We've all heard the statement "work smarter, not harder," and there is a point to that phrase that applies to everything individuals do, including pursuing health and fitness goals. That said, sometimes working harder is needed and really, to achieve most fitness goals, especially the lofty ones, smart training must accompany hard training. But what does that even mean? What is hard training? What is smart training? What is hard training? For this post, consider hard training as working as hard as safely possible in each workout while maintaining good form. This applies to weight training, run training, and any other style of training. For example, imagine a person has a 200-pounds one-rep-max for the squat. Doing one rep at 200 pounds would be hard training, but so would doing 5 reps at 170. However, completing 1-5 reps at 120 would not be considered hard training (unless already fatigued). In that same line of thought, consider someone can run a seven-minute mile as a max effort. Doing so would be considered hard training as would completing a 7:30 mile and possibly even an 8:00 mile. However, a 10:00 mile would not be considered hard training (unless already fatigued). Now, imagine a person can complete 30 pull-ups unbroken. Completing those 30 pull-ups would be considered hard training. At the same time, completing reps in the mid-20s to upper 20s would be considered hard training as well. Completing ten reps would not be considered hard training (unless already fatigued). This is subjective, of course, and subject to interpretation. Various factors can come into play in a workout that will make the workout harder or easier. For example, if a person added bands or chains to the 120-pound squat, it will become harder; if an individual completes the run with a weighted vest, it will become harder; and if a person complete slow negative reps for the pull-up, it will become harder. The purpose of these examples is just to provide an idea of what hard training is. Again, hard training is simply working as hard as safely possible in each workout while maintaining good form. What is smart training? Smart training is training with a purpose and thought behind that purpose. For example, smart training means having a goal, creating a plan to reach that goal, and following that plan, understanding that intuitive adjustment will occur. When we create programs for ourselves or someone else we always consider that a program should be goal-based, consider situational factors, be structured, and be progressive. We also understand that the plan will change week-over-week based on factors such as progress or issues that occur. Goal-based programming means that the program centers around the goal a person wants to achieve. For example, if a person wants to become faster at the 200-meter sprint, then he or she should have a program that focuses on this goal, not another goal. This seems simplistic, but people choosing or creating the wrong program is a common error we see. Considering situational factors means looking at the particulars of a persons situation, such as fitness level and schedule, to create a program that is effective for him or her. For example, if a person can workout four days per week for an hour, creating a program that calls for five days per week and 1.5 hours of training per session does not make sense. Again, this seems simplistic, but not considering situational factors is a common error we see people make. A structured program has a purposeful design. This means the number of workouts per week are planned, exercises are carefully selected, duration of program is determined with purpose, and other factors, including but not limited to weight used and speed used, are considered. A progressive program changes over time to keep a person moving forward. Commonly, progression is expressed as an increase in training stress, such as higher weight or faster speeds, but can include other variables, such as skill progressions. Intuitive adjustment over time means looking at program progress, determining what works and what does not, and adjusting the program accordingly. Intuitive adjustment can take other forms, such as pulling back or pushing hard in a workout based on the level of ability a person presents in a day. Should you train hard and train smart all the time? Smart training is always necessary. Hard training is not. Every time a person trains, they should workout with purpose and have a plan to follow. Only through smart training will people reach their goals in the most effective and time efficient manner. Hard training has its place. So does easier training. At times, all people need to back off the training intensity to help manage fatigue, recover from injuries, or otherwise take care of their body to prevent chronic breakdown. When this occurs varies by the person, the program, and the goals. To reach your goals, think first about smart training and then hard training.
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Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.