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"Race Day": When Intensity is More Important Than Consistency

by Live Better

I am firmly in the camp that prioritizes consistency over intensity for the majority of work done in pursuit of a goal, whether that comes in the gym or in the office.

This discussion fits perfectly within the context of “Performance vs. Longevity” - when is it worth it to prioritize performance in the short-term at the sacrifice of some longevity?

Personally, there are things I’d sacrifice a longer life for in order to have better quality of life right now. If you have the chance to do something truly great, the time is now. This should be calculated, and you should understand the consequences.

“Training” at 80% effort more often usually leads to better results over the long-term than training at 100% just once in a while; in the gym it’s certainly true for things like flexibility, strength, and endurance and in the office it’s true for making consistent progress. Just think, one all-nighter has lasting effects instead of getting to bed on time and getting back to it the following day. Sacrifice longevity for performance, and you must pay for it by recovering after the fact.

The body (and mind) need stress, however, we want it to be eustress. It should produce a physiological response, which we then need to respect by starting the recovery process. This might be soft-tissue work in the gym and it’s certainly proper nutrition and sleep outside of work. This consistent “eustress” should build a foundation on which we can apply intensity.

Here is the progression for what this looks like:
Stage 1: Training (consistent weeks/months/years)
Stage 2: Competition (intense effort)
Stage 3: Recovery
Stage 4: Repeat

The competition stage is where we access, push, and break our physical and mental limits. The goal is to push the boundary of what we think we’re capable of (hint: it’s so far beyond your imagination).

It’s time for intensity. We take all our “fitness” (read: skills developed) and apply it in competition.

We’ve got two big races this week; a one-mile underground Nike race and the Big Ten 10k (both in Chicago). We understand that these “competitions” are just small stops on the road to our bigger goal, which is to run the Chicago marathon in under three hours. Understanding this context is really important; if we push too hard, there is a chance we jeopardize that bigger goal.

I often talk about “earning the right to ask complicated questions,” which means we must do the following three things:

  1. Prioritize, plan, and prepare for our main goal.

  2. Crush the fundamentals by being consistent with the “easy” stuff in order to achieve this end goal.

  3. Contextualize individual actions within the timeframe of the larger goal.

Understand there is a consequence to “intensity” - we must recover after the fact (or, at the very least, understand we won’t perform at 100% in the next effort).

A couple things to understand about prioritizing intensity over consistency:

  • It will place a larger amount of stress on your body, which we need to understand in the context of our long-term goals. It’s unwise to do this too often.

  • We need to “recover” as intensely as we perform. Do not layer on more stress by failing to put as much effort into the down-regulation stage.

During a “race week” (read: any stressful week in which we are asked to perform at our highest level), down-regulation is extremely important. We’ve noticed that a few things work particularly well for us (please note: anecdotally, these work the best for us. We’ve experimented a lot):

CBD - We use Beam (a performance partner of Live Better) for multiple uses, such as the protein bar post-exercise and the tincture pre-sleep. Jason has been utilizing the tincture since his injury last year to assist in the healing process and to assist in deeper sleep. CBD can also be used during the day (in a lower dosage) to aid relaxation or creativity.

Cryotherapy, Infrared Sauna, Normatec Boots, Oxygen - We go to CryoEffect (a Chicago performance partner of Live Better) for the four services mentioned. During a tough week, we’ll complete cryotherapy 3+ times (especially if sleep was low or mentally we feel drained), and aim to hop in the boots after long runs and hard workouts.

Soft-Tissue Work - We use Hyperice equipment, like the Hypervolt or the Hypersphere, to remove physical stress. “Foam rolling” also has an added benefit of activation the para-sympathetic nervous system, which can be a great way to help fall asleep.

Meditation - During times of down-regulation, meditation can be the most accessible, easy way to remove stress. Simply, it is about focusing on breath. A simple “4-7-8” strategy can be employed (a “count” for the inhale-hold-exhale) for four rounds of breath. This can be done anywhere from your desk, before you walk on stage, in the locker room, or right before bed.

Nutrition - Go with your “guarantee” foods; those that make you feel good (objectively, based on energy) and you know you’ll respond well to. There isn’t time to mess around with trying new foods (note: this is good advice for your race itself - don’t introduce anything new you haven’t tried before).

These mitigation strategies can help you perform well, both pre- and post-performance. Sometimes life demands that we apply some intensity. If you like to compete, this might happen more often for you.

The bottom line is we should always be ready to perform; this is why consistent training is so important. Performance often necessitates intensity, but it is the long application of consistency that allows us to apply intensity in the proper manner.

What are you training for? What do you have coming up that you know might require some extra effort? Consistency > Intensity…until we need it.

Are you prepared to compete?

Jason LoebigComment