Why Aiming for an Effective Effort Will Get You Farther Than You’ve Been Before




“Man! You look great! What’d you do to get in such great shape!?”


I’ve heard these sentiments echo through the halls of my local gym a handful of times in the last 15 years or so since I’d become a regular.


Curious myself, I shamelessly eavesdrop to hear the reply of the newly svelte individual to whom the question is being posed. “The gym, man. I live here! I’m here for an hour before work and have been swinging by for an hour after work for another 2-hour sweat session..”


The look of despair on the face of the interested person is like watching Nestle’s chocolate powder dissolve in milk- instantaneous.


On one hand, you admire the guy's tenacity; 3 hours PER DAY in the gym is an impressive commitment, but is it really necessary?


Effective Effort

Water doesn’t get more boiled once it’s boiling. Sure, it might get hotter, but it doesn’t boil more. Once it’s rolling, it either is or isn’t...there’s not more of a benefit by cranking the heat up even higher.


The same premise carries over in the world of nutrition and training.



There’s no rational reason to drop a person's calories by 1,000kcal per day if they can effectively achieve getting leaner with a 500kcal deficit. In fact, we know that adjustments that are TOO big can be counterintuitive to success.


There’s no reason to have an athlete target 250g of protein per day if body composition and recovery goals can be met at 175g of protein per day. In fact, you could be robbing the body of carbohydrates and fat it needed to restore nutrient stores for further training.


There’s no reason to spend 3 hours in a gym badgering yourself with insane workouts when 1 hour will accomplish the goal. After all, the body can only adapt when the volume of stress doesn’t exceed the rate of recovery.


We get SO bent on the “optimal” that we miss the “practical” and sustainable. I’ve seen FAR too many athletes and clients burnout prematurely simply because they’d created an unrealistic perspective of what kind of effort was needed to genuinely see some progress.


Building Effective Effort

There’s no 1 right or 1 wrong way to build this, it’s highly individual and will depend on several variables for each person. Variables that include your goals, taking into account where you currently are, what your schedule is like, what access you’ve got to training equipment or tools to hone in your nutrition, etc.


With that said, there are 5 key things we could all use to get closer to our proverbial Goldilocks sweet spot:

  1. Make the goal/effort challenging...but doable. Sure. We’d all love to hike 50 miles in 6 hours to maximize our time available to develop endurance, but that’s not likely. I’ll even go on a limb and call it impossible. Take a look at what you have done and push that envelope by a little. Have you hiked 5 miles in 2 hours? Target 5.5 miles. Did you have no issue losing 10lbs at a 200kcal deficit? Aim for 300kcal lower than your baseline next week.

  2. Track your progress. Eventually, your new challenge will get easy and you’ll need to revisit number 1 above. Knowing what to change is FAR easier when you know where you’ve been and what your results have been.

  3. Don’t undervalue the power of building mental tenacity. If I’m honest, I struggled to even write this blog. “Will people think I’m encouraging a weak mind?” Not at all. I’m certainly not advocating you just get by with the least amount of work possible. There is still tremendous value in suffering through long workouts, so sprinkle in challenging efforts from time to time. The premise of effective effort is the idea that you don’t have to live there to see results…

  4. Show up….everyday. The people who are the most successful in the Valley to Peak program are the ones who show up every. Single. Day. It’s not that negative thoughts don’t pop in their head. They do. They’ve just mastered the ability to override the emotion with action….which leads to number 5.

  5. Don’t let emotion drive. The fastest path to reaching your goal is with the c-word...consistency. There WILL be days you don’t feel like doing the work. Count on it. Thankfully, we’re not measured by how we FEEL. We track and measure ourselves against ourselves and our actions. You’re in control. Period.


The reality is there’s a HUGE gap in the middle of “nothing at all” and “perfection” that a ton of people miss. That gap is called the effective effort. It’s an amount that is difficult, but doable. An amount that elicits a response in the body AND a feeling of sustainability. And THAT combination is far more likely to lead to consistency and long-term success; even more success than trying to get already boiling water “more boiled”.


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