Here’s What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t ‘Go Hard or Go Home’ in Every Workout

Photo: Studio Firma
Your fitness routine can be a safe space where you find joy, endorphins, and—yeah—even a little bit of peace. The problem is that, every January, the language used around moving your body trends toward being more damaging than inspiring. Mentalities like "go hard or go home" and "push yourself to the limit" may make you feel like your workout is worthless if it doesn't leave you panting on the ground and sore for days. But the simple truth is this (repeat after me): Not every workout should feel hard.

Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of megaformer Pilates studio SLT, says that every time you exercise, you reap the rewards—regardless of your effort level. "Any type of exercise—whether your effort level is a one or a five—is worthwhile. Always going all out in workouts is not a sustainable way to exercise and is likely to result in injury and burnout. It's important to listen to your body when working out and not to push it beyond what's smart," she says.

Experts In This Article

Looking for some evidence to support the idea that all movement is worthwhile? A couple weeks back, we reported on a study that found that power walking for just 17 minutes each day increased your cardiorespiratory fitness, a metric associated with lower cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Meaning, your lunchtime walk is very capable of increasing your longevity and overall well-being—even if you're not winded by the end. And for what it's worth, the people of the Blue Zones—the longevity hot spots on the planet—also prefer snackable exercises for longevity that fit into their everyday lives, like gardening or carrying their groceries home from the supermarket. (Read: They're not going all out in a spin class every single day—and that's totally fine.)

"Always going all out in workouts is not a sustainable way to exercise and is likely to result in injury and burnout." —Amanda Freeman, founder and CEO of SLT

Now, here's the thing: Sometimes, it may feel awesome to push yourself to the limits—it’s how you get stronger, increase your VO2 max (or maximum oxygen uptake), and overall level of fitness. And as long as you're doing so safely, Freeman says that's also completely fine. "My advice really is to listen to your body and determine which are the days you can go all out and which are the days you need to be more moderate in your physical activity," she says. After all: Sometimes logging that extra mile or performing an extra burpee or two can make you feel self-assured and powerful. But it's not always easy to know what your body "needs" on a given day.

That's why Freeman recommends planning to work out at different effort levels throughout the course of your week. Then, if you get to, say, Wednesday and don't feel like going for your long run, you can swap in something else instead.  "I think it's important to plan out your workouts in a way where you vary them up and don't overdo any one muscle or type of movement. Balance is key," she says. (Nudge, nudge: If you're looking for an easy way to plan out a week of fitness, check out Well+Good's ReNew Year Fitness Plan).

Grab your sliders and try this SLT workout (at whatever effort level feels good today!):

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