When trainees begin to steer their thinking toward a “more is better” philosophy to accelerate progress, I give them this thought experiment. Imagine that you want to really improve your bench press. Who doesn’t? You can currently bench 135 for a set of 8. You work hard, eat and sleep well enough, and expect fast progress. You train the bench 3 days a week and add plenty of sets and other exercises to really blast away at every bit and piece of muscle. You plan to increase by 5 pounds each workout, a modest number, so you think…
If you added a mere 5 pounds per session, you would go up 15 pounds a week. Times that by 52 weeks in a year, and that represents 780 pounds. You surpass the strongest human that has ever lived. In just two short years, you will rank far above the greatest legends, known as The One that ascended past the best humanity had to offer. You defeated Hercules and joined the Greek gods as the new God of Strength.
Let’s say you get more realistic and argue that you may have to fight for your reps each week. You therefore improve only 5 pounds per week. In this scenario, you delay your evident greatness by a bit and go up a measly 260 pounds per year. Within a decade, you would join the Aesir of the Norse. Perhaps you can tip the celestial scales in favor of the gods when Ragnarök arrives, striking down all the Jotuns singlehandedly, killing the giant wolf and the deadly serpent with one hand each.
Get a grip budding hero. You ignore BASIC HUMAN LIMITS. Never mind that most naturals start off much stronger than you. Never mind that even the elite may consider a 20 pound increase on the bench press PER YEAR worthy of tears that form new rivers. NEVER MIND THAT EVEN 5 POUNDS PER MONTH FOR A WHOLE YEAR WOULD CHANGE YOU IMMENSELY. How many zeros do you have to add up each week and month and year before you realize the need to act realistically?
You ignore that you have stagnated in the pursuit of rapid progress that can never happen. You get exactly what you deserve for wasting your time, poor results. Undershoot progress instead, and reap the rewards of patience. You will recover and feel better. You will begin your ascent one sure step at a time. I suggest making the following changes to reflect this reality.
- Allow more days for recovery than you think you need.
Think you can achieve faster results training each exercise three times per week? Think again. All but the most beginning of beginners and the very few lucky ones with the right drugs and genetics can consider this option for very long. Instead, consider twice a week per exercise at the very most, and perhaps even just one lift per week will work even better. Have the energy to give every exercise your all. Make sure you evaluate progress on whether or not your weights and reps go up. Ignore subjective feelings such as soreness, the burn, hope, and other quackery. Only then can you expect to improve at ANY rate.
- As you advance, use lesser jumps in weights and reps.
5 pounds and an extra rep represent huge figures as you grow bigger and stronger.
Instead, consider jumps of even less weight using fractional plates, which allow small 1 or 2 pound increases. Consider improving half a rep instead of a full rep each workout. You can always continue to develop linearly, despite what periodization experts say, you just need to expect less per increase.
This will keep you gaining and motivated. It helps you in avoiding the greed that drives you to make dumb choices when things slow down. Envision yourself as a coach… for yourself. What advice would you give this pupil? Would you tell him to engage in wishful thinking or to set small goals and beat them, one at a time?
- Eat and rest enough.
Regardless of how well you design your training, you need raw material and rest to gain fitness. You can have the perfect system, but if you expect something from nothing, you will fail. You cannot build muscle without enough calories. You cannot recover without the hormonal support that comes from sleep. Get enough of each, not an excess, and only then focus your efforts on good training.
- Focus on what matters.
This is the key to success if you could call it that. Efficiently pursue the three pillars of fitness. Your body only has so many resources to recover from tough exercise, and tough it must feel if you hope to achieve anything remotely special.
Get rid of clutter that dilutes your results and also wastes the time you should spend on more important things in your life. Once you know what matters, do enough to get results each time and do not rush things. Consider these tips.
- Ignore others.
Most make a lot of progress initially, relative to their genetic potential. The big get even bigger and the small seem a tad less small. Then they stagnate FOR YEARS ON END. Do not trust the big guy at the gym that uses steroids and trains a different set of muscles for a few hours every day. Such an approach may work for a select few, but the vast majority of people overtrain and get hurt through methods that some elite can tolerate. Consider suggestions that work for the average trainee as well, and apply them with aggression.
- No single trick will change everything.
The best of us fall into the trap that aims to find a simple solution, such as a pill, a lower rep set, an advanced Russian method, three-a-days, GOMAD, and anything else that gives hope toward instantly solving your problems and morphing you into a paragon. The closest thing we have to such a device are anabolic steroids, which still require steady effort). For almost everyone here and me, this will never enter into the realm of possibility. Remember though that hard, consistent work WORKS.
- Plan for the long run.
You need to change your lifestyle, not just take a dose of medicine. If you want to look, feel, and perform great, then change yourself before you change your routine. A quick fix, if it even works, will create results that fade just as quickly. Expect a lifetime of brutal but sensible training. Treat your body with respect, as you only get one, at least today.
Progress Occurs in Small Steps
If you are on a routine and have had absolutely no progress in a month then why is it suddenly going to start working in the second or third month?
– Dorian Yates
Should you decide to be patient with progress, you will achieve far more than you thought and beat most others around you. Plan for progress by designing your routine in a realistic way, and then embrace the long journey. Avoid greed. Know your limits, and NOTHING can ever hold you back. Who knows what you may achieve? Get what you can. Shoot for the stars, but just one small boost at a time.