I was about 17 years old, on my back, and straining for my life.
Between the blood pounding through my head and the fluorescent light beaming directly down on my face I couldn't see or hear much else.
I heard the voice of my good friend above me.
"Easy! 3 more!"
"Easy?" I thought.
Pressing those dumbbells up for what I thought was my last rep of the set took the longest 5 seconds I have ever experienced.
I knew that in order to grow stronger I had to force my body to grow stronger. On I went with 3 more reps, although, I really only lifted about 75% of the weight. My trusty fried and gym partner lifted the rest for me.
Leaving the gym feeling like I just got beaten down with a sack of Mac trucks was my daily trophy. The most reliable way for me to know I was forcing my body to grow stronger was to force it to submit to the point of tunnel vision, shakes and nausea.
After all, I got the idea from popular Muscle mags (yes, actual paper magazines). These were professional publications, backed by bodybuilders in lab coats.
If there is one thing I was sure of, it's that bodybuilders in lab coats absolutely CAN NOT be wrong about the most effective way to train.
The fact that I spent the next five years accumulating an embarrassingly small amount of strength and muscle must have been my fault. I must not have been training hard enough.
I was wrong. I had been training too hard, too often, and too reckless.
I eventually went on to make some decent and appreciable progress, but that wasn't until I discovered the way I was training in the gym was a massive waste of my time and resources.
This is me at 24 years old, around 250lbs after changing how I trained and added a TON of strength to my lifts.
Something finally gave. I began to train intelligently. I still trained hard, but I used my head. I didn't run myself into the ground on a regular basis, and the strength piled up, as if it was just sitting there waiting for m to figure it all out.
Today I am going to lay it all out for you. If you are interested in getting stronger (and you should) the following info is for you.
Stop Lifting to Failure All the Time
Have you been told that in order to force a muscle to grow stronger, you need to train to failure on every set? Yeah, me too. Forget that.
Training to failure, especially on the big multi joint exercises, will trash your nervous system. This means you hurt your ability to recover between workouts, and that my friend is the name of this game.
Your muscles themselves are resilient. They can adapt and recover from a lot of work. Your nervous system on the other hand, it takes some time. The goal is to stimulate your nervous system, don't annihilate it. Lifting to failure crushes it.
Not only that, but training to failure on a regular basis teaches you faulty movement patterns. Simply put, it teaches you to fail.
Strength is a skill. When you practice shooting a basketball, do you practice missing shots, or do you practice hitting shots?
Practice making lifts, and you will teach your body to make heavier lifts in the future.
One Step Further
On the major lifts like the squat, bench press, deadlift, barbell row, overhead press, etc. we can take this one step further.
Not only should you avoid failing these lifts, you should also avoid grinding these lifts. If the bar slows down to a grind, or your form breaks down at all, end your set.
This is not to say you shouldn't test your strength and resolve now and then. You should. But if you grind or fail lifts on a regular basis, you're leaving gains on the table, along with your nervous system, in a steaming, gooey pile.
"Mitch is a solid trainer who helps his clients set realistic expectations. He solicits input and builds custom programs around the goals that a client sets for themselves. He has a unique way of holding his clients accountable without any of the over the top tactics or antics that seem to run rampant in the personal training industry. He listens/probes for client desires and the impetous behind those desires to ensure each person is fully engaged/committed to taking an active role in their own personal growth and development. I would (and have) recommend his services to anyone I know, who's in the market for a Personal Trainer, who's committed to changing lives through knowledge-share and fitness!" -Etienne
Leave the Gym Feeling Better Than You Came In
This one is a major key, as DJ Khalid would say.
If you regularly leave the gym feeling like you were beaten with the business end of a train, then you are not only digging deep into your ability to recover in time for the next workout, you're leaving strength gains on the table. Along with the steaming, gooey pile that is your nervous system.
No matter how good you feel entering the gym, you should leave feeling even better.
Check Your Ego at the Door
How's that for a personal-trainer-cliche piece of advice?
To be more specific, in order to make regular strength gains you will need to have a boat load of patience, and your ego will need to shut up its mouth.
For example, if you lift as much as you can every time you train, that's a great way to remain stalled at that weight for a lot longer than you need to be.
That is like walking up to a brick wall until you are pressed right up against it, then trying to charge through it.
Instead of lifting the heaviest weight you can every time you workout, reduce your weight to around 80-90% of what you normally train your major lifts with. Every week, add 5lbs. As you approach your old working weight you will have accumulated more strength and momentum, and blast through old plateaus.
This is like taking five or six steps back from the wall, and sprinting towards it with a ton of momentum. With that momentum you will charge through the wall and reach brand new heights in strength and performance.
Growing stronger doesn't need to make you feel like you're in a perpetual meat grinder. If it makes you feel that way, you're leaving a lot of potential strength on the table.
Lift strong and fast, avoid failure, leave the gym feeling better than you came in, and take a half step back to take 3 steps forward.
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