Training for general health and training for top end performance have a lot in common. Both are designed to encourage the body to adapt and become fitter, faster and stronger. However, it is important to know that more often than not, these two aspects of training do not go hand in hand.

Let’s look at training for health. Group A has a goal to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible. This may involve training elements such as aerobic fitness work, strength training and mobility.

Group A wants to develop their aerobic fitness so that they can go on mountain hikes with their friends, bike rides with the family, and play football with the kids. Group A wants to get stronger so that they feel more confident with day to day physical tasks and to mitigate injuries, and finally Group A wants to develop the flexibility to touch their toes, squat down whilst stroking the dog, and be able to reach overhead without shoulder pain.

Now let’s look at training for elite performance. The goal here is no longer health and longevity, it is to perform optimally and ultimately win a competition. Group B want to compete in an Ironman, compete internationally in Weightlifting, and compete at the CrossFit Games.

Both groups training for the day involves running. Whilst group A only need a dose that is going to get them slightly fitter on that day, our ironman competitors from group B are not so lucky. They need to run more than 5x the distance to condition themselves for the race ahead. Getting in the mileage is going to be key to completing the event in a respectable time.

Our next session involves Back Squats. Group A complete a 3×3, develop some strength, and will only squat again the following week. For our Weightlifters from group B, this is the 6th time they have squatted this week. Again, for the sport of Weightlifting a strong squat is paramount.

Our final session is a CrossFit workout. Group A has to complete 3 rounds of Pull Ups, Power Cleans and Box Jumps. Our competitors from Group B however are required to perform Chest To Bar Butterfly Pull Ups, Power Cleans at a much higher weight, and the box jumps at a much higher height. These movements and skills are required to be mastered due to the competition ahead.

So why doesn’t everyone just train like Group B? Surely more gains and greater performance is sort after by everyone? The answer is Sacrifice. You have to be willing sacrifice a hell of a lot.

Firstly, you have to sacrifice your time. You can train for general health by only giving up one hour of your day (with a well structured programme). For elite performance it is more like 3-4. Not only does training volume increase, but so does the amount of recovery work needed. Stretching, massaging, icing, rehab etc. For most people, this is simply too high of a demand and isn’t worth it.

Next, injury. If you’re going to push the limits of what your body can do, then you WILL get injured. Now I’m not saying that these injuries will be catastrophic, but you will pick up something. This is why the best of the best spend thousands, if not millions on recovery protocols. If you’re running hundreds of miles a week, your joints are going to be in bits. If you’re squatting heavy everyday, your patella tendons are going to screaming for mercy.

The final point I want to touch on, mindset and mental health. If you train for health, your gym time is your happy time. Time to forget about the outside world and all the bullshit that you have to deal with, and just enjoy your hour of fitness therapy and your endorphin hit. If you train for performance, unlucky son. You have times to hit, percentages to lift, sets to complete, and guess what, if you don’t you suck and your opponents are going to wipe the floor with you on game day… well at least that’s what you tell yourself anyway.

My advice to you is to make sure you identify what your goals truly are. If you want to compete, that’s awesome, but remember that sacrifices will have to be made to get where you want to be. Injuries, excessive fatigue and mental battles. If you want to train for general health, make sure you’re real with yourself and don’t beat yourself up when you see what the competitors are achieving performance wise.

Regardless of what your goals are, get after them with everything you have! 

If you enjoyed this post, check out my next post “Weightlifting Did Not Kill My Conditioning“.