Text Size 

How Sustainable Is Sustainable Training?

Sustainable Training entails ....
  • thoughtful exercise selection
  • correct range of motion
  • moderate amount of resistance
  • using correct biomechanics

Sustainable training is safe and purposely designed to reduce...
  • the risk of acute and/or chronic injuries
  • reduce recovery time
  • develop a training style that is consistently maintainable over the long-term

It is very simple. If we get hurt, we cannot consistently train. If we remain injury-free and can recover easily, we can consistently train week-after-week and month-after-month.

In practice, sustainable training often will involve ...

  • using more moderate resistance
  • especially focusing on form
  • not challenging yourself to a degree that is too stressful and risky.
It involves being vigilant about any soreness or minor strains, figuring out what may be causing the problem if you do get sore or feel a strain, and either doing different exercises or changing how your current exercise are performed to not just alleviate the problem, but to eliminate it.

Sustainable training is not "one and done". Rather it involves a series of adaptations over the long-term to allow us to continue to productively train.

All of this makes great sense.

At any age, any serious chronic condition or acute injury, e.g., a major knee injury, can mean the end of productive training.


By following a completely sustainable approach, the spark from some challenges in training may be missed. That is, to be blunt, the whole training process can become repetitious and a bit boring without much feedback signifying accomplishments. This is not to downplay the accomplishment of being able to train very consistently over extended periods. Showing up all or most of the time, staying focused, and doing the best we can in each workout are, indeed, real accomplishments.

But, what may be missing is the spark from meeting one or more challenges.

One way to address this issue is to introduce some meaningful but safe, and in their own right, sustainable challenges like this example from my training experience...


A few times per year, I come up with goals that are more challenging than simply performing all the workouts. Virtually all of my challenges over the last decade or so have involved specific exercises where I have a long history of success. This means that for challenges, I should be able to do something that is very good for my age and bodyweight.

Trying to improve something where I am not very good at it just doesn’t make sense to me.

This year I chose squats, leg press and chins as my challenge exercises. I performed these exercises in a safe and sustainable way. I did not perform the exercises as a challenge at every workout. I brought back the exercises every few months and then performed them in their challenge format. A sustainable challenge excludes anything involving heavier resistance. That even includes, for example, a 10 RM in a movement performed with a conventional repetition duration. My challenges were:

  • to squat with a meaningful, designated resistance for 25 good repetitions
  • to perform 20 good leg press repetitions with the full weight stack of a specific leg press machine (something I had done 2 years before)
  • to perform a high number of repetitions for chins.
For the squat and leg press, I went to parallel and not below. Each repetition of the squat took about three seconds, and for each repetition of the leg press, about five seconds. For chins, it was one second up and one second down, but without any stopping or thrusting. The goal was to reach a very high number of chins that just exceeded anything I had done in recent years.


I succeeded, quite readily, in meeting my challenges and goals in all three movements. I felt great about doing so.

Not surprisingly, part of me was saying: Gee, that wasn't all that hard and I should be doing some things that are more challenging. But, the other part of me was more rational.

What I did was great for my age and bodyweight and provided tangible evidence that I still was very good at training and still responsive. Within a time period and reasonable parameters, I could train to meet meaningful challenges.

This provided a real very positive glow for how I thought about myself.

Sustainable Challenges

But, and this is an important but, what I did were sustainable challenges.

Here is what I mean. The day after the squatting and leg pressing, I had no soreness in my knees or hips. The day after the chinning, I had no soreness in my shoulders, biceps, or elbows.

Indeed, the exercises in their challenge format had simply been part of my workouts. For example, after the 25 reps in the squat, about a minute or so later I did a set of the good morning exercise. Then a minute or so after that, I performed the set of 20 reps in the leg press. I then went to complete my entire lower-body workout that included 11 more exercises though those were not performed in the challenge format. The very high repetition set of chins was actually the last set in an upper-body workout.

This would be a quite different story if I reported that I met the challenges but then was figuratively comatose after the workouts or that I spent many days in pain, or worse, incurred an injury.

What would have been the point? If you feel you need a spark in your training consider introducing some challenges that you specify and then train to meet. But, be sure these challenges are sustainable.

Post Script

Here is one more indication that these performances were sustainable challenges. In my next four lower and upper-body workouts I was able to duplicate my performances in all three movements. Yes, this does indicate that I possibly could have done a bit more in each of those movements in my initial challenge workouts. Being able, however, to do these special sets with no soreness or injuries shows that they were, indeed, sustainable challenges.