Are you interested in lifting to achieve a specific goal, but you’re not sure how many reps or sets to…
“That two-hour cardio session was so fun! Let’s do it again tomorrow! Yeah!”
*high-five + fist pump*
Um, yeah. Riiiiight. Have you ever felt that way?
OK, maybe if it were a really beautiful two-hour hike involving great weather, some waterfalls, and beautiful scenery. Or a bike ride through Tuscany on the way to winery… maybe. Maybe. But let’s be honest. For most of us, doing two hours of cardio is a chore (and a bore). We’re not looking forward to it, nor do we have the time or patience for that. We have stuff to do, and full, awesome lives to live. More importantly? It’s just not necessary.
Yet, many of us do it, because what we’ve been hearing for decades is this:
I’ve personally been there and done that, training eight to 12 hours a week hoping that all this hard work would finally deliver the body and health I desired. You know what I learned from that experience?
Doing less delivers so much more.
If you’re thinking that this sounds counterintuitive, I’m with you! In fact, it took me a while to get on board with this idea. I’ve now been training for well over a decade and have lived at both ends of the exercise spectrum, from doing absolutely nothing to engaging in extreme training and dieting.
I think we can all agree that doing absolutely nothing will get you absolutely nowhere. What many people still have trouble believing however, is that achieving fantastic results doesn’t require extreme training and dieting.
Time and time again I’ve found that doing the Minimum Effective Dose of training each week is what yields the absolute best—and long-lasting—results, both for me and for hundreds of women with whom I’ve worked. This is, of course, assuming that the goals are to look better, feel better, and be healthy and strong. If you have other, more specific goals (run a marathon or compete in a powerlifting meet, for example), your training might look a little different for a period of time while the focus is on preparing for that particular goal.
But back to this Minimum Effective Dose (or MED)… If you’re not familiar with this concept, the way you look at training is about to change, big time. MED, in general, is the minimum amount of something required to get the effect you desire. In training, this something could be time, intensity, volume…
We most commonly associate the word “dose” with medication, so here’s an example: If you have a headache and know that taking 200 mg of ibuprofen will get rid of it, it makes no sense to take 800 mg. Routinely taking too much ibuprofen could have some negative repercussions down the road. Yet, this is what many women do with exercise.
They do entirely too much, and in fact, often end up grinding themselves to an absolute pulp, all in the name of health and a fit physique.
I certainly I did.
Why do we do it? Because that’s the BS we’ve been hearing for decades. It’s unfounded advice passed around in gym culture, sometimes even by trainers themselves. It’s regurgitated in women’s magazines (thankfully, we’re slowly starting to see a little less of this). It may even be advice we get from a well-meaning, but ill-informed medical professional.
There’s just so much bad advice out there that’s leading us nowhere. It’s one of the reasons why we do what we do at GGS. We want to provide you with honest information to help you reach your goals.
One key step toward achieving your goals without compromising your physical and mental health is to apply the Minimum Effective Dose in your training. Here are three reasons why we recommend this approach.
I can’t tell you how many women I see spending nearly two hours daily in the gym doing a 60-minute kickboxing or Spin class, followed by a 45-minute Butts ‘n Guts or Zumba class, and then maybe another 15–20 minutes in the weight room doing triceps kickbacks, biceps curls, crunches (from all angles!), and other exercises that offer very little bang for their buck. They believe they have to spend two hours working out to see results.
That’s just too much clutter. You’ve got to simplify.
You could be much more productive in about half that time—sometimes less!—and truly see results by removing “this” class and “that” class, and exercises that don’t deliver a good return on the amount of time you invest doing them. If you spend about 10 to 15 minutes performing a solid warm-up, and then train smarter (not harder) for 30 to 45 minutes, doing a well-rounded, efficient, and effective workout, you will look and feel better, and be healthier and stronger.
When the “meat” of your workout includes exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, carries, prowler pushes, sled drags, and rope slams, 30 to 45 minutes is more than enough time to deliver incredible results. Plus, you’ll have loads of free time to enjoy your life outside of the gym.
You may have heard the saying, “You don’t get better in the gym. You get better when you recover from what you did in the gym.” Take those words to heart.
When you cut out the inessentials, the majority of your program will be strength training-based. To be clear, strength training isn’t necessarily just lifting weights. It’s any type of movement or exercise that imposes an increasing demand on your muscles and/or central nervous system and causes an adaptation. When you apply a stress to your muscles and/or your nervous system, your body tears down muscle tissue and rebuilds it bigger and stronger than before, or it increases the efficiency of your neural pathways so you can recruit more muscle fibers more effectively in the future.
Simply put, your body will figure out how to make a task easier in case you have to do it again in the future. However, in order to recover and adapt, your body has to have the resources to put towards that process.
A quick lesson: your body doesn’t know the difference between running from a tiger, overdrawing your bank account, fighting with your spouse, and doing a 90-minute Spin class. The stress response is the same.
So if you’re overly stressed—from excessive exercise, job stress, life stress, kid stress, marital stress, financial stress— your body is pretty much “running from that tiger” all day long. Too much training can make it even worse.
By using the MED, you expose your body to less stress from exercise, and have more time outside of the gym to engage in restorative activities like walking, Epsom salt baths, massages, sleep, and positive interactions with friends and family.
How many women do you know start and stop exercise routines and new diets every other month? They frequently talk about “getting back on the wagon,” or say, “When xyz happens, I’ll make time to get back to the gym.”
Why do some of us struggle to make fitness a regular part of our lifestyle? Simply, for many women, it often boils down to unrealistic expectations of how much they should be training to get the results they desire. They believe they should be in the gym six days a week for one and a half to two hours. When they’re unable meet that expectation and miss that first or second workout session, they figure they’ve failed and give up altogether.
This is another reason why MED is such a powerful approach. It allows you to be consistent over the long haul. It sets you up for success. If I tell you all you need is 45 to 60 minutes of training two to three days a week, you’d be way more likely to stick with it because it’s sustainable and realistic, and enhances your life instead of taking it over.
We’ve said this before, and we mean it: It’s really not a big deal if you miss a training session one week. What’s more important is, are you still training six months from now? Five years from now? Twenty years from now? Is keeping fit, healthy, and strong an integral part of your lifestyle? MED encourages long-term consistency, which we know is what ultimately leads to lasting results.
If you’re currently either doing too much, or doing nothing because you’re waiting until you have “more time” to train, try the Minimum Effective Dose approach, and see what happens!
A message from GGS…
In our Strongest You Coaching program, we help women just like you reach their health, physique, and mindset goals. Strongest You Coaching is about more than just training and nutrition. It’s about changing your self-talk and inner dialogue, learning to let fitness enhance your life instead of rule your life, and finally healing your relationship with food and your body, all with the help of your Girls Gone Strong Coach, and your fellow Strongest You Coaching group.