What if you could improve the following laundry list of issues?

  • Injury
  • Over-training
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced mental focus
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of time

That would be a good day right?

Now what if you could make those improvements by doing less?

Um, sign me up!

Over a decade of working with athletes of all kinds again and again I have seen lack of recovery be the number one source of the issues above. Recovery is essential to improvement, yet is the ingredient us driven achievers skimp on, or leave out altogether. This leads to all the issues listed above and more. Worse, its effects spill over into our everyday lives affecting our professional and personal responsibilities.

Time for a change.

Time for a challenge!

The challenge is simple. It is time to go on an Intensity Diet.



When it comes to improving our fitness our brains are conditioned to this equation…


Better Fitness = More Working Out and/or Working Out Harder


We know there is more to it than this basic equation, but this paradigm is what is deeply ingrained in many of us. This drives how we try to improve ourselves.

We are driven to achieve. To go longer, or move faster. To improve. Too often we default to the idea that in order to physically progress we have to do more. Go longer, or pump up the pace.

This natural tendency isn’t false. It is simplistic and is a road-block to effectively achieving our fitness goals.

To improve ourselves we have to do the extra work. Where things go wrong is when increases in work are not balanced with adequate recovery.

Some of you may have heard of Stephen Covey and his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is an oldie, but a goodie. While the book focuses on becoming a more effective performer professionally our training can also benefit from Covey’s ideas.

One of the core ideas Covey lays out is that paradigm shifts support change.


“paradigm shifts move us from one way of seeing the world to another. And those shifts create powerful change. Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors,”


Well if our current paradigm of, More + Harder = Better, is not effectively helping our health and fitness, it is time to shift our paradigm.




Here’s the challenge:

Shift awareness of your training away from the work and highlight recovery.

We are going on an Intensity Diet. Here is our new paradigm…


Better Fitness = WORK + RECOVERY


We know how to work. We do too much of it. Lack of recovery is the weak link in this equation, so that is what this challenge is focused on.

Focusing on recovery doesn’t mean sit on the couch and eat Fritos. It means take your easy days EASY.

I see you shaking your head.

“Whaaaaat kind of waste of time sissy challenge is this, you ask?”

The kind I see my clients, and many others, secretly struggle with time and again.

What first think of as a waste of time will actually provide you with more time. If you can nail recovery you can get put more into fewer hard days and still get great results. Cutting out un-needed Hard days equals more free time!

Master this challenge and enjoy the benefits of added energy in your day. Less risk of injury.

Say goodbye to overtraining and start performing better.

Recovery is such a simple and necessary part of the training equation, yet we are conditioned to avoid it. To do more work. Mass marketing glorifies the work, the sweat, the pain and leaves the unsung hero, recovery, out of the spotlight.

This challenge is meant to move that spotlight of away from work and make you more aware of whether you are taking your Easy days easy enough.



For your Intensity Diet keep it simple…

After any Hard workout take at least 48 hours to recover.

  • 2 Easy days, before performing another Hard session.
  • Plan your Hard and Easy days for the next three weeks.
  • Each week you are allowed two (2) hard sessions and the rest must be easy.

Here is a sample weekly schedule:





On Easy days the #1 goal should be to get the body moving.  You simply want to circulate blood, loosen muscles and invigorate your body. Breathing should be normal, without effort. You may sweat some, but most importantly you should finish Easy sessions feeling better than when you started.

If you are not working with a heart rate monitor you will have to stay aware of your breathing and perceived exertion. If tracking exertion, it should feel like something you could literally do all day long.

Super easy.

Painfully easy.

On Easy days avoid going higher than HR Zone 2. If gauging off wattage on the bike stick to 50% or less of your FTP.

For reference I ran a 1 mile time trial in 5:02 within the past 6 months. On my Easy run days my pace averages about 8:20.



A heart rate monitor (HRM) is a great tool for accountability. Learn to set the alarm and it will literally squawk at you to slow down.

To reap the biggest benefits of this device all you need is an alarm setting. This is available on most basic models. The majority of my clients use Garmin or Polar products. I myself find Garmin devices to have great customization, feedback and user interface across all price points. Right now I use the Garmin 225 on a regular basis.

For more on my history with heart rate monitors check out this post.

With a HRM you can set the alarm to go off at a particular HR and clearly know when you are working too hard.

Generally I work off Joe Friel’s heart rate zones.



For the Intensity Diet challenge I’ll leave Hard days up to you. This is your day to let the ponies out and rev up the horsepower.

If you are already doing interval work stick with your normal plan. Pay attention to your paces and energy levels during these Hard sessions.

Have they improved?

If you are not familiar with intervals, try the following:

Hard Day 1
  • Intervals of 30 seconds-1 minute
  • Total of 5-10 minutes of work intervals. (ie: 10x 30 seconds, 5x 1 minute)
  • Sprint pace, or up to HR Zone 4-5b
  • Recovery interval: 2-2.5x work (ie: 30 sec work / 1 minute recovery, 1 minute work / 1:30 recovery)
Hard Day 2
  • Intervals of 5-10 minutes
  • Total of 20-30 minutes of work intervals. (ie: 4x 5 minutes, 2x 10 minutes)
  • A pace you can hold for 30 minutes, HR Zone 3-4
  • Recovery interval: .5-1x work (ie: 5 minutes work / 3 minutes recovery, 10 minutes work / 5 minutes recovery)

I primarily work with endurance athletes, so I am focusing on cardio workouts such as running and biking, but these rules also apply to lifting sessions. A weight session with few reps, 1-2, and long recoveries (2-5 minutes) would qualify as an Easy workout. A Body Pump style class, or weight session where you are sore the following day would be a Hard session.



I would love to hear how your challenge goes. Feel free to leave a comment on this post about your experience. If you have troubles finishing the challenge please let me know what stood in your way. With your feedback I can update the challenge to better help others.

Remember the goal is to shift our paradigm from,


Better = Work + Recovery

Better = More