By: Benjamin Pickard
I want you to ask yourself a simple question. Say it out loud to yourself, and really be honest with your answer.
“Am I getting closer to my goals?”
The obvious answer is “yes, of course!” but now there is a follow up question.
“Have I made any REAL progress in the last month/semester/year?”
I don’t know about you, but when I go to the gym there aren’t that many people squatting 400lbs, deadlifting 500lbs or really moving that much appreciable weight.
Not everyone trains for strength you say? Well, there is nothing wrong with a li’l bit of aesthetics!… but then where are all the jackshows, rockets, and flawless physiques? Unfortunately, I don’t see that many. And I might have a reason why that is. Too many people don’t train with purpose. I don’t mean they lack goals, or they don’t know what bodypart or movement they are training that day, but I mean they don’t perform exercises in a way to get the most out of them.
Let me explain…
Picture yourself lifting a ten pound dumbbell. Easy, right? Just standing there curling that weight for probably dozens of reps before you fatigue, letting your mind wander to whatever you are doing that evening.
Now picture yourself curling that same weight but before you do each rep, you squeeze the weight as hard as you can, and focus all your attention on the movement. Plus, you take 2 seconds to lift and 2 seconds to lower the weight, keeping your entire arm flexed as hard as you can the entire time.
Which do you think is harder to do? Which do you think will result in the greater adaptation?
Using the second method you are going to create much more tension, and in building an awesome physique, tension is much more important than the weight lifted. Erik Ledin from Lean Bodies Consulting discusses this a lot (as do many coaches), and he helps people consistently get into INCREDIBLE shape with minimal impact on their lives.
In the realm of strength training we are obviously interested in lifting the maximum amount of weight, meaning we should take a different approach to training, right? Yes, but it’s not entirely different. We still need to train with purpose.
We have all probably heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10 000 hour rule, and the training spinoff of 10 000 reps for mastery. If not, the quick version is that it takes 10 000 hours actively pursuing something before you become a master at it. Similarly, it is said that you need 10 000 reps of an exercise before you are a master at it. Well, why not make rep of every set work towards that 10 000 rep mark?
Do you warm up your squats by just blasting out a set of 8-10 reps mindlessly, or do you get the most out of every rep? This seems to be a concept that most people don’t understand, or possibly simply ignore, so I have started to teach people about ‘practice reps’ instead of ‘warm-up reps’.Truthfully, it is the exact same thing, but looked at from a different angle. When you think of every rep you do as practice towards an end goal of mastery, you focus more, and execute better.
Gray Cook says “Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”. Pavel says “Strength is a skill” and refers to practice as “greasing the groove.” Charles Poliquin calls it The Perfect Rep. Christian Thibaudeau has adapted this, and he refers warm up sets as ramping. Dave Tate talks about warming up to prime the nervous system and prep for a PR.
Although these coaches would all likely disagree on the minutia, the bigger principle is the same. When these minds all agree, you should definitely take note.
From now on when you step into the gym, I want to you think about your goal and how you are going to reach it. Regardless of what exercise you want to do, I want you to do it with purpose. Make it count towards your goal. Make the most out of it, and make every rep work for you.
If you want to build an impressive physique, focus on creating tension when you lift, by squeezing the weight and flexing your muscles. Feel the mind muscle connection, and think about how much force you are putting into the movement.
If you want to build an impressive total, control the bar and focus on lifting the weight as fast as possible on every rep, and you should hear the weights rattle at the top. After your ‘warm up’ you should feel like you can lift the world, and every rep should be powerful and identical.
And for both goals, make sure you are lifting with perfect form, and focusing on what you are doing. Regardless of the goal, we are all training to be better, so why not actually get better?
Just because there isn’t a lot of weight on the bar, doesn’t mean that set doesn’t matter, because it definitely can if you want it to. Focus on what you are doing, treat every rep as practice, and train with purpose and I guarantee you will see a difference in your training.
Check out the following link for more on this topic: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/feeling_muscle_vs_moving_weight
Have you seen any imorovements in your workouts in the last year? Do you put thought into every rep? any questions for Ben? Comment below and remember to “like” us on facebook!
Benjamin currently works as a Personal Trainer, but also has experience coaching UW’s Varsity Athletes as a S&C Coach and as the Conditioning Assistant. Ben is a firm believer that positive thinking and squats can cure cancer, and is always striving to find the most harmonious balance of life, work, and training awesomeness. He is inspired by his fellow WS&C Club executives, and is on the never-ending quest for knowledge. He hopes to one day work as a S&C Coach/Personal Trainer and help people become superhuman.
- Gray Cook – Athletic Body in Balance
- Pavel Tsatsouline – Naked Warrior