If Nothing Changes, Nothing Will Change
If you’ve taken a couple of weeks off the exercise and then completed an exhausting workout, you may know what I’m going to say.
The first workout back from a long break can be tough, but the dolor that follows a few days later is usually really brutal. For example, if you do a squat workout after a couple of weeks off, it can hurt to sit on a chair or climb the stairs later in the week.
One of the fastest ways to solve this pain is very counterintuitive: Squat again.
That makes little sense on the surface. But there’s something deeper going on here, as you might expect. The Repeated Bout Effect is called and applies to much more than just exercise.
The effect of repeated bouts in your life
The repeated bout effect tells us that the more we do, the less it affects us. There are many ways to think throughout life about this effect.
- On your first day of business, making ten sales calls can lead to a big jump in overall revenue. However, making ten sales calls in a row for the 300th day is unlikely to have a significant impact on total revenue.
- You’ll lose weight when you start eating smaller portions. However, your smaller portion slowly becomes your normal portion and weight loss stalls after the first ten or fifteen pounds fall off.
- If you haven’t done a lot of strength training, you’ll be stronger with 30 pushups. However, after a couple of months, an extra 30 pushups doesn’t really build new muscle.
These examples make sense when you see them nicely lined up in an article, but we often curse ourselves for lack of progress in the real world.
Let’s say you want to lose weight and you didn’t work out before. You start running twice a week and you’ve lost 10 pounds very soon. The repeated bout effect starts at some point, your body adapts and weight loss slows down. Suddenly, you still run twice a week, but the scale doesn’t move anymore.
It can be very easy to interpret these decreasing results as some sort of failure.
- “Oh, every week I work out and nothing happens.”
Except that it worked. Your initial exercise actually worked just as it was supposed to because it yielded a new result and your body adapted and improved. Your body now has a new starting point and if you want to achieve a higher level of success, you need to add something new to the mix.
Learn more about improvement
The repeated effect of the bout can teach us three improvements lessons.
- First, a small amount of work is a great way to reduce the pain of hard sessions. Imagine Monday’s easy1-minute pushup workout and Friday’s hard 10-minute pushup. The repeated bout effect says your soreness will be reduced after Friday’s workout just because you did an easy session earlier in the week. It can make a difference to work easily.
- Secondly, the amount of work you need to do to achieve your maximum output level is higher than what you do now. If you don’t perform 100% of your potential already, you have room to grow. And the repeated bout effect tells us you’ve probably adapted to all of your life’s normal stimuli. If you want to achieve a new level of success, a new level of work must be put in place. This doesn’t mean you should start doing as much work as possible, but it means you can’t expect a small change to work forever when you start small. You have to graduate continuously to the next level.
- Third, for long – term success, deliberate practice is critical. It is a strange form of laziness to do the same type of work again and again. You ca n’t go to the gym, run three miles a week and expect to enjoy constantly improving results. You’ve seen all the results that three – mile runs can deliver after a couple of months of repetitive workouts and your body has adapted to this stimulus. For this reason, it is important for long – term improvement to deliberately practice new skills that you can master in one to three practice sessions. Making deliberate practice a habit can help you to avoid practicing things that are no longer beneficial.
The key is that things will work for a while and then we’ll get used to them.
“What got you here won’t get you there.”