Are You Building Strength Or Just Punching The Clock?
While doing some of my customary late night internet surfing a few days ago I came across this article by Michael Keck at EliteFTS called “Strength: Are You Building it, or Just Testing It?” In it, he describes how even as a pro he fell victim to a mentality where he was constantly doing 1RM trying to keep his maxes up there:
I was spending too much time testing my strength and my progress was going nowhere, in fact I stalled completely. During this time, I was dieting off some excess body fat. I was also training without a plan… Every session I wanted to see if “I still had it.” Could I still hit X on bench, or Z on my pulls or squats? This lead to me grinding out weights nearly every workout. I was testing my strength constantly with lifts at or above 100 percent of what I was capable of that day. This type of training is not only ineffective, it’s totally counterproductive.
While some of us may have fallen prey to this mindset before, I believe that something equally, if not more important, can be taken from his post- even if it may be unrelated to his main point. The bigger lesson is that, regardless of his intentions, Keck’s problem was that he was maintaining. This is not to speak badly of him or anything like that (hell, I don’t know the guy and he could probably kick my ass), but rather to point out that during the period he describes he was stagnating.
When I go to my gym I look around and I see a lot of dudes just putting in time. Dudes I spot doing the same reps and weight as a month ago. Many of them do the right lifts, but the progress they should be getting based on the time they put in is just not there. Their problem is quite simply that they are going through the motions.
Some would call it fuckarounditis- yes, some of them most certainly are diddling with iPods, chilling ten minutes between lifts, chatting up people between every set, and so on- but only a handful of them are guilty of this and I’m not really talking about that (though it is related). This is much deeper, more serious. They don’t look like they’re trying. They look bored.
To rephrase Keck- “Are you building your strength, or you know, just kind of punching the clock?”
Look, I know every single one of us is guilty of that occasional lift where you’re in a hurry or you’re tired or distracted so you don’t put all of your effort. It happens to the best of us. *Occasional* lax days due to unfortunate circumstances are ok, and maintaining is better than not doing anything at all, but when every day at the gym is this “just putting in my time” dynamic, you’ve got a problem.
It’s possible to get gains, minuscule though they may be, just making the effort to get to the gym and casually go through your workout and tick off another day. Just ask my college self. However, you are leaving a lot out there if your mentality is to just get it over with. You will never see the gains you want if you aren’t in there pushing yourself, sweating your balls off, and involuntarily grunting like a mad man trying to squeeze out those last reps. I know none of you are like this- stagnating due to lack of effort/dreading the gym visit/looking to get in and out, expecting gains to just happen- but let’s suppose someone who is is reading this. Let’s talk about fixing this because I want you to improve.
- Get your head straight. Get motivated. Why are you in the gym? Do you want to get big, cut, look good in the mirror, etc. or waste time? Get fired up man! This shit is fun, it’s not supposed to be a chore. Set goals. Find a body type or a one rep max goal you aspire to and go for it. Take before and after photos, updating every week.
- Keep track of your progress! I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it because even people who should know better don’t do this. You cannot possibly remember every little detail of your last lift and you will stagnate when you don’t keep track of stuff. By leaving yourself little notes one what exactly you did the week before you know exactly what you need to beat. This motivation will help drive you, along with giving you something to measure progress with.
- Manage your time better. Prevent rushed maintenance workouts by giving yourself at least a half hour longer than usual of buffer time between your lift and whatever else you have going on before/after.
- Find someone of comparable size to lift with. You may be best friends but secretly (or not so secretly) you will be competing against each other, which is good.
- Bring a stopwatch or use your stopwatch on your phone. Time your rest periods and stick to a specific interval. I am willing to bet they are way too long and you’re chilling too much.
- And finally: Lift your fucking ass off. During the above work out I was grunting uncontrollably, and afterwards I felt like puking and could hardly walk. I pushed harder than I ever thought I could, and it felt awesome. Want it. Love the burn, don’t dread it. Don’t be a pussy, and don’t be content with anything other than your best effort every time you step into the gym.
- Ok I lied, one more point just to reiterate: Don’t be a pussy.