Ask Dave: Random Training, Training Intensity and More…..

question“Good morning Mr. Hedges!
I know you are busy and I really hesitated to send this and then your article posted today seemed to hit the nail on the head.
I read in many places that workouts don’t have to be all out effort every time like they are in xfit.  And to tell the truth I am feeling really tired these past weeks.  Both mentally and physically.  
Part of me is afraid if I don’t push balls to the wall I will lose the fitness I have gained?  Part of me thinks I should trust what I read from people that know more than me and because of my lack of knowledge I hesitate.
Part of me is thinking do I have it in me to do those type of workouts forever?  Do I WANT to do that sort of workout forever?  And what would it feel like to have more energy for other things?  And I think a lot lately what exactly is the point of all this random work?
Yes, I enjoy being able to do more physically and I want to accomplish more still.  Lots of bodyweight mastery I would love to “get” and have not accomplished etc.
Even with horses and dogs – if you push them hard all the time, many times they break down and develop lameness issues in joints/skeletal structure if a soft tissue injury doesn’t appear first that causes them to be laid up. 
I think of people like Wolfgang Brolley who is out running 11 miles of stairs and umpteen miles and I think that I should not feel tired or dragging in motivation when all I do is an hour  4-5x a week mixed in with the other things we all have in life.  I dont’ think I’m comparing myself exactly, however, that stresses to me that our bodies are capable of much when we can overcome our brains telling us to stop. 
Anyway – just thinking about the current state o’ things… 
Not sure there is an answer to all this.  I will only know by experimenting and trying different things – we are the experiment – N1 – after all right? 
Hi Shannon,

That’s a lot of questions in a short email, so let me just summarise them so we can address them point by point.
  • Work outs don’t have to be all out effort every time
  • If I don’t give 100% every time will I lose fitness?
  • Do I want to train at 100% all the time, would this energy be better used elsewhere?
  • What is the point of random training?
  • How do people maintain a high workload while maintaining balance?
The first three points all really ask the same thing, and it’s about modulating intensity.


Intensity has a specific definition in the strength and conditioning / sports science world, it is a percentage of your 1 rep max.
ie if you have a 200kg maximum deadlift, then this is 100% intensity. If you lift 150kg, then this is 75% intensity.
Black and white, eh?
This is the scientific idea of intensity and it’s the way all strongmen, weightlifters and powerlifters workout their training loads and is the foundation of Prilepins Chart, widely considered to be the golden rules of strength training.
Prilepin's Chart

Prilepin’s Chart

But the term “intensity” has been hijacked and is very commonly used as a substitute for the what is known as “Rate of Perceived Exertion” or RPE.
For a runner, you don’t have a 1 rep max speed. Extended training, ie that of an endurance athlete, a body builder or general fitness doesn’t have the black or white characteristics of a single rep on the deadlift. So measuring how hard an athlete is working is often done according to how they feel.
The standard for this was created by Gunnar Borg who came up with the Borg Scale of RPE.
His scale runs from 6-20 and is actually a measure of heart rate, ie a heart rate of 60bpm to 200bpm, of you report an RPE of 15 during a workout, it is expected that your heart rate reached 150bpm.
Many coaches simply ask you rate your RPE on a 1-10 scale, it’s simpler than 6-20 but doesn;t have the direct correlation to heart rate that Borg was aiming at.
Me crossing the line at the 2004 Dublin Marathon. RPE - pretty fucking high!

Me crossing the line at the 2004 Dublin Marathon.
RPE – pretty fucking high!

If we look at the training cycle of an athlete, we will clearly see a variety of intensities used. And by intensity I am referring to both definitions above.  A strength focused work training session will work according the first, a more conditioning workout out, the second.
So our Power lifter may spend a week working at 70% intensity, then the following week build to 80% and so forth until he sets a brand new 100% which translates to a personal best in that lift.
Bolton going for 100% intensity, evidence of this intensity is running out of his nose

Bolton going for 100% intensity, evidence of this intensity is running out of his nose

Our runner may do similar, but on an RPE scale, eventually topping out with a personal best time in his event.
After the PR, intensity will be pared right back and a new cycle begins.
For a fitness enthusiast, these scientific methods may not be necessary and the simpler RPE scale of 1-10 may be a better gauge.
I’ve just read Matthew Perrymans excellent kindle book “Squat Every Day” it’s a worthy read and talks a lot about RPE and it’s application.
He’ll tell you that your RPE is a good guide as it will keep you safe. In other words on the days you feel great, that 100kg Power Clean will float up with an RPE score of maybe 6 or 7. Later that week, the same weight will get a score of 8 or even 9.
Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Same lift, same weight, different day.
On the days it feel light, either load up the bar or crank up the volume. On the days it feels heavy, do the minimum and call it a day.
Even Jim Wendler, renowned powerlifter and author of the massively popular 5/3/1 ebook offers similar advice.
Some days your on fire, you get the work done and crank out extra, because you can. Other days, you simply get in, do the prescribed sets and reps on the main lift and bin the assistance work. Simple go home and save it for another time.
Now what about that white elephant in the room, that polarising force that is Crossfit?
Even Willie from the Simpsons does Crossfit these days!

Even Willie from the Simpsons does Crossfit these days!

As much as the marketing and internet bragging goes on about “elite” “hardcore” and “our warm up is your workout” nonsense, the truth is, the top crossfit coaches follow the above guidelines. They push the guys who can be pushed and reign in the ones who need to back off.
All the noise and nonsense bravado bullshit comes from the unfortunate majority of crossfits online presence, the ones who seem to be better at bragging than actually training and keep posting ridiculous claims and even worse videos all over the web.
So back to the original question, “can I or should I go all out all of the time, and if I don’t will I lose my hard earned fitness”
The short answer is no.
The only people who train all out all the time are the rank amateurs and also rans. The pro’s go in ebbs and flows, cycles of ramping up and backing off. And that goes for the elite crossfit games guys as much as it does the track athlete or the combat athlete.
And an important point to remember is that unless we are a professional athlete, we train to improve the quality of our life, we train to live, we don’t live to train.

Random Training

Does random training have a point?
Well yes and no.
A random image, you decide it's purpose.....

A random image, you decide it’s purpose…..

Why yes?
The point of randomised training is th development of non specialised fitness or General Physical Preparation (GPP).
GPP underlies all other forms of training, if the better your GPP the wider you foundation will be when you come to developing fitness for a specific purpose, ie a sporting event.
Why no?
If you only ever develop non specialised fitness, it’s very different to quantify. It’s almost impossible to track your development and to tell whether or not you are actually moving forwards.
Crossfit initially used so called “benchmark” workouts which would be repeated at intervals over the year. If your random training is moving you in the right direction then the times taken to complete these benchmark workouts, assuming all other parameters are constant, should reduce.
Randomised training is useful, but you still need to test and tests must be standardised.
So even in chaos, there must be order.
How often to we hear the champions of randomised training, the Crossfit community, talking about a new PR in the Snatch or the Squat, a new fastest time in Sally or whatever they call their workouts.
Does this sound random?

The problem with random is if you have specific goals in mind.
If your goal is to burn fat and look good, then fire away. If your goal is to be in the best possible shape in which to enter a 12 week pre fight training camp, then power to you. If your goal is to PR on the deadlift, then you’re going to struggle. If your goal is to get a certain time in the Dublin Marathon, you’ll be disappointed. If your training goals include mastering certain skills, you are going to have to pray to the training gods that these skills are on your workout of the day.

Work Capacity

You referenced Mr Wolfgang Brolley, a man with seemingly limitless endurance. But, pay attention to his facebook posts and you’ll see a variety of training going on.
Yes he runs Ultra marathons, which requires hours and hours of going out and running, day in day out in order to prepare. But he also posts about the days he stays home or the days he hits the weight room instead of the trails.
In other words, he follows the rules we laid out above about RPE and intensity. When he’s good, he’s good and goes for it, other times he backs off, sleeps in or gives his mind and break from the monotony and goes to lift heavy stuff instead.
All this took years to develop, Mr Wolf is no spring chicken, he’s developed his work capacity over the course of years.
You can only do the training you can recover from. For the better part of this year I’ve been putting in 3-4 one hour workouts per week, now I do 4-6 sessions roughly lasting 40 minutes or less.
Previously I’ve trained up to 10 times per week. Other times I’ve put in 4 hours per day, 5-6 days per week.
I have guys train with me anything from 1 hour to 8 hours per week, it’s down to their training needs.
Training volume, is all down to training goals.
You do the work that will get you the results you desire.
You can’t decide how you want to train, unless you know what your training for.
If your training for quality of life, 2-3 sessions per week, no more than an hour at a time is plenty, so long as the time is used wisely.
If your competitive, up to 5 or 6 sessions.
If your pro, it’s your life.
It is all about your individual wants and needs. After that it becomes about a wee thing called “progressive resistance” which is the underlying principle behind any and all physical training protocol. It’s about gradually building the work.

The Wrap Up

You say that “we are the experiment” which, to some degree is true, but there are plenty of tried and tested training protocols that are time proven to get certain results. In other words the experimentation has been done and it’s just a matter of following the program and doing the work.
Random training produces random results, this suits most as they don’t have specific wants, if you do, it doesn’t.
Food for thought indeed.
Dave Hedges

One thought on “Ask Dave: Random Training, Training Intensity and More…..

  1. Pingback: The top 10 most read blog posts of 2014 | Wild Geese Fitness Training

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