Have you heard about the term junk miles?
These are the running miles that you do when you don't focus on the quality of your training, but focus on getting through a bunch of miles or kilometers, just for the sake of getting them done. You're choosing quantity over quality.
But that's not what's making you stronger, faster or improve your performance in any other way!
The same thing happens with other types of training too, not just running. You can also collect junk hours at the gym, whether you do CrossFit, HIIT, spinning, bodybuilding or general strength training. You may still work out just to check it off your to-do list, without paying much attention to the quality of your workouts.
Why Are We Collecting Junk Hours and Focusing on Quantity
There can be a few reasons why someone can be obsessed with quantity of her workouts:
- Fear of losing strength. Some people are really afraid that if they don't do everything their workout plan or program told them, they will lose strength or speed and may not be ready for their race or other competition. This is valid concern, if you're serious about your training and want to perform really well. But know that wasting your energy if you're already tired, isn't going to help you move forward. You need to rest and then you can come back stronger.
- Fear of gaining weight. Other people do it simply to lose weight. Even feeling sick, tired and totally depleted won't stop them from working out because weight loss is the main goal. This doesn't end well. I have definitely experienced that and all my hypothalamic amenorrhea clients have experienced it as well, so let's talk about it.
How I Started Collecting Junk Miles
Years ago, I started long distance running and soon after, decided to run a half marathon. I looked up a plan online and got to work. I followed a really great, well-balanced plan, that had me do 4-5 workouts per week, leaving 2-3 for rest. It included shorter runs, longer runs, interval work and sprint work — as it should do.
I didn't do more than the plan said, because I trusted it. I felt really good following it. It seemed to be perfect for me, because it was designed for someone who runs their first long distance race.
It helped me to run my first half marathon, something that I previously had thought I can't do!
At the same time, my weight started coming off, because I had increased my running while decreasing my calories. What did I conclude from this? That I should run more, so I could shed bodyweight even faster! So instead of following a reasonable training plan, I just started running more because my focus shifted from performance to appearance. I was collecting junk miles.
Quantity Over Quality Didn't Make Me Stronger
I had switched my focus from quality to quantity which started to show soon in my performance.
Every spring, I used to start my running season with this one half marathon that I really loved. I did great the first two years, but after that, my times got slower and slower.
I was running more, but I was only collecting junk kilometers.
It started taking more effort to maintain my weight, so I had to run more.
My mindset went from balanced to obsessed. I had to run, I had to eat low calories, etc, etc. I was obsessed.
And I didn't get any faster, because my priorities were totally off.
How to Stop Collecting Junk Miles or Hours, and Improve the Quality of Your Workouts
The goal of working out should be making you healthier and improving your performance. You may have other goals too, but one is true: Working out should not make you weaker or sicker or worsen your performance.
It's totally fine if you want to change your body composition, but do it reasonably! If your only goal is to get smaller and lighter, then you may overdo it without even realizing that your health goes downhill too.
I recommend all my clients that they start focusing more on performance and less on appearance, which also means focusing on the quality of your workouts, not quantity. Here are some tips how you can do it:
- Use the traffic light analogy to figure out what kind of workout day it is for you. If you're super tired or even sick, it's clearly a red day and you need to rest. If you have some stress, you're a bit tired or your nutrition hasn't been 100% on point, it's probably a yellow day. You can do something lighter, like yoga, or you can cut your workout shorter. If it's a green day, you feel full of energy, you've been sleeping and eating well, then go for it! Enjoy the workout you were going to do.
- Trust yourself. Know that even the best trainer in the world cannot possibly know how you are feeling today. She may prescribe you a hard deadlift day but you feel that it's simply not happening today. A good trainer is able to ask questions and change the plan according to your needs.
- Rest and recover between your workouts. You need to sleep well and recover properly. It is NOT helpful to do 4-5 hard workouts in a row if you are still tired from the previous ones. Your body needs time to catch up.
- Vary your workouts. Doing the same thing over and over again is boring and may stop challenging your body the way it should be. If you always run the same 10K every single day at almost the same pace, you're staying stuck. For example, if you're a runner and want to prepare for a race, you need long and slow runs, short and fast runs, intervals and sprints, and strength training.
- Stop working out for calories. It's so easy to check your watch every day and see how many calories you burned in your workout. But the amount of calories doesn't determine how successful your workout was. The quality of it matters.
You're not getting out from your workouts what you want to, if you only keep collecting junk hours or junk miles, without focusing on the quality. It's such a common strategy to get on the scale and check your weight and then decide that you need to do more hours to achieve your goal. But that may not be true at all. Weight loss doesn't equal better performance and may mean worse performance. How do you want to feel, after all? Remember, working out should make you feel better physically and mentally too.
My focus is definitely on quality, not quantity these days. By doing 3-4 workouts a week and walking daily, I'm feeling much more focused, confident and stronger than I did when I used to work out 6-7 days a week with far too little sleep and rest in between.
Are you recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea and want to start training again? Do it safely, without losing your period again. Check out my online program, Simple Strength for Women.