Workout Quality vs. Quantity?

As a workout comes to an end, either as an athlete, coach or onlooker, there is the common reflection of “How was that workout/What did I/they get out of it?” The words that the majority of athletes, coaches, parents and the like hope to hear in response are something along the lines of, “It was really hard” or “That was a real bagger.” The subjective measure of quality during an exercise session has somehow come to mean how hard the workout was. 

So, how did workout quality get tossed to the wayside for workout quantity?

Joel Jamieson has an in-depth critique of this idea in his post ‘All Pain No Gain: Why the High-Intensity Training Obsession has Failed Us.’ I will take a more subjective and less physiological perspective.

The answer is that we are constantly relayed the message of more is better and most is best. Whether through social media influencers, CrossFit Documentaries and even the common reflection on off-season training (“I worked harder this off-season than I ever have before.”)   

David M. Frost and colleagues (2015) published an article comparing two groups before and after 12-week individualized training programs, along with a control group. During the study, one group was coached throughout the 12-weeks and the other was to complete the program on their own. The post-intervention tests were not performed at any point during the 12-week training intervention. From a physiological perspective, both groups improved compared to the control with no significant difference between the two interventions. The major difference occurred in post-intervention movement quality. The non-coached group had significantly less spine and frontal plane knee control during a squat, lunge, pushing and/or pulling exercise. The significance of this? Coached athletes were better able to transfer their training to non-gym environments. This could mean improved resilience on the surface of play. Quantity is not as effective without having quality of movement in place. 

So how can we better answer the question “how was the workout?” without focusing purely on quantity? As an athlete, you should expect your S&C coach to be constantly asking themselves this question. Be sure to ask constructive questions of your S&C coach to help gain a better understanding of the ‘why’ behind the workout. How is the program going to help from a performance, lifestyle, injury prevention and/or physiological perspective? If the S&C Coach can’t answer why something is in the program, realistically, it probably shouldn’t be there. 

I’ll leave you with this example ( If I asked you “How that workout went?” If you were a top-tier Cross Fitter, how would you reflect on this workout? Or Hockey player? Weekend Warrior? Soccer Player? In my opinion, it is time for, especially the S&C coaches, but also their athletes and parents, to become a little more critical of the quality of sessions without purely looking at difficulty. There is always a time and place for a difficult workout, but I think it should be there for a reason greater than, “to really get the athletes.” 



  1. Frost, D.M., Beach, T.A.C., Callaghan, J.P., & McGill, S.M. (2015). Exercise-Based Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention for Fire Fighters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(9), 2441-2459. 


  1. Jamieson, J. (np). All Pain, No Gain: Why the High-Intensity Training Obsession Has Failed us All. Retrieved from .