Over many decades I have observed that when lifters go through a workout, they may or may not get much out of their effort. Specifically, they may or may not get much (or any) benefit from the workout to improve their performance.
People put a lot of time and effort into a training session. However, based on my admittedly unscientific observation of people training in gyms over six decades, I believe most of them realize minimal benefit after the first few months.
It is not just fitness lifters that plateau quickly. Many strength lifters I know fall victim to some of the same problems. They hit a plateau, and then struggle for years trying to improve.
Improving your lifting is damn hard. There is no reason to make it harder than it already is.
In this article Ill begin my take on the things any lifter can do to give themselves the best chance to improve.
Stages of Improvement
When I look at developing skill in any area, be it sports, science, music or whatever, I think it is useful to think about the path from beginner to accomplished performer in the following way.
At the beginning of your practice, there is NO WAY to know in advance how good you can become at something if you work at perfecting your skill. How far you actually advance will depend on doing different things to improve at different stages of your development.
When you begin, your skill level is near zero. By following some instructions on the basic requirements for performance, over time you can build your skill level up to perhaps 50% or your ultimate capability.
In weight training or another fitness activity, just about anything you do in the initial stages of training will result in some improvement over your initial condition.
To improve beyond the initial 50% of your potential, you will have to be more sophisticated to make the next 30% improvement. The same training that got you started will not enable you to make the next 30% jump in performance.
Assume for the moment that you diligently practiced new methods and techniques and were able to up your performance to 80% of your potential.
Now comes the hard part. Improving the last 20% and getting close to your full potential.
Improving from 80% to 95% of your potential is VERY difficult. It requires not only hard work, but at you will see, a lot of attention to detail, mental discipline, focus and dedication. The same approach that got you to 80% wont get you beyond that.
In the real-world improvement comes slowly. A good analogy would be laying sheets of paper on top of one another. Each workout is like one sheet of paper. One sheet by itself is thin. Over time you build up the stack until you have a ream of paper.or a book.
Most people working out never realize 80% of their potential. Most never come close.
For lifters who want to realize as much of their potential as they possibly can, making improvements will involve effectively using your mental capability to improve your physical skills.
By mental capabilities I mean the ability to plan, ability to diagnose efficiency and effectiveness of training, discipline, focus, ability to develop bio-feedback, mobilization of intense effort, and so on.
In short, improving beyond 80% will not just involve hard physical work, it will require using your mind to maximize your performance.
Tactic 1: A Training Plan
I often quote the legendary Bull Stewart who said If you have no plan, your plan is to fail.
Every serious lifter should have a training plan that goes at least a month ahead. This plan will include what will be done on every day of the month.
For example, assume that a lifter is training on Monday-Wednesday and Friday. The month plan should include all the exercises (sets-reps and weights) for every workout.
The first key to this is to specify the critical work sets for each day. These are the meat of the training and the ones that will be done without fail.
For example: On heavy squat day the critical work sets would be:
1 set 3 reps with x pounds 2 sets 2 reps with y pounds .etc.
The next priority is to establish the critical assistance work using the same approach. What will be done on a given day.
Tactic 2: No junk work
One of the key aspects of a plan is to define what will be done. Another key aspect of a plan is what will NOT be done.
Over decades I have seen lifters do a set of (fill in the blank) because they have plenty of energy left at the end of a training session. These are essentially junk lifts because they serve no purpose other than to expend energy and help justify the post workout shower.
Obviously, all of us have done thisand probably a lot.
However, there is a fine line between building up your muscular endurance and burning up energy you may need for the next serious workout.
It is imperative it you are going to realize your full potential that your training follow a plan for how much work you do, and what you do to recover.
Tactic 3: Active recovery
Ill paraphrase the great coach Dan John who said lifting heavy weights will not make you strong. Lifting heavy weights and recovering will make you very strong.
If there are two magic bullets for a power athlete, they are:
- Drinking water
- Getting good sleep
There is no substitute for either. Ignore these at your peril.
Oh yesactive recovery. It is also important that a strength athlete does lots of walking. Yes, walking. This is a low intensity activity that significantly helps recovery from heavy training.
Following these practices all the time will help you make serious progress toward realizing your full potential.
In Part 2 of Realize Your Full Potential as a Lifter Ill go into how to get the most out of each workout session