No pain, no gain, right? Probably not, according to mixed martial artist Firas Zahabi.
It’s a common belief among fitness enthusiasts and gym goers: if your muscles aren’t aching after a workout, you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough.
There is exercise and then there is thrashing yourself silly. The rise of corporate boxing, mixed martial arts (MMA) and other extreme forms of physical fitness have led a growing number of white-collar workers to enter the ring, or even the octagon. But how hard should you really be pushing yourself?
Firas Zahabi, MMA fighter and head coach at Montreal’s Tristar Gym, gave his two cents on training when he appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
“I’m a big believer in never being sore,” Zahabi said. “When you train, the next day you should wake up feeling good.”
Keep it mind that this theory isn’t just for athletes. It applies to everyone, says Zahabi, even if you’ve never trained a day in your life. He goes on to explain why consistency beats intensity.
“Let’s say the maximum number of pull-ups you can do is 10. That’s the absolute maximum. You couldn’t do 11. Even if I pointed a gun at you, you couldn’t do 11.
“Should I make you do 10 pull-ups on our workout? No. I’ll make you do five. Why? Because I’m setting you up to work the next day,” he said.
“The next day we are going to do five [pull-ups]. Then we’re going to do another five the day after, and five the day after that. Then we’ll do six. When six is really easy, we’re going to do seven.”
The cage fighter’s theory is this: if you did 10 pull-ups on Monday (your absolute maximum), you’d be sore and unwilling to workout for a few days. By Thursday, you would have only done 10 pull-ups in four days.
By contrast, doing five pull-ups on Monday and working out throughout the week would equate to 20 or 25 pull-ups – double the volume of the person who pushed themselves to the limit on Monday.
“How much training can you pack into a week? That’s the real question,” Zahabi said.
Use exercise to energise yourself
The smart way to workout is to stop before you get exhausted. You want to gain energy, not lose it.
“Let’s say I’m feeling a seven out of 10. Ten being the most energised I can be,” Zahabi explains. “A one would be feeling really lethargic, like I want to lay down. At seven, I’m feeling good.
“If I get up and do the right amount of exercise, the right amount, I can feel like an 8.5 [out of 10]. Exercise can give me a tonic effect, like drinking a cup of coffee.
“Let’s say I do some jumping jacks and hit the [heavy bag] for a couple of rounds. I’m feeling good. Once you get that high, shut it down. Don’t go into the phase where your body is beat up, tired and broken down. Don’t redline the body.”
In the long run, he said, you tax your system. Consistency, rather than intensity, is the key to progress.