Working Class Fitness: Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Working Class Fitness LogoIn my last article here at MMA Weekly, I talked about some of the reasons I feel so many fighters are getting hurt.

It sparked a number of reactions (and even a mini-debate) in the comments section, and I think that’s awesome. I love interacting with you guys, talking about this stuff, and hearing what you have to say.

I had to react in the form of a subsequent article here, as it’s a phenomenon I see more and more of in the S&C (strength and conditioning)/fitness world, as well as the MMA world.

The comment came from reader Adam Sault and was as follows:

“This is exactly what I’ve been thinking for some time now – gyms’ fitness programs are terrible. Example: I went to check out a local ‘MMA gym’ that focuses on regional fighters. Everybody, regardless of fitness level or skill does the same grueling conditioning workout followed by boxing and BJJ. On my first day and after 2 1/2 hours of training, as I got up from the mat to go get water and the 19-yr old instructor said: ‘get back here, I didn’t say you could get water.’ This is the mentality in a lot of places; if you aren’t miserable throughout a training camp, you will lose your fight. Bad practice is rewarded with injury.”

It’s not at all uncommon to see trends in the fitness world repeat themselves after being out of fashion for a number of years.  They don’t always show up the same way, but the basic overall principles will remain the same.

For example, high-carb diets were very popular in various facets of the fitness world in the ’80s and even into the mid to late ’90s.  In more recent years, lower carb diets have been much more popular and shown to be more effective.

However, it’s not like low carb diets were anything new.  They were popular in various circles in the ’60s and ’70s.  In fact, legendary bodybuilding trainer Vince Gironda was talking about and using low-carb diets high in protein and healthy fats with his trainees and bodybuilding students decades before they became popular with the public again.

Circuit training had its heyday years ago, much from Nautilus and Universal machines.  It fell out of favor for quite a long time because it was thought to be ineffective (though it wasn’t; it was just applied incorrectly by most who used it).  However, in recent years, it’s making quite a comeback in other arenas, be it with kettlebell trainers, bootcamp style classes, and more.  I personally have espoused and had fighters doing hardcore circuit training for a number of years with amazing success.

Another fitness trend that’s ebbed and flowed over the years has been that of hard work.

Now this will vary depending on if you’re talking about the home fitness machine or workout, at the gym, in fitness classes, or whatever.  But for a long time, the big thing was to have a fitness program that was easy.

This was a giant marketing ploy, as we all know that most people don’t like to work, especially those who are out of shape and don’t enjoy the gym in the first place.  So marketers made it a point to try and promote programs, workouts, machines, equipment, systems, etc., that could get you *insert amazing result here* in just a few short and easy workouts each week.

This sold and was popular for quite a long time, but eventually people realized this was a load of crap.  Mostly because your average person doing these “short and easy workouts” each week weren’t getting any results, but I also like to think that at some point, common sense started to take over.  People realized that there was no way they couldn’t put work in and still see amazing results.

That and the fact that the people that still thought their was an “easy way” turned their attention from workouts and gadgets to magic supplements and weight loss pills instead.

Anyway, if you look at many of the trends that have become popular in recent years, you’ll see a shift back to working your ass off to get results: be it something like Crossfit, hardcore kettlebell workouts, home-based systems like P90X or Insanity, hardcore bootcamp classes, or just seeing what how hard the celebrity trainers on The Biggest Loser make those people work.

The pendulum has shifted the other direction for a while.  (Like anything else, this won’t last forever, either.  But we can enjoy it while it’s here.)

While I’m glad there are more people getting up off the couch and willing to go out and sweat for a while, the problem is that the focus is too many times on the wrong thing.

Hard workouts are great.  Trust me, I love a hard workout as much as (probably more than) anybody else.

However, a hard workout just for the sake of a hard workout is stupid.

And that’s what we’re seeing too many times in many of these programs.  Working until you can’t move, puke your guts up, or damn near get injured isn’t frowned upon for being reckless or possibly detrimental to your health; it’s looked as if it carries some badge of honor.


I understand that some people get a rush from working their ass off, and doing it in groups builds a certain amount of camaraderie.  It’s one of the main reasons Crossfit has exploded in popularity, and is a principle that the military has been using in bootcamp for years.

But working hard just for the sake of working hard isn’t smart and won’t get you in shape.  It will get you better at kicking your own ass.  That’s it.

Sure, you might get in better shape just because you’re working harder than you are used to.  But at a certain point, those benefits will curtail, and you’ll find yourself in a constant battle with yourself (and with others) in seeing who can work the hardest.

Again, this can be great for building camaraderie and such.  And that’s awesome.

But the focus of any program should be results, not how hard it is to perform.

Is the workout getting you stronger, faster, or more powerful? Are you building muscle? Are you improving endurance and work capacity? Are you dropping bodyfat? Are you developing better cardio?

THESE are the factors that should be measured, and what your programs should be designed around; not what some trainer can come up with to kick the crap out of you that day.

Whenever this subject comes up, I always quote Joe DeFranco, who once said something to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing): Any trainer can beat the hell out of his trainees/clients.  It takes a real coach to make them better.

How true.

If you just want a hard workout, that’s easy.  Anybody can come up with a workout that will be super hard.

But that doesn’t mean that workout makes any sense or will improve you in any fashion.

I remember being younger (up until my mid ’20s or so).  I loved the idea of leaving the gym after a hard squat session and walking funny for a few days after that.  I used to wear that as the sort of badge of honor I mentioned earlier.

However, I’m a tad bit older now. I’ll be 36 soon. I don’t like the idea of limping around for a few days because my legs are so sore. I’ve got too much other stuff to do. I don’t want to hit the gym for my next workout still ultra-sore from my last workout.

In fact, I like leaving the gym feeling better than when I went in.  I’m now a fan of saying that I want my workouts to augment my life; I don’t want my life to augment my workouts.

This is especially true for fighters.  How is a fighter supposed to hit the gym and drill takedowns if his legs are still mush from the squat workout the day before? Or grapple when his chest is tender after a hard bench workout? Or hit the mitts if his shoulders are tight from a heavy pressing workout?

Now this doesn’t get you off the hook, and mean you should never work hard, heavy, fast, etc.; far from it.

It just means your programs and workouts should be smart, intelligently designed for your given goals, and taking into account all the other things you do in your life.

Just making a workout that kicks your ass doesn’t do anyone any good.

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Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins designs MMA workouts for pro mixed martial artists, boxers, and kickboxers, the recreational fighter, as well as just the “regular guy” who wants to be in shape like their favorite fighter.  To find out how you can get into ultimate fighting shape, hit him up at or on Facebook at

(Physical exercise can sometimes lead to injury. and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or fitness advice. Please consult a physician before starting any exercise program, and never substitute the information on this site for any professional medical advice or treatment you may receive or the assistance of a fitness professional.)