Quality vs. Quantity
Updated: Feb 13
If you are intimidated by getting back into working out or if you don’t have as much time to commit to exercise because of life changes, don’t despair! Quality matters just as much as, and at times even more so, than quantity. Regarding the amount of time available for workouts, movement itself, food, sleep, personal relationships—anything that effects your physical and mental health, quality factors in just as much as quantity. Finding a balance between adequate quantity and emphasis on quality will reap better results than worrying about quantity alone.
A common misconception in the fitness world is that more is always better. This all or nothing belief can leak into the minds of people who haven’t exercised for a long time. In fact, a person who hasn’t exercised in a decade will likely injure themselves if they return to workouts with an attitude of “all or nothing”—typically causing someone to try to use weights they previously lifted or complete a long distance run on their first day back. Instead, a smarter strategy for returning to exercise is to start with 50% or less of the weight once used or run for a beginner’s prescribed distance, slowly working up in weight or distance over time. Doing so would allow someone to perform at their current full capacity and complete the workout with quality effort, versus trying to accomplish training they are not conditioned for and squander through the workout.
Quantity worries can also plague those who have consistently trained for years but, due to life changes, no longer have the time to commit as they once did. For these folks, I would suggest shifting their mindset to an emphasis on quality. Maybe instead of five to six days per week of workouts, they can only fit in two or three. If that’s the case, make those two or three workouts the best damn workouts you can! People who have achieved higher fitness levels can actually maintain strength and body fat levels pretty easily with a moderate amount of activity and a healthy diet.
Another aspect to quality versus quantity concerns movement. Movement quality during workouts is of upmost importance. As a trainer, I much prefer clients perform three or four high quality strength exercises, executed with focus and intention, than I would have them complete 10 exercises, trying to rush through the movements to get as much done as possible. Often, I see people in the gym performing exercises haphazardly, not getting a full contraction of the muscle or not hitting all the positions necessary to safely and effectively accomplish an entire movement pattern.
The value of food quality should be an easy variable to grasp. Most adults know unprocessed, whole foods like lean meats, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains are important diet staples. In fact, if more people took advantage of eating food for quality’s sake, they’d find it is typically easier to eat a proper quantity when quality is prioritized. Consumption of quality proteins, healthy fats, and a quantity of vegetables and fruits required to actually meet suggested guidelines is seriously filling! For most people, filling up with whole foods is an effective way to control intake levels.
Finally, quality also matters when it comes to other variables related to physical and mental health, such as sleep and personal relationships. Not only is enough sleep important to proper functioning of our bodies, but that sleep must be of high quality. Waking up every 15 minutes throughout the night obviously doesn’t result in feeling restful the next morning. Having three close friends who would be there for any event, good or bad, is much better than having 15 “friends” who don’t make an effort to act as is expected of a friend.
A healthy lifestyle cannot be achieved without both quantity and quality. I would argue that an emphasis on quality is always important in health and wellness, while quantity can often fluctuate. The next time you are considering a habit, goal, or other variable, take the time to consider quality versus quantity and how you can combine the two to create the best results.
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