What is Effort?

Simply put, effort is simply how hard you're working in relation to hard hard you're capable of working.

One of the reasons it gets confusing is that this means there are no arbitrary numbers you can use as a reference.

For example, if you went for a run and sustained a 6 minute mile pace for 2 miles, that could be easy, hard, or even somewhere in the middle, depending on your fitness and familiarity levels with running.

Likewise, effort levels will change after a good or bad nights sleep, smaller or longer periods of recovery between repeated bouts of exercise and even what's going on in your head.

The bottom line is that effort is more about how what you're doing feels, than what you're doing.

Why Does Effort Matter?

In the image above, you can see the results of working to absolute failure. What isn't clear though is what the results from that are.

First of all, it's important to note, that most people have no idea of where or what their limits are. This is mainly because they've never really tested them.

Second of all, you should understand that many people never find out what their limits are because they never do anything that takes their performance near them.

That being said, there are a few reasons why effort is really, really important at both ends of the continuum.

At the low end. If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. If your training and nutrition don't provide you with a minimum level of challenge, then your body has no reason to change. It can do everything it needs to, just the way it is.

At the high end, working too hard can lead to injury at worst or slowing recovery and negatively impacting frequency at best.

What's the Significance of Frequency and Recovery?

For most people who are non-competitive exercisers (i.e. you're not training for an event or competition you need to win), frequency/consistency and recovery/adaptation are key.

Frequency and Consistency

Frequency and consistency are basically, how often you do something and how much variability there is in how you do it. It's not good going to the gym 5 times a week or having vegetables with every meal six days a week, if you only do it for a fortnight. Likewise, eating well and working out are unlikely to help if you only do them once every couple of weeks. The key is to get the balance between a meaningful frequency and a manageable commitment.

Recovery and Adaptation

Recovery and adaptation are the practical implications of frequency and consistency and simply refer to whether or not your body has dealt with the stress you applied and improved its systems to manage it better the next time.

If you go to the gym and cane it, but then can't walk straight for 6 days, your recovery is likely too long to get the frequency you need.

Equally though, if you're getting into the gym 6 times a week, but your strength or fitness levels aren't improving, you're not adapting to the changes you've made.

So How Much Effort is Enough?
Muscle Soreness- A Guide

Level One Muscle Soreness

No pain or discomfort at rest, slight stiffness when moving previously trained muscles

Level Two Muscle Soreness

Minimal discomfort at rest, moderate stiffness when moving previously trained muscles, but this diminishes with movement

Level Three Muscle Soreness

Slight pain and/or discomfort at rest, moderate pain and/or stiffness when moving previously trained muscles. Diminishes slightly with movement.

Level Four Muscle Soreness

Moderate to intense pain and/or discomfort at rest, intense pain and/or significant stiffness when moving previously trained muscles. Diminishes very little with movement and returns quickly once movement is stopped.

Muscle Soreness- Strategy

Level One Muscle Soreness

Congratulations, you're good to go.

Almost all exercise and intensity options are open to you

Level Two Muscle Soreness

Mobility and gentle conditioning work are possible on previously worked muscles, but all exercise and intensity options are viable for all non-trained areas.

Level Three Muscle Soreness

Mobility work is possible on previously worked muscles, moderate intensity work is permissible on any non-trained areas..

Level Four Muscle Soreness

You just had to push it, didn't you? Congratulations, you busted your ass. The downside is that now your body needs to focus almost exclusively on recovering from the whupping you gave it.

Rest or gentle mobility work only (soft tissue/foam rolling and stretching)