When it comes to your physique or athletic performance progress isn’t linear. When you first start out progress is easy and everything works. However, as you approach the limits of what your body can do progress slows. Once you could put 10lbs on your squat a week but now you are happy with 10lbs in 4 months. The better you get, the fancier you have to be to make progress. This is why you see world records in many sports being slowly chipped away instead of blown away. Eventually your progress will look like a series of steps and plateaus. It is important to remember the basic idea of what you are trying to do in the gym.
Provide a stimulus sufficient to cause the organism to adapt.
As it adapts over time, it takes more stimulus to cause an adaptation. Therefore, what you did to get your squat to 225lbs isn’t going to get your squat to 600lbs. Or what got you to 10% fat won’t get you to 5%. The problem with this very basic formula is that people being creatures of habit tend to not change enough to give their body enough of a stimulus. This doesn’t mean working out more. It may mean fixing weaknesses you have been ignoring. It may mean doing less work and recovering more. Your workouts will be a series of pushes and backing off. Push your body to the edge. Back off and let it heal. Progress is like steps. Small goals that lead to bigger goals. The point is that it is OK to get stuck. It just isn’t ok to stay stuck.
This idea is expanded on here…
Not enough attention is paid to coming down after a workout. There are lots of things we do to wake up and arouse our central nervous system but not enough on how to come down. We have limited abilities to stay in an excited state which should be respected. Time and time again people have learned that there is no way to get around this without consequences. The truth is many people don’t know how to relax. Sitting in front of a tv or computer screen is still quite stimulating. The idea of relaxing with your thoughts seems to be a lost art. People get into a cycle of drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverage to wake up and drinking alcohol to come down. They stress the body constantly throwing drugs into it and then wonder why they seem to NEED caffeine to wake up. It is a difficult cycle to break. If you get at least decent sleep you shouldn’t NEED a pre workout. They certainly can help but if you are taking them before every workout you may have more problems than you realize.
One of the reasons massage helps athletes isn’t just because your muscles are being massaged but because of the calming effect and atmosphere. It is one of the few times people will listen to calming music and just let their mind go. In world we live today this is more important than ever. It is ok to do nothing. No phone, no tv, no computer, just you and that mess you call a brain. If nothing is too much for you, then get a massage, try yoga, listen to calm music, write in a journal anything you can think of that will allow you to relax. This is a way to be fair to your system. If you want it to be super awake, then you need to let it be super calm. You can only push so hard for so long before you crash. The most successful people have found ways to have balance. Professional athletes sometimes have multiple training sessions per day but they also take a lot of rest and naps. The body can do amazing things if you know how to let it. Don’t complain about your lack of progress if you are going a hundred miles per hour at all times. Give something to your body so it can give something back to you.
Whether you are performing a fast lift like a clean or a slow lift like a curl, you should always be in control. If you feel like the weight has you and you don’t have the weight then you are going too heavy. If you feel like for some reason you are unstable when lifting then you need to evaluate your technique and your program. You may need some specialized exercises to work small muscles that may be weak. Remember that your body will always try to take the easy way out. You have to make it do the opposite in the gym. There is a difference between pulling yourself up to a bar or doing a pullup to increase back size and strength. You have to be in control. Are you pulling with your back or using your arms more? Do you go all the way down and let your back stretch? Can you pause on the way up, at the top, and on the way down? If you can’t do these things then you aren’t working out a muscle as much as working a movement. Cleans, snatches and the like and movements that we train. Exercises like curls, pullups, and pushdowns are to train muscles. Know the difference and make sure YOU are in control and not the weight.
In a typical gym you often see more people talking or texting than training. These same people wonder why they put so much time in at the gym and make so little progress. If you want to treat the gym like a social club that is fine but don’t complain about your lack of progress. If you have a one minute rest between sets this doesn’t mean rest one minute then respond to a text then do your set. If you are halfway serious about improving then focus on your workout. Get it done then socialize. It has gotten to the point where people seem offended if you don’t want to talk to them while you are working out. If this is you, remember that they aren’t being rude if they came to a gym to workout. You are being rude assuming that they want to talk.
Next time you are working out, try giving yourself specific rest periods between sets and exercises. Put your phone on airplane mode and use it only as a stopwatch. If you are training with someone tell them to save their stories until before or after you workout. See how much faster and harder your workout is.
It can be intimidating and overwhelming to start working out if you haven’t before. These days there is too much information that can be accessed but few answers. Remember the following to keep your head clear.
- There is no right way
- Everyone progresses at different rates
- Keep your program simple and basic
- Don’t worry about supplements
- Pay attention to how your body moves
- Don’t try complicated exercises (cleans for example) before you can perform their components (front squat, clean deadlift, jump and land without knees wobbling)
- The big guy in the gym doesn’t always know best
- Lifting hard and heavy will not make female super muscular. Man looking female bodybuilders take drugs.
- Take your time. It is a slow process.
Don’t wait until you have some perfect plan. Take action now. You might feel stupid at times in a gym where people seem to know what they are doing but trust me, most people only THINK they know what they are doing.