this, if you keep training in this zone, both lines will drop down as a protective mechanism from the body, leading to a decrease in performance. The trouble is that when you see a person who is in really good shape training really hard, they may be in their zone 2, but then if you try and copy it you’ll be working at the same absolute intensity but you’ll be in your zone 3. That’s why you can’t just give everyone the same thing to do, because everyone is at completely different levels.
So, to summarise:

  • Training in zone 1 can be beneficial for technique training but only if a small time is spent there, otherwise a decrease in performance will arise.
  • Training in zone 2 is where the progression is made.
  • The top of zone 2 is a hard intensity to train at, but it’s still within your abilities.
  • Zone 3 is where most think they have to train when in actual fact this is where problems arise.
  • You don’t have to leave every session dripping in sweat to make progress.
  • It is completely individual and depends on a huge number of factors.


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