Should You Go All Out In Every Training Session

Cannonball Coffee is about turbocharging everything you do. But should you leave it all on the gym floor every session, or be more deliberate with your training? Guest contributor Jordan from Cave Conditioning takes a deeper look....

So, here’s a question for you, are you honestly training to perform or are you using performance for training? Just hold your answer in your head for a minute or two.

Whilst it’s so easy to understand the difference between the two in theory, it’s so often overlooked in practice. To the untrained eye it can be confusing and even to the trained eye, we can make the mistake of pushing ourselves too far.

We can so often become engrossed in our training, develop this tunnel vision, where we have to throw loads of volume and intensity at ourselves in the hope that we will become a better athlete on the other side. We turn up to our training sessions, we throw weight at the bar, we put our heart rate monitors on and we just thrash ourselves to get the numbers as high as we can. We push our squat sets to the max because it’s been a whole week since we’ve squatted. We jump on the rowing machine and we watch our heart rate climb faster than you could draw it on paper. After all that, we walk out of the gym and go “ooh yeah that was a tough one, I’ll wake up sore tomorrow.”

Man squatting with Olympic weights on patio

I’m talking from as much of my own experience as I am all those I’ve seen or trained with. In 2019 I started my training for Ironman Wales (of the same year), I also started at a CrossFit gym in the hope I would become a better all-round athlete.

Now before I continue, I just want to say this is not a dig at CrossFit or the gym I went to; the coaches were great and the sessions were excellent CrossFit sessions, I just want other athletes to be aware of the potential routes that follow.

I religiously turned up at CrossFit at least three times a week, every time I stepped foot in the gym, I went with the motivation to achieve and the discipline to not give in. Most sessions usually start with some strength and/ or power (some heavy deadlifts or some Olympic lifting for example) and end with a WOD (workout of the day). You make it to the WOD and you know now is the time to race against those around you or against the clock.

Long story short, you work your hardest every session. Sometimes you end up squatting three times a week and others you don’t squat at all. You get given these WOD’s which are sometimes related and sometimes appear meaningless. Either way, you thrash yourself, gauge your athleticism on your performance and as long as you do this a few times a week you’ll get better right?

So, I went along with it for nine months and then three weeks from race day… patellar tendonitis, induced from inconsistent training volume. The physio had a little chuckle to himself and said we should just book an appointment for afterwards as he knew it wasn’t going to stop me from turning up to the start line.

Now I know you’re all on the edge of your seats, so I’ll save you the suspense, yes, I did finish (but that’s not the point of the story).

I don’t blame CrossFit for the injury, just my own knowledge and experience (or lack of) for putting me in that position. My point is that using performance (the WOD’s, maximum intensity sessions, thrashing sessions) all the time to train is unnecessary. Its not useless, just unnecessary.

I built a fantastic work capacity over the year but at the cost of feeling so bloody tired all the time, probably nearing over-training and exhausting myself. The reality was I saw very little improvement in any strength movements (coming from inconsistency) and whilst my performance throughout the session as a whole was pretty good, it left me knackered for my 6am swim the following morning.

I appreciate that this might seem like a study of one with an audience of one, but the truth is if this scenario (or similar to) hasn’t happened to you, then you probably know or have seen someone who trains like this.

Right, now I’ve bored you to death with opinion, let’s talk facts and fundamentals. The four fundamental principles of training:

  • Progressive overload- adding stress (weight, time, pace, or mileage for example) little and often throughout your programme. Small increments over time lead to big gains in the long run.

  • Specificity- ensure your training is suited to your end goal, it needs to supplement your sport. Just because a training programme works for one person doesn’t mean its necessarily right for you.

  • Reversibility- quite simply, use it or lose it. To train a particular element one month but not the next, don’t be surprised if you can’t shift the same weight as before.

  • Individualisation- your training needs to be as specific to you personally as possible. You should only think about you and your end goal, ideally.

Applying these fundamentals is so easy. You have your chosen sport; you find a goal you want to work towards, and you build a programme around it. This programme includes strength sessions, power, speed, mobility and endurance sessions, every single one of these is a stepping stone to your end goal.

If you’re still reading, then firstly I thank you. Secondly, you can now answer the first question; are you training for performance or using performance for training?

If it’s the first answer, then keep up the good work and stay consistent! If it is the latter, then I’m not saying you’re wrong but maybe just consider your training.

Throughout the whole process, from the moment you sign up to the moment you make it to the start line, ensure you train with principle, with purpose and always with your goal in mind.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should avoid the hard work, avoid the thrashings or avoid those sessions that leave you on the gym floor in a puddle of sweat (or in bed wearing a down jacket chugging down a bowl of porridge after a wintery 4 hour bike ride), all I’m saying is that these sessions need to be suited to where you are now and can be used to get you to where you want to be.

Just because you’ve seen a session online doesn’t mean it’s right for you, feel free to take inspiration from it if you know you can make it suit you. Just ask yourself if it is a genuine stepping stone to where you want to be.

To conclude, don’t go balls out for no reason. I get a kick out of red lining as much as the next person but there is a time and a place for it, and it must suit you! Be honest with yourself and never lose sight of where you want to be.


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About the author 

Man swinging a kettlebell

Jordan is a keen endurance athlete, having completed two Ironmans and two ultra marathons. Currently completing a L4 in Strength & Conditioning 

Find @caveconditioning on Instagram. It’s a page set up to empower athletes with their own knowledge of the training tools available to them. It goes further than just a ‘how to get a twelve pack in 90 seconds’ or ‘how to chase that bicep pump for your night out.’


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