The Poison Is In the Dose | A Look at “Hard-Core” Workouts

Posted on September 15, 2012


There is an odd phenomenon permeating fitness these days. It seems to mesh with the human attitude towards achieving weight & fitness goals, so I can understand why it’s taken root so ferociously. {This is not my endorsement of the attitude, just my acknowledgement that I can understand why it has taken root.} If we can pin RESULTS on 1 thing, 1 pill, 1 surgery, 1 extreme-tactic – we are willing to try it, no matter how exclusionary it is to the science behind fitness.

And it seems like humans like to pick the things that are truly extreme…raise your hands if you’ve tried diet pills, a juice cleanse, mega-doses of cardio, surgery, or something similar to achieve weight & fitness results. I can raise my hand to a few of those – back in my uneducated days, all the sorority sisters were trying diet pills in the hopes that those huge weight loss numbers were really possible, despite the mild heart arrythmia that could come with it.

(seriously, wtf people, why the hell do we pick routes to fitness that are littered with pretty bad things that can happen as a result of going with that route?…because good old-fashioned hard work, well-rounded exercise-science based training programs, and a whole-food type diet is seemingly BO-RING and slow on the results front.)

The latest fitness trend folks are pinning their hopes to: “hard-core” workouts. They’re the new black. They’ve got almost as much buzz as the new iPhone. They’re sexy in a puke-on-your-shoes sort of way. They’re what all the cool kids are doing. “Hard-core” workouts seem to be *the* way to get fit, be awesome, possibly even create world peace. They have reached a level of support in the last year  that is quite fascinating to watch from the fitness professional’s perspective. Because while not all “hard-core” workouts raise the middle finger to the science of strength & conditioning, many do.

Are you doing a “hard-core” workout? Here’s a few ways to know: -you do yoga in a room that is 115 degrees & there are burpees, -you’re doing timed workouts named after girls, 
-your at-home workout is tough to the “90X” percent or is “Insane”. So what’s the problem with some of these crazy-hard workouts?


It’s a dangerous thing to think that harder/more is better. It’s not. In fact, it’s likely what limits the long-term fitness success of many. And, when used incorrectly (as I see far too often)- it’s the fast-track to injury.

Yes, hard workouts can be effective. They can make you dig deep within yourself. Progressive over-reaching is key to hitting strength & performance goals. But there are some very real problems with throwing a person into a “hard-core” workout before it’s appropriate. I’m going to cover a few of them in the next few posts.

I’ll be covering:

  • how many “hard-core” workouts ignore your dysfunctional kinetic chain  & why injury is inevitable in that case
  • what extreme workouts can do to your hormone balance
  •  how extreme workouts cloud the waters with regard to expected results vs. methodologies to get there
  • and how extreme workouts are really NOT the answer for long-term fitness & health, & what IS the answer

But first let’s start with a really simple thought: just because you’re sore does not mean it was a ‘great workout.’ It means it was a DIFFERENT workout, your body is not used to it, and it responded with the proper biological action – muscle soreness. Muscle soreness has long been studied and debated, but current consensus is that pain is felt when microscopic tears happen in the muscle as a result of eccentric contraction, and the tear/re-build process is the pain you are feeling in the 24-48 hours after the workout. This will happen ANY time you put a new stress on your body, with a different load than that which you are used to. When I, who normally lifts heavy & sprints and seems to be in pretty good all-around fitness, takes a ‘yoga booty ballet’ class with my friend, I will be sore. More sore than she is, as she takes these classes on a more regular basis. Does that mean she is getting a less-good workout because she is less sore? Or that I am out of shape because I did get sore? Short answer – NO.

Do not use level of soreness to gauge if you got a good workout. Just don’t. That’s like asking the bank to measure your financial health by assessing your reading & writing skills. It doesn’t jive. Yes, being able to read & write is important – “feeling” like your body was worked is important – but being “worked” appropriately does not mean you have to be wrecked from muscle soreness. So do not use soreness as the deciding factor for if you had a good workout or not. And in the next posts on the “hard-core” workout topic, we’ll see if we can determine the quality of a workout from better feedback mechanisms.

Posted in: fitness