Opinion: 'I like it hard' - Our obsession with 'hard' exercise


When did this become the ultimate characteristic that defines and describes a workout? The way we gauge if the movement completed was a success? Why does it have to feel so hard - all the time?

Was it the re-birth and popularity of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)? Was it Crossfit?

It feels like these days that unless I am borderline puking my guts out, or shaky to the point of "no, I cannot do one more rep," I have not done anything beneficial for my body.

How wrong this way of thinking is.

The fascination with pushing and hurting is not a new one at all. In fact, it is understood and known that a level of discomfort is required to make new gains/ speeds/ power thresholds. Any athlete knows this.

Being great is more than just talent; there is a substantial amount of hard work and grind that is mixed with sweat to get good - really, really, really good. These workouts are strategically programmed for a team or an athlete and definitely not done every day.

So why do we, the generic population, think we have to "go at it" all the time?

When did it become lost that the humble walk is more than that; indeed it is a workout too? And not just what it is considered now - a tool for relaxation.

Evidence suggests that two intense sessions of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) style training is all that is needed a week to make maximal fitness gains. However, talking to my clients and friends, it appears that almost everyone is doing HIIT or some version of an intense workout at least five to six times a week. Even restorative workouts such as yoga and the humble walk now have the added intensity of pockets of HIIT.

Where did the good old high/ low go?  That class dancing to music where you laugh, get a bit sweaty, and to improve your cardiovascular fitness at the same time? Where is that Yin - which in my opinion is of much more benefit now to the population than ever before?

It is no wonder that as the gym population and those committed to the fitness industry make things harder in movement, the gap between the fit and healthy and those in need of health support gets wider.

The barrier is bigger, the fence is higher.

Those that have the desire to start a healthier lifestyle and follow the advertised path of paying to attend a gym or club, face huge anxiety and a realm of self-doubt before even stepping into the space.  It's no wonder people just choose to walk on the treadmill and ride the bikes! It feels odd and scary!

These members get a little lost in the membership system and end up becoming loyal donation makers to a profitable place that should be catching and nurturing this market. Maybe this was your story?

What is the answer?

I would love to see resurgence in people-focused, imperfectly perfect movement. You do not have to "go hard" in every single workout.  Recommended guidelines are that we move in some way three to four times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes.

So start with stepping outside the front door. Take a good walk with some friends, partner or a pet and value that time as more than just a commitment to your health. It is an investment into you. Going too hard can be detrimental to your long term health with a stream of hormonal cascades that occur and can take you further from fitter, stronger and healthier.

There are some great community incentives such as walking groups, park workouts and aqua classes that are starting to nurture people new to fitness and health, and even those who are not necessarily new, but do not feel like thrashing their bodies day in and day out. Try some of these.

If you feel a bit lost and resonate with these words, get in touch or even better, if you are ever in Glen Innes, Auckland, message me - we can do a workout together!

Nats Levi is an Auckland- based health and wellness coach. She runs a 4 week health challenge, #NLC, aimed at finding your best health and a sustainable lifestyle for you using the pillars of movement, nourishment and restoration. To get in touch with Nats, contact her here.

Facebook: Nats Levi

Instagram: @natslevi