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Fitness: Why Moderation and Rest Are Essential for Peak Workout Performance

By Shane Borza, MCC

If you're an outdoor athlete, you've probably been guilty of excitedly running outside for some much-needed adventure in the evenings or on the weekend to reclaim your spirit after work.

But too often, what happens? You overdo it and spend a few days (or a few weeks) recovering.

So what’s the secret to jumping up from your desk, getting outside, enjoying your body, and getting some sunshine and fresh air without overdoing it? Well, as my old track coach used to say, “Don’t go out like a pack of wild idiots.”

Grease The Groove

When I first got into functional fitness training, I was aghast to see my kettlebell gym only had classes four days a week. My coach took that even further by recommending I only train three days a week (insert ‘Yikes!?!’ here).

Did I follow his advice? Yes. Did I also climb all weekend, every weekend? Of course! I would then show up too tired to train every Monday, but what can you do?

Realizing I loved to train every day, my coach recommended I try Greasing the Groove’, which meant I would practice an exercise with light weights several times a day to learn new movements and perfect skill sets. He'd done a great job of recognizing my intensity level was redlining every day, and thought this might be a good way for me to balance that out with some low-level but high volume weight training.

Little did he know...

Excitedly, I added his tips to my training, while completely failing to understand Greasing the Groove wasn’t a high intensity workout designed to tire me out and make me sweat. Instead of using a weight "you can easily lift ten times" (as he recommended), I crushed myself with the heaviest weights I could lift... only to--once again--show up to the gym too tired to do anything.

My entire first year of kettlebell training was like that--I'd hit everything with the intensity through the roof, come into the gym too tired to train, get chastised by my coach, and then do the same thing again the following week.

At his wits end, my coach forced me to use light kettlebells only to offset my crushing weekends in the mountains, and reminded me why I had joined in the first place: “You’re not training to win at kettlebells. You’re training to move better in the mountains.”

Wise words, but they took a few years to sink in.

Me, making smart decisions, training 24/7 and burning myself out like a deranged candle.

Well, well, well...if it isn't the consequences of my actions...

My second year of kettlebell training upped the intensity even more as I trained for and attended a three-day instructor course. After sustaining major injury the year prior (which resulted in nerve damage and took a year to heal), I showed up strong, but with serious mobility limitations and spasms.

When I arrived at the event, I found my team and told my cadre about my injury. They were very attentive and had me show them exactly what I could and couldn’t do.

It wasn’t until the end of the certification, though, when we were to take the strength test, that my team leader recommended I not take the strength test.

I reeled at this. No, really. My "intensity at all costs" mindset did not compute.

Wasn’t I only there for three days? Wouldn’t I miss out on the certification? If I wasn’t willing to go "all out," then why had I come to the instructor training?

My instructor told me that I was there to learn and I had learned, and there was no reason to risk the next few months in rehab and/or physical therapy for a five-minute strength test. I should heal properly, prepare properly, and then perform properly when ready.

I spent the morning alternating between wanting to go for it -no matter what- and knowing I had spent half my life in a state of injury and really not wanting to do that anymore.

My instructor's words kept replaying in my mind:

  • Heal Properly

  • Prepare Properly

  • Perform Properly

Kettlebells, why have you betrayed me?!

Lesson Learned

In the end, I got a certificate of attendance, but not my instructor certification. That was several years ago and I'm still working on range of motion and mobility, but both are improving. My instructors' warnings definitely prevented further injury that day.

That kettlebell instructor training left me with a few key questions I now always ask myself and my clients:

  • Do you wake up naturally, feeling refreshed, and energized? Or do you stumble out of bed like a zombie?

  • Are you full of energy all day and can handle anything life throws at you, regardless of whether or not there’s any training that day? Or do you spend all day preparing for the training to come, crush it, but then feel crushed afterwards?

  • Is your life a series of awesome adventures, which constantly replenish you? Or do you need to recover from your last adventure, and border on injured and sick, even while you’ve begun training for the next thing, all the while hoping you don’t end up in bed or the hospital?

If any of those second responses sound like you, you may be over-training and probably need more rest. While intensity is great at times, integrating more variety (and yes, rest days) in both your training and your life will serve you better. Look past the training stressors that are self-imposed and start looking at what other stress is affecting your body: your sleep diet, relationships, work/life balance, supplementation, environment, etc.

Your fitness routine should leave you feeling like this!

It's great that running, hiking, climbing, cycling, or any other outdoor activity fuels you - but how are you fueling yourself so you can do more of that activity? Remember, there are 23 non-training hours a day. The intensity and stress you amass overall may decide how often you get outside and enjoy your thing. So cut yourself some slack--your body (and mind) will thank you!

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