Have you heard about the brutal spectacular creative fun miracle workouts they do over at Club Awesomefit? You know, where they have those circuits?
assisted power cleans with 300% body weight X 3,
directly into upside down ladder climbs X 3,
then resist mid-sized SUV as it rolls down hill X 90 feet
then jump rope on one leg while juggling 20-pound kettle-bells X 2 minutes
then 200 meter sprint against fire hose spraying electric eel water
finish it off with the "core" exercise that expert trainer guy in Utah calls "The Bloody Turd" X 2
rest 52 seconds then repeat, oh, say...um,...X 7.
It's some wild, cray z stuff.
Seriously though. I remember the time when we squatted and chin-uped and rowed and over head pressed some challenging heavy loads for multiple sets of 6 to 10 reps for about 40 minutes and then exhausted, went running over hill and dale and in the Yellow Breeches (stream) for another 45 minutes. I remember when two others and I Farmers Walked 170 pounds for over 1.5 miles. Then there are these little "ditties" we do called 500 days...
Yeah, I've done some epic work outs. But...[the whole point of this writing is the BUT...]
Really, the 99.9% of us do not need to engage Enormous Brutality of Vomit and Utter Desolation 3 times per week (or even once per week) to obtain or remain in fantastic shape and condition. Here is why pushing your body to the absolute limit can in fact do more harm than good.
1. You won't keep it up.
By definition truly Epic workouts are, well, EPIC. You simply cannot keep that up for weeks and months. Some other aspect of your life WILL suffer. And if you don't burn out mentally, your body will reveal the truth. You will be chronically tired and crabby. Studying or vacuuming the house or playing freeze tag with the kids will be monumentous feats of will. The blessing of exercise will be pure black dread. Your body will break down with injury.
2. You achieve less than you think.
There is definitely a time to crush your body, mind, and spirit with pure misery in absurd doses of effort. Epic workouts demand and megafy mental fortitude and physical conditioning. But notice that I didn't say "produce strong mind and body." Epic workouts are far from the best way to truly improve strength - strength in terms of your ability to generate more force and/or to properly control body segments during functional movement.
How are you supposed to learn and ingrain more healthy and efficient movement patterns while suffering physical exhaustion? How are you going to improve your limit strength when your body is simply struggling to survive second-by-second self inflicted torture?
Thin guys (and gals), how do you expect your muscles to tear down and then supercompensate by doing only a few heavy reps and then grinding away on a rowing machine, track, or stationary bike 3 or 4 days per week? Death Circuits typically give your mind and body insufficient time under tension to evoke much strength gain and drastically cut into your ability to recover from all physical activity.
If you're training to increase size or strength, then focus. A program that is properly designed with size and strength emphasis will provide plenty of conditioning effect. But don't expect to be an elite endurance king while you pack on 10 or 15 pounds of muscle. It's just not happening.
Or go ahead and learn the hard way like me, spinning your wheels for a good six years until you understand that you need to train hard and smart.
Along those same lines...
3. You teach the brain that endurance comes first.
This strength-endurance is desirable if you're primary interests involve mountain climbing, Crossfit type competition, or a Spartan type obstacle race and you can already easily move your body weight with your upper body (as in rope climbs and chin-ups).
But low reps of powerful movements (weight training and plyometrics) with ample rest between sets are far superior for improving the physical and neurological properties of what we call "explosiveness." You wouldn't try to learn any skill like proper pitching or jump shot or high jump technique while in a state of exhaustion. And so you should treat squatting and sprinting and jumps etc. with the same regard.
No matter what other training tools they use, "slow footed" athletes simply will not increase their running speed if they fail to include relatively short distance, all out sprinting efforts in a state of minimal fatigue. Repeat sprints done with sloppy running technique and little rest periods at 87% effort (in order to merely survive the workout) will not turn an average athlete into a speed demon.
Those short duration workouts that emphasize power over efficiency do not have that epic feel to them. But then again, it is in fact MIGHTY epic to throw an 87 mph fastball, to dunk a basketball, to jump over 4'6", or to explode off the starting block. Epic work outs really don't help you with any of that. If you're not yet able to easily do body weight pull-ups and dips and you can't squat or jump very well for one rep much less 80 reps, then you probably need less grueling grinding and more training of the brain for explosive effort.
I didn't learn amateur gymnast skillz at the age of 36 while in state of exhaustion:
In summary, this is not a call to be lazy and call it working out. Plain hard work is always called for and often in short supply. There is also a time and place for Epic Workouts, but they can easily be misused and abused. Sometimes it's fitting to remember the words of Kanye.
'Cause when you try hard, that's when you die hard.