workouts killing your progress
Dave Smith

By Dave Smith

Too many people exercise every day thinking that they are doing their body a favour, when in fact, their workouts are preventing progress from taking place.

Are your workouts killing your progress? That's what I discuss with Morella Devost on the Thrive With Morella show.

In the next 30 minutes you will find out:

  1. Why one of the most popular forms of exercise hinders results more than it helps
  2. How your hormones might be harmed by the wrong type of exercise
  3. How you can get better results using Low-Intensity Fat Loss (LIFL) workouts

Show Resources:

Are Your Workouts Killing Your Progress? [Full Text]


Hey, Morella. Thanks so much for having me on the show. I'm really excited to be here.


I'm excited to have you here. And Dave, you are going to help us answer a really critical question. And that question is what if your workouts are working against you? What if they're holding you back and kind of stalling your progress?

I'm very much looking forward to this conversation. I have been since we started talking about having you on the show. But before we jump in, I want to let our viewers and our listeners know ... For everybody out there, some people are watching us live on Facebook, some people are watching us on TV on Channel 15 here in Burlington, and we're also on the radio on 99.3 FM in Burlington, and also streaming online at So many channels for people to listen.

So for all of you out there, I want you to know about Dave. Dave is a certified personal trainer and life coach who knows firsthand what it's like to become fixated on appearances. I was really moved by reading your story on your page. He learned firsthand what it was like to be teased about his appearance when he was a boy. And a lot of us have gone through that, and being really fixated about the way we look and wanting to change that.

So, he's been on a mission since 2001 to help people overcome those unhealthy fixations with their appearance. But also, he's become masterful in helping his clients lose weight and keep it off. I've been a reader of Dave's newsletter and a listener of his podcast for a number of years now. And I know that Dave's calling is to not only help people lose weight but to help them realize that their inner value has nothing to do with their appearance or the number on the scale. And I know from seeing him over the years, that he helps his clients in a very balanced, very healthy way.

So welcome, Dave. I am so honoured to have you join us.


Well, I'm blushing now. That was such a wonderful introduction. Thanks, Morella.


So Dave, I always put every guest on the spot because this is the Thrive With Morella Show. So, I always ask what is your personal key? Or if I were to ask you what is your key to thriving in life, what would that be for you?


Oh, wow. That's a big question. For me, there's many different answers to that. But as a whole, to look for ways to contribute and to give back. I know that sounds sort of like a corny answer, but it really is true.

I love doing stuff like this. I absolutely love getting emails. I don't know who says that. Who likes getting emails? But literally, my favorite part of my day is waking up and checking my email and getting emails, primarily questions from people who want stuff answered on my podcast, but just for people who are looking for answers.

So, yeah it's really helping people find a path that works for them.


And I get that about you, which is part of the reason I've been so excited to have this conversation with you. Because, essentially, you said, "I want to talk about why high intensity interval training might not be the way to workout."

And I don't know how many of our listeners and our viewers are tuned into this, so I won't explain it for you. Tell us, what is high intensity interval training and why has it become kind of the rage of the last few years?


Yeah, you're right. It really has. I'd say over the last about 10 years, it's become super popular. HIIT is what it's known as, high-intensity interval training. And basically, it's the premise that you can do shorter workouts by really ramping up your intensity. Imagine you're on a treadmill, it would look something like running as fast as you can, or 95% of your top speed, for a very short period of time, maybe 30 seconds and then taking a break and going back and doing that series of hard work versus rest.

You also see it a lot in fitness classes, so boot camp classes where they'll have you doing circuit training where you're going really, really hard and then you get a few moments of break and then going back to really, really hard exercise. And it's become very, very popularized because there is research that shows that that style of training can give you, from an athletic standpoint, athletic results that would require much less time spent than doing a more traditional style of training like running at a steady state over a longer period of time or lifting weights in a traditional way.

So there is some research backing it up but it's just really been moved outside of the sphere of athletics, and now everyone's doing it.


Right. Yeah, and of course, it's become very popular in things ... I'm sure Canada as well, but things like Crossfit has taken the U.S. by storm and the world by storm. I've also heard of Orange Theory, I think is also built on the premise of kind of high intensity workouts. But even before then, I think I'd heard that Olympians were training doing intervals like Tabata training and things like that. So it feels like it's been growing in popularity.


100%, yeah 100%. And again, I just want to emphasize that the research that is done, it is legitimate. From an athletic standpoint, high intensity interval training ... You mentioned one type of HIIT training, Tabata's, which is just a certain time interval used in HIIT training, it works. It definitely works.

But then, that means, is it good for you and for me as sort of your average people?


So then, what are the risks with HIIT?


Yeah, well honestly, there are a ton. And if you don't mind, I'll share a little bit of why I got really interested in this. So, I used to be a competitive athlete and was training using principles like HIITs, some really high intensity workouts, and I just noticed, even as a young guy ... This was sort of in my late 20s, my body started breaking down. And I went through some pretty big injuries.

I ended up having two knee surgeries and had a hernia surgery and then tore my rotator cuff, and all these things were happening and I just thought "I'm fit, relatively young. If this is the result of training this way on my body ... " I was a personal trainer at the time ... I thought "What are the repercussions that my clients are having?"

I was training mostly women, late 30s to early 40s. Do they need to have this style of training in order to get results? One of the things I always tell my clients is the number one way to stop seeing results is to get injured.




And, as a personal trainer, I just felt like sort of a hypocrite because I kept getting injured and yet was leading these classes like some of the ones that you mentioned, some of these really popular ones that I knew would lead to body breakdown.

And I just honestly started to feel the dissonance of this is the message I was conveying, but did I really believe it? So I really started to change the way that I approached working my clients, and saw some pretty amazing results. And like you said, I do feel like I'm on a little bit of a mission to just ask the question. I'm not telling anyone "Don't HIIT train." But ask the question "Do you need to? Is that the best type of exercise for you?"


Right. And I think I just heard a beep that maybe somebody on Facebook might be asking us a question. So, I just want to make sure that ... I'm actually not sure if it is or not, but I'm gonna check if we have a question on Facebook. And also serve as a little bit of a reminder for people that they can join us on Facebook.

So, while I do that, what are some of the injuries that you have most commonly seen?


Well, actually what's really close to my heart is knee injuries are the big one. And like I said, I had two knee surgeries and I just see that over and over again. So, knees and back are the big ones for lower body and core, and then it's shoulders. Rotator cuff is really, really common. And those are the ones that I went through, not back injuries but knee and shoulder.

And you just think about ... And I saw this with women who I met over the years. They put in so much time. Say you exercise at a boot camp class in Orange Theory or you go to Crossfit or whatever it is for a year and your body really transforms. It only takes a split second for that injury to happen and your life can change and that's exactly what happened to me. I tore my ACL, and coming out of that surgery, the types of movements and the types of sports that I could compete in was changed forever.

So, again it's that question: is it worth it?


Yes, and actually we do have a little comment here on Facebook from Nanuel. She says 'I've been doing high-low intensity workouts for over 18 years. Short and sweet and a lot more effective than spending hours at the gym.'

So, she's a fan of HIIT, but as you're noticing sometimes ... And I know, I injured myself doing too much of high intensity because I didn't have ... It was actually my shoulders, like the joints, as you're saying can be some of the susceptible areas of our body, right?

So, I was working out really hard, really intensely and my shoulders didn't have the mobility. I actually didn't have the back strength to support that kind of activity, so I was starting to have shoulder injury so I had to stop those workouts.


And it's a great point, a great question, a great comment that it's a very individualized thing. For some people, maybe they love it and are doing it safely. But I'll just throw a response back to that commenter question. There's science that shows very clearly that the human body, unless you're like a top, top level conditioned athlete, the average person can handle about 40 minutes of true HIIT training in a week.

And just stop and think about that for a second. There are so many people who I know and Morella, I'm sure you know, who go to HIIT style classes or do a HIIT style workout literally every day or four or five times a week. And it just isn't sustainable, for the average person at least.


Right. I really agree with you that it's not sustainable.

And, in fact, I follow people like Dr. Mercola a lot. When I started reading about HIIT training from Mercola and some of the fitness trainers that he would interview, he would say, "Typically, you only do this two or three times a week at most. And you do maybe eight intervals." So it's at most 20 minutes. And you're only doing, within those 20 minutes, you're only doing maybe four minutes of high intensity. And you're only doing it two or three times a week, which is not ... What you're saying, it's not the five day a week.


Not at all. And that's a great example. So, Dr. Mercola, he popularized a type of HIIT training called Peak 8 training and that maybe is the one you're referring to where it's eight of these high intensity intervals. And that's such a great example. So he would say do that twice a week.

The problem is that when people experience that, they do Peak 8. It's really hard. And when you get done, it feels like you've really just kicked butt in a workout. And so then, by comparison, when you scale that back on your next workout, it's very easy to come away from that second low intensity workout and think "Well that wasn't ... " and I'm gonna put this in air quotes "a good workout."

And maybe you've heard this, I get this all the time, people, even clients of mine will say "Well Dave, I wasn't sore." Or "I didn't feel it in my legs after that workout. That wasn't ... " again air quotes "a good workout."

And it's really problematic because these HIIT workouts, yeah you can feel really sore, does that mean that that's a good workout and does that mean that's what you need every single day?


Right. Exactly.

So, I'm guessing that you have an alternate approach. There's something. I kinda have a sense that you do. So I wanna hear all about it. What have you been doing and finding might be more effective for people?


Yeah, a lot of the research that I've been doing is comparing styles of HIIT workouts versus the opposite end of the spectrum is something known as LISS. And LISS, it's a little bit less popular than HIIT, so maybe many of the listeners haven't heard of this before. It's called low intensity steady state training.

And so, an example of that would be going out for like a power walk or a really light jog, and generally with this, your heart rate would be somewhere between 50 and 60% of your maximum, so it's quite a bit less. Contrast that with HIIT training where your heart rate might be like literally at 90% max, 80 to 90% max, so it's much less intense.

Now, the pros and cons of LISS. Just imagine you went out and did a light jog every day. Like that was your workout, that's what you did. As that questioner or whoever commented on Facebook pointed out, would you actually see the results you would get if you did HIIT training? Contrasting those two.

And LISS, to be honest, it probably isn't gonna help someone lose a ton of weight. It's gonna end up bringing people to a point of a plateau because their body's not being challenged with something new every day. They're doing the same style of workout. But it is ultra safe. Generally, people aren't going to get injured if they're going out for a fast walk or a light jog.

So, you have these two ends of the spectrum here. You've got HIIT training that is challenging the body in a new way but it does present some of these physical dangers, injury potential. LISS on the other hand, no injury potential but isn't gonna get the same results. And so, I would propose, as you can probably imagine, something that combines the two of them. And I call this LIFL or low intensity fat loss.

So, it does have some strength training components, and that's what I would really propose to everyone. If you're just walking every single day, awesome. I'm giving you a virtual high five for being active, but in terms of actually transforming your body and breaking through plateaus, there has to be something different. You can't expect your body to change when you don't present it a reason to change. And so, that midpoint would be introducing some strength training, some less intense interval training, but at the same time it wouldn't go to the point where it's really presenting a huge body breakdown or putting yourself in a position for those injuries.


Right, yeah. And a lot of people find, especially when you go from being sedentary, and you say "Okay, I'll start walking 20 to 30 minutes a day," and they start noticing their fitness improves, they start to lose weight. But then, a month or two, they start noticing nothing's happening anymore because, as you said, they HIIT that kind of plateau where the body isn't being stretched into a new level.

So, how do we do this? Give us some examples. If I'm a listener in my car and I'm hearing Dave say we should kind of balance it out to do a little bit of low intensity like that steady paced walk or light jog or maybe a gentle swim, but I don't want to HIIT a plateau, so what do I do?


Yeah, a lot of it comes down to the way that you format your workout. So I have all different sort of formulations of how these different workouts can look, and I'll give you one example. One of my favourites is what I call a "strength sandwich." And this is super easy to remember because picture a sandwich. The bread is a strength component, so doing some resistance training. And then the middle of the sandwich is doing some cardiovascular training.

So, what I'll have clients do is spend literally ... I usually do seven to ten minutes of strength type exercises. And it could be simple things like body weight squats, it could be planking, very simple exercises like that that are also easy to scale up. And that's really important to think about.

What I mean by that is scaling up is you can make a squat more difficult as you get stronger. So you could start doing a partial squat just with your body weight, then you could increase the depth of your squat, then you could add weights to your squat. And it's super safe because you're not going at like a high intensity pace, you're not trying to keep up with people in a boot camp class.

So, a few minutes of strength training like that. And then, the middle part of the sandwich, like I said, is some low to moderate intensity cardio. And so, it could be hopping on the treadmill and doing 15 minutes at a moderate pace, a light jog, kind of like what we were talking about with LISS. And then on the back end of that would be the other part of the bread or the other part of the strength sandwich would be doing some more strength training.

And so, that's a great way to challenge your body in a new way because now your body's doing cardiovascular training after you just fatigued your muscles by doing strength training. Again, it's giving you that impetus for your body to change that it wouldn't feel if you were just doing that long, steady state cardio.


Right. And I would imagine that in that ... Well, you called it this fatigue state from the squats, or whatever it may have been, that even if you're not realizing it, your walk now is recruiting different muscles than it might have if you just kind of gotten up from your couch and gone for a walk.


Yeah, and one of the benefits is that it doesn't have to be a long form of exercise either. There's a really neat research study that shows the amount of calories that are burned in moving your body for one mile. And so, this might be a question that a lot of your listeners have had before. Is it better to go running? Is it better to go sprinting? Is it better to go walking? What's going to give myself a better impact in terms of burning calories?

And so, this research study showed that moving your body for one mile, whether you're walking or jogging or sprinting, it burns almost the exact same amount of calories.




Yeah, a lot of people would be surprised by that, but then you think about it, if you were to run a mile, you'd be done that mile much faster than if you were to walk it. So it's just how much time do you want to spend exercising. But this middle point, this LIFL style of workout sort of allows you the best of both worlds because you can speed up the calorie burning by increasing a little bit of the intensity of your workouts.

It's not like you need to go for a walk for two hours to burn the calories that you'd want to burn but it's not also, going back to Joseph Mercola, Dr. Mercola's example of doing his Peak 8 as a 16-minute workout, I find that these LIFL workouts work best around 30 minutes. You're burning a lot of calories, but again, you're not breaking down your body like you would in those really, really high intensity workouts.


Right. And you're doing it always as a sandwich or are you alternating? Do you always do like a strength and then cardio then strength? Do you do strength, cardio, strength, cardio, strength?


Changing it up. So, I use about 12 different variations of these LIFL workouts. The strength sandwich is one example. So anyone who's listening right now, and you're coming away, you're thinking, "Well, I always do the same style of workout," or "I always do the same boot camp," or "I always get on the treadmill," change. You need to give your body something new in order to challenge it, to ask it to do something that it hasn't done before.

So, what is that change going to be for you? What are you going to present it with? What's that challenge?


Right. Yeah, and mixing it up. It's funny because if you're working out on your own, it's hard to mix it up. If you have a class, maybe the trainer or the instructor will mix it up for you. But I'm not a gym person, I know that about myself. So, I'm the person who has to download workouts because if I'm left to my druthers, I'm either gonna do the same thing over and over or in the process of trying to figure it out, I just bore myself.

And then, instead of focusing my half hour doing a workout that's effective, I've spent an hour trying to figure out 'What am I going to do?'


Oh my gosh. Morella, we're all like that. It just happened to me. So I, about a year ago, started doing yoga. And then over the past month, I put my yoga membership on hold while I'm training for a marathon right now. And I said to myself, "I'll just do yoga at home so it'll save time."

And I ended up doing about the same 10 poses every single time and it wasn't nearly as good. So yesterday, I restarted my yoga membership because I need someone to help me change. It's true for all of us.


Yeah, and we're gonna be much more effective with the use of our time. So, I know you have some solutions, you have a program that I know is available for people. On the radio, we'll tell them if they're interested in learning more, we'll tell them where they can find us.

But tell us a little bit about what it is that you offer people that, if they're interested, they can go check out.


Yeah, for sure. It's literally exactly what we've been talking about. So the program is low intensity fat loss. And what I've done is created a series that's 28 workouts that go through stuff just like we talked about strength sandwich ... Like I said, I have about 12 different styles that I like to use and it gives people the exact exercises to do, the number of repetitions to do, how much cardio to do, and it's all packaged in these 30-minute chunks.

And I just want to say something for the listeners, so we talk about changing it up. The other key ... So, one key is to present new challenges to your body, the second key is consistency. And again, I just want everyone to know I'm not harping on HIIT training, I actually think it has its time and place, but one problem with it is because our body is so broken down and sore, it's really hard to develop consistency.

We go and kick butt in a workout. Again, air quotes, kick butt, and then our body doesn't feel like it can exercise potentially for a couple days. So, contrasting that, the style of workouts I present in the LIFL program, the goal is to do 30 minutes, which might sound like a lot but I always tell my clients it's 2% of your day. We always talk about do your 2% exercise. And to do it for 28 days in a row.

And again, I know that might sound like a challenge but when you have it there, literally it's take a look at the plan, get it done, it's 30 minutes including your warmup and everything, 2% of your day, and the transformation ... It's just huge.


Right. Well, and the other thing ... I'm just gonna check time. We have about seven more minutes. The other thing that I know you keep saying, it's not that you want to totally knock down HIIT, but the reality is that especially for those of us who either haven't been working out at all ... Our level of mobility is not optimal. And maybe people who are wanting to start losing weight, they haven't been exercising at all, starting with high intensity workouts is really not the best way to go because it's almost a guarantee for an injury.

As you were saying, high intensity interval training and especially high intensity training with weights can be really risk, and it really is best reserved for people who have optimal conditioning, really well-rounded strength and mobility where their risk for injury is rather low.

So, I just want to echo that because I know you don't want to be in a position where you're kind of knocking down somebody else's workout and what they're recommending. But I really respect you for saying maybe for those of us who are just your average Joes and Janes who need to get fit and healthy, a more balanced approach might be more effective. So ...


Well, if I can just mention one other thing, too. One thing to keep in mind is the hormonal impact of the style of workouts that you're doing. And Morella, I know we only have a few minutes, I'd love to talk about this on a whole other show.




When we do high intensity workouts, it's actually quite stressful on our body. So, you brought up Crossfit, for example. And again, I think Crossfit, that style has its time and place. But that's a huge physical stress on your body. And, just like many of the listeners might know, the more stress we face, the more our hormones start to react.

So, the common stress hormone is cortisol, and as you get more and more stressed, even if it's doing something that is healthy by doing these high intensity workouts, you think it's healthy, your cortisol levels go up. And a huge impact of this increased level of cortisol ... Morella, I'm sure you're very familiar is a decreased leptin sensitivity.




So, tell me this. Listeners, think about this question. Is this true for you? Have you noticed that when you do high intensity exercise classes like boot camp classes, you're ravenously hungry.

And I remember talking to clients years ago, and they would tell me this, they would say, "Dave, I'm exercising now and I get it but I'm eating everything in sight." And it might not actually be the case that you're that hungry. Because one HIIT workout, while it does burn more calories than if you were to go for a walk, it doesn't actually burn that many calories that you should be eating hundreds of extra calories.

And that's the case for many people. They do this HIIT workout, it's their hormones that are thrown off. They feel like they're ravenously hungry, and actually end up taking in more calories than they burn in that workout. And it just becomes this vicious cycle. Then the mentality is "Well, now I need to workout even harder because look at my body, it's not changing or it's changing in the wrong direction."

And that's where things get really scary because psychologically, we're throwing ourselves into doing even more and more exercises leading to body breakdown.


Right, yeah.

And paradoxically, leading to ... The leptin, what you mentioned, leptin resistance will lead to abdominal weight gain. So precisely the kind of weight gain that people are trying to avoid and they're saying, "But wait, I'm working out so hard. How come I'm still round in the middle?"

And it can be a vicious cycle. I totally hear you on that.

So, I want to ask you in the last couple minutes, do you have a favorite story ... Like a story of a client or a person because sometimes for us, hearing stories can be the thing that gets us like "Oh, that inspires me," or "I can see myself in that story."


Yeah, so many. Yeah, definitely. I think back to a client that I was training a few years ago, and her name was Trish and she was part of one of my online programs. And she was getting prepared for her wedding. And she was a Crossfit girl, and it was just like we talked about, had been doing Crossfit for about six months, had hurt her shoulder, and she came in, and she talked to me online, we had a Skype conversation.

And she said, "What can I do that's going to help me look good in my wedding dress?" And I imagine many women who are listening can relate to that scenario. And it's exactly what we talked about today as we increased her frequency, so instead of doing three workouts per week, she started doing six workouts per week.

And again, I know many people might think "Well, I don't have time for six workouts." But we reduced the time spent and reduced the intensity level. And I don't know exactly, I can't remember off the top of my head what her results were but she looked awesome in her wedding dress. And best of all, wasn't injured anymore. And that's the big win for me because consistency. I want people to be able to do this for life.