How the switch to softcore training led to my Six-Pack

How the switch to softcore training led to my Six-Pack

It took years of having a sizzling relationship over and over again with training to finally discover a deep and enduring love for fitness …and a six pack. My secret? I gave myself a break and stopped asking myself to be so hardcore. Seriously, I rarely give more than 70% of my maximum effort.

It's hard to believe that you don't have to torture yourself to be in shape, especially when every ripped AF person you meet in a coffee shop is raving about the CrossFit class that has just made their eyes bleed (… impressive!). Furthermore, the classic bro wisdom and even scientific studies state that the harder you work, the better the results. (Failure, brother !!! You must fail, BRO !!!) Yeah, I swallowed this blue pill too.

It's just that hardcore workouts have NEVER worked for me.

People thought I was in shape because I had the highest PT score in my battalion – as a former medic, I could run 20 miles down a hat and eliminate 130 pushups in a minute. But although I can play under pressure, I never felt in shape.

It might have something to do with the fact that I always had some sort of catastrophic injury that kept me from being consistent and gaining muscle. And honestly, the injuries suited me because I hated training. It was a very stressful and not very fun thing for me, and I would take any excuse to avoid it.

So I was content to be "skinny and fat" and semi-sedentary throughout the early to mid-twenties, returning to a hardcore exercise frenzy only when I was fed up of the way my body looked and felt, and still burned or injured. I was basically a bulimic exerciser.

That you could enjoy your workouts and being essentially a balanced human being hadn't even occurred to me yet (failure, brother, failure !!!). But shortly after I turned 28, I came across one of those YouTube videos that just resonated with you in a moment of satori from God (is there an algorithm for that?). And that made me drink a new flavor of Kool-Aid within 24 hours.

Firas Zahabi, head coach Tristar Gym, was presented on the Joe Rogan Show, where he talked about reducing the intensity of exercise for more consistency, better fitness and more gains. This is where I learned 70% principle: It is only on rare occasions, says Zahabi, that you must exceed yourself beyond 70% of your maximum perceived effort. Basically this means less hardcore workouts and more "softcore" workouts.

Shawn Mynar Certified Personal Trainer agrees, that workouts for overall fitness should be mostly whole body and low intensity, with your level of effort somewhere between 60-70 percent of your max perceived.

The idea is never to get tired so you can do high quality reps throughout the day – we're talking about five to seven mini workouts of 3 to 5 minutes – this way you can continue training the next day (when hardcore weightlifters can barely get out of the pot). It was good enough for elite marathon runners and weightlifters, so I gave it a shot.

I was hooked after the first day.

The first thing I noticed was that I really enjoyed the workouts. Instead of going cross-eyed and crying in a corner (OK… maybe it never was this bad), my “softcore” mini workouts were just a coffee break and just as energizing.

I did my first 5 sets of 10 push-ups at 9 a.m. and was ready for the second round at 10 a.m., then I repeated the cycle every hour or two until two or three at sunset – hitting the ground right next to my desk or walking around a park five minutes from my house.

The best part was that instead of looking at the clock and thinking, Ugh … I have to go to work, I was really looking forward to getting away from work to use my body and feel like a human again. It was totally stress-free and fun, which is exactly the opposite of what training has always been for me.

And yes, I work at home, so you may be thinking, uh, this seems super inaccessible, but I know a guy who used a conference room in his office for the same type of training. Where there is a will (and a decently flexible working environment), there is a way.

I ended the day with about 300 pushups in total, which was more than what I would normally do in my hardcore days, and I felt great – no constraints, no DOMS, no crying in the dark corners. I did push-ups the next day (each run was 3 sets of 7), and the same thing happened – I just wanted to go back to my bar and do more and more, because now that I didn't kill myself, I could really enjoy the movement and feel energized.

I have been working on burpee days, only five at a time, short 40 meter sprints, squats, planks, weight training – rarely exceeding 70% at most. And it was the same story for everyone: I fell more in love with fitness after each set. No injuries, no burnout. Just more energy and results.

Friends and family commented on my changing physique in the first month.

My family members (admittedly a little odd) started talking about my "pretty belly". By the second month, I had a defined six pack for the first time in my life, and my notoriously hollow chest was finally starting to fill. The fact that I was still training in the third month was a testament to how the 70 percent rule had worked for me because I had never stuck anything in so long.

This is not to say that there is not one type of person who can be energized by intense and crazy workouts. It's just that I have never been this person, try as I did. The best part of it all? After years of scary exercise, working out this way has finally sparked my love for fitness. And it's something that everyone can use.

Dan Dowling is a writer and coach in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Do you have fitness or career goals that you are delaying? Swing by his blog, Millennial success.

For more great fitness tips, healthy recipes and inspiration, check out our friends at Greatist.

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