Can Lower Intensity Workouts Be Effective?

The BioPerformance Institute
September 23, 2022

The theme on my mind these days, as we will be kicking off a new training cycle October 10th, is how valuable a return to foundations is for keeping consistency high for years and years.

A certain contingent of fitness junkies out there love the feeling of a super hard workout – and I get it. Competing at a high level for years gave me an appreciation for going to the dark place – and years of this kind of training also showed me that there is a limit to how often and how long it can be sustained without risking injury and feeling not only unmotivated but beat down.

A common hesitation I see when I suggest that clients lower their intensity for a period of time is “how will it affect my body?” There is a misconception out there that high intensity is what keeps weight gain at bay. So today I will break down why lowering intensity can still help you look sexy

If you have ever asked, “what will happen to my body if I lower intensity for a period of time?” this is a reasonable question to be asking. If you just wrapped up an intense cycle of training and like the way you look, then is changing up the stimulus to get back to rebuilding your foundation going to ruin that? I can recall many times in my competitive career when my body was hurting and needed a break, but I was afraid to pull back on the intensity lever out of fear of seeing my body composition change negatively, as well as a belief that my overall performance would suffer. 

The truth is that too much intensity for TOO long can and will have adverse effects on your body composition and performance. Just like under eating for too long will have diminishing returns, going too hard in your training does the same. When you are constantly trying to outdo yourself with more speed, heavier weights, more complexity, and tougher workouts, you end up finding yourself in a fight-or-flight state. That lends itself to increased stress, difficulty managing your appetite control, and craving all the wrong foods. Not to mention your overall activity level outside the gym starts to go down as a result of being so tired. The net effect can be that your overall caloric expenditure is lower in these high-intensity phases. 

Reducing intensity periodically in exchange for more volume of foundational work can and will have a positive impact on your body composition. How so?

  • Cravings will be so much easier to manage; higher intensity leads to increased sugar cravings because our body uses that sugar to fuel ourselves. If you are not aware of this, bring some mindfulness around your training and the cues you receive from your body during periods of high stress and/or high intensity gym sessions.
  • You will have more energy outside of the gym to put towards your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) – want more info about this? Let me know!
  • The reduction in stress hormones can lead to a release of water that has been retained by the body causing a low-level bloating that does not make for a great aesthetic look.
  • Combine all of these points with a quantity/quality nourishment approach, and you can re-composition your body in a positive way effectively during these times.
  • There is always room for added low-level aerobic work to increase your total caloric output during these times. When you have more energy in your system from dialing back the mind-numbing intensity of training, you can more happily engage in lower-level activities like golf, biking, swimming, going for an easy jog, etc.
  • Simply put, by returning to fundamental principles for training – like what we do during the initial phases of Functional Training, you can pack more volume and total movement in than a training session with a couple of high-intensity challenges. The net impact being more calories burned and less stress to the system to allow for better body composition changes allowing you to look good and move well for decades.

I hope this information can help shed light (and maybe some unwanted poundage) as you continue with your fitness journey. From time-to-time, dial down the intensity and listen to the cues your body is leaving you. During these periods go the gym with the intention of moving your body and allow it to adjust by leaving some fitness on the table. When you are feeling reenergized and ready to get after it, THEN ramp up the intensity again. Your body will thank you for doing so!  


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