Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Magic of 70 Percent Effort

All the images in this post were taken from this article
which I highly recommend.

Year ago I would work out with a personal trainer.  I admired her because she had attained a level of fitness I hadn't seen before.  She was a dedicated trainer and our sessions were intense- hours upon hours of plyometrics, heavy lifting, sled pulls, and sprints.  The group who trained with her would put in insane amounts of exercise.  They would arrive at the gym 30 minutes before our session to warm-up, put in a 90 minute training session, and then head off to ski or bike or run for the rest of the day.  It didn't take long for my body to become completely wrecked.  I would go in for the 90 minute training session and then go home to sit on the couch for the rest of the night.  My immune system was shot and every muscle in my body felt contracted and sore.  Eventually I quit training altogether.

In an effort to heal from chronic illness, I dialed back my fitness to the point of just walking and doing yoga.  That's when the healing began.  When I quit pushing my body, it did what bodies do- found the balance point of health and harmony.  I couldn't believe it.  I began to feel so good that I started working out again, but I kept my training in the 70 percent zone, or the zone of maximum growth. As Tai Chi master, Bruce Frantzis, explains, "striving for 100 percent inherently produces tension and stress because as soon as you strain or go beyond your capacity, your body has a natural tendency to experience fear and to begin, even without your being aware of it, to tense or shut down in response."  I discovered that by only giving 70 percent of my effort to my workouts, I could really get strong.  I would still use effort and break a sweat, but I would have something left in the tank at the end.  Working out became enjoyable again.  Had I continued putting in the 100% effort workouts, I never would have attained the level of fitness I have now.  I was only able to run a full marathon after I switched to training in the 70 percent zone.  (More on that later.)

What surprises me is that even with my discovery about moderate workouts, I am still struggling to find a moderate, sustainable lifestyle.  This modern world feels so fast paced and I feel an almost constant pressure to produce, perform, and achieve.  Balance and moderation are not highly prized in our world.  How often have you heard someone say, "look at what moderate hours he keeps at work!" or "she sure has a reasonable body!"  No one says those things.  This is why when I feel my life move towards balance, I start to wonder if there is something wrong with me.  Does balance mean letting go of all the goals that society praises you for attaining?

I have noticed that even when it comes to relaxation our approach is extreme.  Interested in meditation?  Why not give it 30 minutes twice a day!  Like yoga?  Why not do 30 classes in 30 days! There was the local yoga salesgirl who tried for years to get me to sign up for a 1,000 hour $4,000 teacher training program.  Is it not enough that I carve out time to attend a class a couple of times per week?  What is our obsession with taking things to an extreme?  I wonder if we are afraid of the middle path.

I have even noticed in the "enlightened" self-help community this "go big or go home" mentality.  After consuming too many messages of "if you can dream it, you can do it" and "I am unstoppable," I begin to feel discontent with my very ordinary, and yet miraculous life.  Its as if all the abundance around me is not enough.  I don't want to feel that way anymore.

This made me laugh.  It is so true! (Especially the part in black)

I want a life that is sustainable. I need a life that is sustainable.  As the school year comes to a close I feel like a marathoner at mile 24.  I need to conserve enough energy to make it to the finish line without collapsing.  I wish for myself the courage to be more content with moderation,  I hope I can cultivate greater appreciation for a life of balance.  I know what the opposite of balance can lead to- illness, injury, depression, or worse.  Walking the middle path does not mean living an average life because the average person lives a stressful life that fluctuates chaotically between different extremes.  Walking the middle path means giving 70 percent effort in a world demanding 110.  It means listening to what each moment is asking for.  It means rest and play and effort and confidence in one's own well-being.  I hope you will join me in this revolutionary practice of moderation.


  1. I'm so glad I checked in with your blog today! When I took my Facebook break, I realized just how much it was weighing down on me to constantly read posts about what success supposedly looks like. I'm certainly not that.
    Regarding meditation, I was taught that 20 minutes twice a day is the minimum. Of course, that became another thing to be obsessed about. I'd feel shame for not making it. I still set my alarm for 20 minutes, but I'm letting it be okay if I only do 10.
    Thank you for a much needed uplift! I'm going walking now.

    1. That makes me so happy! It's funny, but your comment was exactly what I needed to read. There are so few messages encouraging moderation, but it really is key to finding health and balance in our chaotic world. Love you, Katie!