I see more people these days doing more of the right things in the gym than ever before. I’m going to age myself, but when I was growing up, it was hard to find training information. There were a few books available, some of which were in Russian and the rest which might as well have been, but the majority of what we had to go on was from sauced up bodybuilders (who denied using drugs so they could make money endorsing protein powders) in the magazines, or the resident meathead in whatever gym you trained at.
Not to say all of the information available in the old days was wrong, but a lot of it was misguided at best. A genetically average dude looking to get strong and build some appreciable muscle is going to train quite differently than a genetic freak on the gas. But I digress.
Back to my original point, I see a lot of people doing the right things: presses, rows, chin ups, squats, deadlifts, and all of their variations. Sure there are technique issues and whatnot, but the general way in which more and more people are training is moving in the right direction, which is great. Happy to see it.
Now, you’d think that this training evolution would lead to a significant increase in people seeing tangible results, but when you look around the gym, while more people are doing the right stuff, they aren’t really improving as you’d expect.
I think a big reason why is that they’re not actually training hard enough.
This is the deal: progressive overload is the key to building strength and muscle. You have to do more than you have in the past to make your body change. Whether it’s throwing more weight around, using the same weight for more reps, doing more work in less time, moving the same weight through bigger ranges of motion, or however you decide to progress something, the bottom line is that it has to progress, or your body won’t change.
The most balanced, prettiest looking program on a color coordinated spreadsheet won’t do shit without overload.
A less than ideal program performed savagely and consistently will outperform the perfect program done with minimal effort 100 times out of 100.
So what’s the solution? Lift with purpose. When you grab a set of dumbbells for a set of incline presses, grip the hell out of them, get them in position, and think about blasting them off your chest into the friggen stratosphere. Lower them under control, and then explode them back up again.
When you squat, squeeze the bar in your hands like you want to choke it out, pull it into your traps, unrack it, get a big breath, lower it under control, and drive up so you hear the plates rattle at the top. Reset, and repeat.
This applies to all of the compound lifts, which should make up the bulk of your program. Rear foot elevated split squats are one of my favorite lower body strength exercises. I routinely see them performed by the lay person with 15 pound dumbbells in hand for half ranges of motion week after week, month after month, while talking to someone on the phone through their headphones.
It’s not uncommon for high school athletes that I train to crank them out for 10+ reps with 28 or 32 kg kettlebells in each hand. You better believe they are attacking each rep though, and not moving at the speed of smell trying to “feel” every individual muscle in their legs.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should be recklessly throwing weight around and letting technique go out the window. Every rep should still be perfect. And this also doesn’t mean that you have to be some sort of psycho that goes in sniffing ammonia pills before every set to get hyped up for it.
It means that if you have the intention of moving something fast, even if it doesn’t actually move fast because it’s heavy as hell, you’re going to be able to do more than you could if you gave a mediocre effort.
And if you keep training like that, over time, you improve.
Don’t hold yourself back by not lifting with intent. The entire point of strength training is to get stronger. A byproduct of getting stronger is increased muscle mass. Not attacking your lifts leads to leaving progress on the table.
If you’re going to take time out of your life to train, you might as well make the most of it. Grabbing the 60s with a loose grip and casually tossing them into position and going through the motions makes them feel a lot heavier than the 75s lifted with a tight grip, a tight back wedged into the bench, and the intention of driving them through the ceiling.
There’s no shortage of training advice and information on the internet, that’s for sure. The lack of information isn’t what’s holding people back, it’s the commitment to show up day in and day out and actually give the effort necessary to produce the training effect necessary to improve.
Be the anomaly. Train hard. Train consistently. Strive for improvement. 1 rep here, 5 pounds there, it all adds up.
And that’s the difference between training and working out.