Can less really be more?
I have managed to reach that age where cliches I used to roll my eyes at have now become daily mantras.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I had a ‘food and textile technology’ teacher named Miss Baker.
Miss Baker had one of those soft, sweet voices that simply filled your heart with love, joy and cupcake recipes.
“Less is more, my dear. Nobody wants to just taste icing.”
Oh Miss Baker, how right you were!
It does not take a genius to imagine that she was not much of a gym person.
To her, a safety squat bar was something she would use to go to the toilet as she got older.
But had I listened and really understood Miss Baker, maybe I would be a much stronger and leaner man.
A stronger, leaner man who could make a decent cupcake.
Now, baking tips aside, what does this have to do with you and your fitness?
Well, here comes your big lesson in all its complexity and splendour.
Less is more.
Or, perhaps more importantly, sometimes less training will yield greater results.
I can hear the brakes screech as the motivational Instagrammers come to a sudden halt, getting ready to bombard me with DMs, hashytaggys and whatever else those cool kids use on their ‘socialised mediums.’
But before you go tweet about how much of a twit I am, please hear me out.
Like a good wedding cake, there are a few layers to this so let me grab a fork and deconstruct this a la Paul Hollywood.
Volume of Training
When it comes to volume, I just want you to think of the ‘amount’ of training that you are doing in a week.
Indulge me for a second and think of training less like the dessert aisle in an all-you-can-eat buffet and instead, like the tasting menu of a Michelin starred patisserie.
Now, you could go and stuff your face with dry donuts, stale brownies and ice cream that is more ice than cream.
Just as you could force yourself into a gym endlessly, go through the motions and leave with almost no time left in the day.
I think we can acknowledge that this might feel alright at the time but will not massively benefit us in the long run.
Or, you could have three delicate plates of well-thought-out puddings, that have been intricately designed to match not only the desires but the needs of you and your tastebuds.
Just as you could seek out an experienced coach, train with them 3 to 4 times a week and enjoy having a lot more time to yourself.
I truly believe that quality training will get you much closer to your goals than quantity of training.
If you are looking to get stronger and increase your muscle size or definition, you want to be increasing the amount of weight you move, whilst increasing the quality of the movement.
Unfortunately, sitting on a machine moving the same weight 6 days out of 7 will not harbour the same result.
If you are looking at burning up body fat, you want to go really hard for short bursts of intense exercise or to slow everything down and go for long strolls that will not ruin your body.
The beauty in doing a little less is that you can spend that time achieving so much more.
And of course, less time in the gym will give you more time for other activities that might help you reach your goals.
I have had too many conversations with people about how many sessions they have done in a week.
They are doing this, doing that and doing every form of exercise that is earthly possible yet, they do not shed any body fat.
Now, we have all heard the saying ‘abs are made in the kitchen.’
However, I am still awaiting the day that someone brags to me that they have been getting up at 5 AM to grab a pan and start some red-eye batch cooking.
Somehow, #earlymorninggrind never seems to be about making your own pesto.
Furthermore, training for multiple hours, multiple days a week will also mean you have to increase the calories to keep your body happy.
But if you are finding yourself strapped for time and starving from those extra sessions, it is easy to overindulge on a Tunnock’s Teacake or 10.
Just like that, those 600 calories you burned in the gym have disappeared in a 5-minute frenzy of milk chocolate, soft biscuit and a white sticky substance that I hope is marshmallow.
If you find you are training 5 or 6 times a week and still struggling to meet your goals, then maybe it’s time to spend a session out of your PE kit and in your flowery apron.
Oh, you don’t have a flowery kitchen apron?
Time to get one!
Eurythmics’ signature song tells us that ‘sweet dreams are made of this’ without giving a clear description of what ‘this’ exactly is.
Nonetheless, after a long phone call with Annie Lennox, she is happy to reveal exclusively that she was referring to the naps she used to take after training to help her body recover.
Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to say that every day should be a lie-in.
However, if you have got the diet and exercise ticked off and still cannot get closer to your goals, then maybe it is time you focus your attention on the place ‘where the magic happens.’
7-8 hours a night should be the bare minimum if you really want to see results in terms of your body and gym performance.
A number is just a number and making sure it is a quality sleep is just as key.
This segment could become a whole other blog post (Editor’s note: it definitely will) but I will keep it short and sweet.
Prioritising the amount of time you spend between the sheets could be a small alteration to your schedule whilst producing a massive effect on your goals.
A lack of sleep can have detrimental effects on your stress levels, decision making ability, and performance in the gym.
More stress equals less chance of you stripping away fat, which in turn will probably make you more even more stressed in the long run.
A dip in willpower will often lead you to crack open a bottle of beer before bed, leading to a night of poorer sleep and leaving you tired, cranky and more likely to restart that negative cycle the next day.
I could go on and on but to put it simply, sleep is sexy.
Making sure you spend some quality time between the sheets will help to increase your chances of getting some quality time between the sheets.
Bringing it all together
Please do not make your takeaway from this article, ‘Golly, I do not need to train anymore.’
Exercise and specific training are essential to aid in burning fat and vital in building muscle.
Better yet, it will massively increase both the quality and quantity of your life.
However, if you are smashing your head against a brick wall when it comes to training then maybe, just maybe, it is time to take a look at the bigger picture.
Is that sixth day in a row of training as useful as a warm bath and an early night for you?
Would you be better off not rushing to the gym on a Sunday? Perhaps you’d be better off putting on some good music and cooking up some meals that you will look forward to throughout the week?
Or maybe, the reason you’re beginning to resent the gym is because you force yourself into it every day.
Like a good cupcake, we need to find a good balance of things.
If we have not got a good balance of diet and sleep yet, adding more and more training onto an already busy and stressful schedule might not be the answer.
In my head, it would be as useful as making icing when the cupcakes have not even gone in the oven.
Hmm, maybe I did listen to Miss Baker after all.