The Importance of High and Low Intensities

How Exercise Prepared me For Entrepreneurship

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Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash
Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash

You can’t go all-out all the time; you need to go all-out sometimes. That, in a nutshell, is my exercise advice and my entrepreneurship advice. 

I used to dread high-intensity (HIIT) workouts, opting for low-intensity steady state (LISS) workouts. 

It’s scary to push yourself. It’s scary to press the limits of where you think you can go; to get out of your comfort zone; to tell your mind to take a back seat and get out of your way. LISS, on the other hand, is for the most part comfortable. You find your comfort zone and simply cruise. 

Over time, though, I got tired of the steady-state status quo. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. The results were taking too long to arrive, assuming they ever would. That’s when I came to love high-intensity workouts.

The post-workout high left me feeling many things, including accomplished, triumphant even. I wanted more. I pushed and pushed and pushed some more, eventually getting burnt out mentally and physically—not unlike my burnout with the humdrum of low-intensity life. 

I see others flirt with this struggle too. It’s easy for us to fall into a routine that supports our preferences. In the case of exercise, only doing HIIT or LISS. In the case of entrepreneurship, going all out all the time they crash, or going so slow and steady they never soar. 

Pacing Entrepreneurship

There are periods in my career and business ownership, like my athletic training, where I have to adopt a sense of urgency. I have to HIIT it. The high can be addicting, especially as you near goals. You think, “just a little bit more, just a little harder or faster, and I’ll get there.” Then you arrive there and think, “Oh man I did it! I bet I can do more, maybe even faster,” and so you push on rather than pause to breathe. You push and push and push some more, and then, you burn out. 

On the flip side, I see businessmen and women never really take off. They remain in LISS-mode, so to speak. Fearful of the extra effort, the initial intense push it takes to really launch. So, the results never come, or come too slowly, and they burn out. A different burn out than over-stress (called distress) burnout, but a burn out nonetheless. 

The trick is to incorporate the two throughout your year as best you can. In balanced exercise programming, you train at a variety of paces, to achieve maximal results. In business, to achieve maximal results, you should work at a variety of paces. 

Some days, weeks, even months, that may mean cruising in business so you can HIIT the road with your family or friends and live outside of your work. Other times it may mean skipping an extracurricular to hit business milestones. How each individual does this balancing act is unique to them, and certainly not always easy. We know there should be better systems in place to support the juggle and struggle. 

The Trick

We grow mentally and physically stronger by testing our margins. This helps us avoid mental and physical burnout. If we constantly train (in the gym or life) all-out, we are sure to build up chronic stress throughout our bodies that will force us to take rest. If we constantly train with no stress at all, we will never adapt physically or mentally. There’s no growth without stress. 

Left to our own devices, we may not pull back or push forward when we need. Again this is true in the gym and in life. Developing a mindfulness practice, like meditation, will help you learn to check in with yourself. 

You may have planned to go hard on a day your body and mind cannot. If you can recognize this, and respond accordingly, you will protect your body and mind, and it will be ready to perform when you need it to later. Without that ability to pause, notice, name, and respond, you risk pushing when you need to pause, or never pushing in the first place.

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