What You Think Is Long-Term, Is Actually Short-Term

The calendar year is already halfway over, and most of you reading could agree that 2019 is going by pretty fast.

Back in January, June seemed far away.

Some of us may have set a goal to lose a certain amount of weight.

Some of us may have set a goal to add pounds to the weight we can lift.

Setting out to lose 20lb. or to add 20lb. to your squat in 6 months is more difficult than it looks on your calendar.

Failing to reach these types of goals is frustrating, but do remember that half-a-year’s time is actually a short amount of time - it’s already June 2019, remember?

There is nothing wrong with chasing short-term goals, and really, most of the goals you will have will be short-term. Just don’t confuse long and short, and expect to see long-term results in a timeframe that is surprisingly short-term.

If you didn’t lose the 20lb. you hoped to by June, maybe you lost 12.

If you didn’t add 20lb. to your squat, maybe you added 12.

That’s on pace to make a 24lb. difference in a year…

still a short-lived amount of time.

"Control"

If we are talking about lifting, the word “control” is a word that I have come to dislike.

Many people tend to interpret controlled lifting as being synonymous with slow lifting. That is a problem because in order to demonstrate supreme control, you actually need to be able to lift a weight fast.

There is more to lifting than just moving a weight. We need to train our muscles to contract against resistance. One connection that needs to be made is for that muscular contraction to happen quickly, not to just happen.

Really, I am a huge proponent of lifting in a controlled fashion.

But just because you are doing an exercise slowly, does not necessarily mean you are the one who is in control.

Doing slow and (seemingly controlled) squats, but with wobbly feet - allowing your weight to shift from the front to the back part of your feet - is not controlled.

Bench pressing the bar up for a 3-count (and down for the same) is practicing little control if your back is relaxed and the bar flops around like a leaf in the wind, spanning from over the top of your forehead to over the top of your chest.

Control comes back to your body.

Can you produce enough tension throughout your body to handle and support the weight you are about to take? Have you established the proper body positions, positions that are necessary to safely begin the set? From the positions you create, are you able to generate enough force to move the weight without crumbling out of position?

Over the past couple of years, I have fallen in love with the word “deliberately”.

Deliberately means to do something consciously and intentionally; on purpose.

It is hard to not be controlled if you are doing things deliberately.

Approach your sets deliberately, don’t just go through the motions.

Once you have begun each set, move the weight deliberately, not casually.

Work on putting some speed on the bar.

This is where you really begin to understand what control is.

Getting Toned

A goal that many trainees have is to “get more toned”.

They want their arms and legs to have better shape.

They want a flatter stomach.

They want to look lean and athletic, but they don’t want to look too bulky.

While there is nothing wrong with having this type of goal, most people who desire this kind of physique do not understand what it takes to get there.

They think they do.

They read online and in numerous fitness magazines that “higher reps with lighter weight will make you more toned, and lower weight with heavier weight will make you bigger”.

Both of these claims sound sensible, but neither of them are true.

“Toning up” is simply the building of muscle tissue combined with simultaneous body fat reduction.

In order to satisfy your goal of toning up, you need to have both of these things, not just one or neither of them.

Tricep pressdowns done with light weight for sets of 30 reps will do neither of them for you. They won’t build muscle and they will do nothing to help you lose body fat.

“But Drew, I see all kinds of in-shape people (people who look how I want to look) doing tricep pressdowns with light weight for sets of 30 reps!”

If a person is already in shape, they can train this way. They are already lean enough and built in a way that showcases their toned features. They could even make you believe that doing tricep pressdowns with light weight for sets of 30 reps is what is responsible for their appearance. It’s not.

If you want to look more toned, you really must understand energy expenditure.

If you aren’t as toned as you want to be, you have more body fat than you want to have. You have a surplus of energy. That’s all body fat really is.

In order to get rid of some of that body fat, you need to create a deficit of energy.

To do this, you will probably want to eat less (fewer calories in), and you most definitely need to expend more energy during your workouts (more calories used).

Tricep pressdowns done with light weight for sets of 30 reps isn’t going to increase your energy expenditure.

Squats, presses, and deadlifts done for 6-12 reps will.

Tricep pressdowns done with light weight for sets of 30 reps will keep you stagnant and free of results.

Squats, presses, and deadlifts done for 6-12 reps will get you the toned body you crave.

An Uncommon, Yet Effective Way To PR

I recently wrote about three ways you can set new PRs: 1RM, Rep PRs, and Volume PRs.

It is important to PR.

It is indicative of progress.

If you are never reaching higher weights, not pushing to do the same weights for more reps, or never adding more sets to accumulate more total poundage, you’re not making progress.

A good mentality is to try to PR (in some way) every single session.

For a while you will be able to do this, but you will notice that the longer you lift for, the harder PRs are to come by.

An experienced lifter won’t see PRs as frequently as a novice lifter.

Some days you won’t be able to hit higher weights. Some days you won’t be able to do more reps. Some days you will be too beat up to crank out more volume.

Pre-Exhausted PRs

Pre-exhaustion is a method that is most commonly used in bodybuilding to induce more muscle growth. This is where we intentionally fatigue smaller muscle groups first, which will then require the bigger and stronger muscle groups to work harder during compound exercises.

An example of this is to do bicep curls before doing pull-ups. The biceps would fatigue to the point they could not contribute to the pull-up as much as if the curls were done after the pull-ups. The pre-exhaustion of the biceps forces the lats to work harder to perform the exercise.

PR attempts are conventionally taken when a lifter is fresh, but we can utilize pre-exhaustion to push the body in a different way, and to boost PR numbers when we return to a fresh state.

Don’t be afraid to push your numbers later in your workout when you are fatigued.

The fatigue makes you work at a disadvantage. When a disadvantage is introduced, there becomes more room to build up.

Then, when you take that disadvantage away, you be left stronger.

Push to lift heavier and heavier weight in a state of fatigue.

Push to do more reps of a certain weight in a state of fatigue.

If you can hit a 600x1 deadlift at the end of your deadlift workout, how easy will it be to hit 600+ at the beginning of it?

Types of PR

When lifting weights, there are 3 main ways to PR.*

“PR” means to set a new personal record.

1RM

For the majority of lifters, the most sought after PR is the 1RM (1 Rep-Max). This is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted a single time for a given exercise. If you take your max bench press from 80lb to 95lb - your PR bench used to be 80, but is now 95.

Repetition

You don’t necessarily have to push a higher weight to PR. You can set new repetition, or rep PRs. This is the number of repetitions that can be completed at any given weight, for any given exercise. If during your last training cycle you could squat 275 for 8 reps, and your current cycle has you squatting 275 for 10, you have established a new rep PR (for 275lb). The convenient thing about rep PRs is that they can be set for every single weight. This gives you more opportunities to set new ones.

Volume

The type of PR that is most overlooked, yet the easiest to make is a volume PR.

Volume = Sets x Reps x Load (weight).

Calculating and tracking your volume can be complicated if you want it to be. Because of this, I typically only consider the total volume for the main lift of each training session.

Here is a very simple way to ramp up volume over a relatively short period of time…

Let’s say that today you deadlifted for 5 sets of 5 using 135lb for all five sets. That would put you at 3,375lb worth of volume. The next time you deadlift, you could increase your volume by doing everything the same, except for bumping up the weight to 145lb on only your fifth set. That would give you 3,425lb worth of volume. The next time you deadlift after that, you could boost your volume again by using 135 for your first three sets, then 145 for your remaining two. That would be 3,475lb worth of volume, and you would have volume PR’d three deadlift sessions in a row. Continuing to fill your working sets with heavier and heavier weights will get you stronger over time.

As you see in the above example, it is very feasible to set new volume PRs and it is something you can do pretty quickly and regularly.

*There is another “type” of PR that I use. It opens up your PR setting possibilities even further, and I will write about it in another post (once I can come up with a name for it, or figure out if there is already a name for it).

How Important Is Variety?

Not as important as many people think.

I rarely train a person who I think needs more variety in their training.

It is almost always the opposite.

I usually find myself stripping away the (mostly) pointless exercises a trainee thinks they need, and instead spend the majority of time building up the basics.

I understand that switching up and tweaking exercises keeps things fun and interesting, but nothing is more exciting than adding weight your lifts.

Many people wouldn’t believe or understand this because they have not stayed with an exercise long enough for this type of progression to take place.

I am not all the way against exercise variety, I just want you to get closer to reaching your limits on foundational exercises before you start getting too fancy.

Before you start doing the Side Step Squat Jumps and Spinny Kick Lunges you saw your favorite fitness model doing on Instagram, prioritize working toward squatting 2x bodyweight.

You're Doing The Right Things, You Just Need More Time

What are you trying to accomplish?

Are you trying to lose weight?

Are you trying to lift heavier weights?

Whatever it is, accomplishment is not difficult to understand.

You have to do the right things.

You know that in order to lose weight you will need to clean up your eating and you should probably exercise.

You know that in order to lift heavier weight you will need to lift heavy things, recover, then lift heavy things again.

Understanding the right things to do is only the first step.

It is the easiest step.

Everyone is willing to go this far, but few are willing to go further than this.

The hard part is doing the right things for long enough.

This is the part that is most time-consuming.

This is the most crucial part.

You don’t need me to tell you what you should be doing. You already know, and hopefully are already doing what you should be doing. You just need to give the things you need to do more time.

Preparation Is Most Important

For the three of you who read my stuff, you know that I have written a lot about preparation. It’s very key. Things like consistency and hard work are obviously extremely important when it comes to pursuing any goal, but in order to be consistent, you first have to be prepared to start, then stay consistent. In order to work hard, you have to prepare yourself (mentally and physically) for it.

Some of you know that I am giving up desserts for the month of April. I know that I will be successful in doing it because I am willing to think ahead and prepare myself for the moments that I will have cravings for desserts. Even though I only allow for these cravings to hit on the weekend, I will be ready with a pre-made protein/banana/peanut butter/oats shake (that tastes almost as good as many desserts) when they do.

It’s all about being prepared - to give yourself the opportunity to stay on track with where you are going.

Foundations

So you’ve been going to the gym a few times a week for the last couple of weeks. You’ve been eating better each day over that same course of time.

Why aren’t you seeing faster results?

Why aren’t you much stronger, and why do you not look much better when you take a look at the mirror?

The short and cliche answer is that “it takes time”, but what that really means is you haven’t built enough of a foundation yet.

The lifts you can or cannot make are a result of the time you spent or did not spend in the gym over the last several months and several years.

A person does not become obese by eating pizza and cake a few times a week for a couple of weeks. It takes years of poor eating habits and low activity levels to do that.

Most things you are doing today will not affect your health (whether that be positively or negatively) until months and years down the road.

It’s great that you’re getting to the gym a lot right now.

Keep doing that.

You’ll be stronger and look better in July.

A Daily Goal That Led To A Finding

At the start of February, I set a goal for myself to begin each of my workouts with at least a couple sets of dumbbell rows. I planned to do this for a month, and was hoping to strengthen my upper back to help boost my deadlift.

Also, I wasn’t planning on doing ordinary DB Rows - I was using a very heavy dumbbell (one that was so heavy that it required some body english to hoist around).

I started doing these rows at the beginning of each workout without much focus on the movement or much planning. Some days I would do sets of 5, some days sets of 8-10. Some days I would do a ton of sets of just one or two at a time. I didn’t really care about set and rep structure, I just wanted to pull some reps on a heavy weight.

For most of the month I was consistent and stayed true to my goal. Toward the end of the month though, I got lazy a couple of days and skipped the rows at the beginning of the day.

And on the days that I skipped my rows, I noticed a surprising correlation…my lifts were lousy on those same days and my workout in general was not good.

When I first devised the idea to start each session with heavy rows I figured that my performance would go down a little bit due to pre-exaustion from the rows. I never really noticed that to be true, but I certainly didn’t expect the rows to enhance my performance every session.

It wasn’t until I linked my bad workouts to the skipping of rows that I actually did believe they helped my lifts that same day.

Here is what I now believe…

Starting your lifting session with a few sets of heavy rows activates your upper back and helps familiarize a “set” shoulder position.

You need a strong upper back and “set shoulders” to support the weight you are trying to squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, etc.

Any compound movement you can train will heavily involve the upper back.

Starting your workout with heavy rows warms you up in a hurry.

If you are using heavy enough weight, your whole body will be stimulated making the exercise a potent energizer.

My theory is that the weight you are rowing should be very heavy - nothing you can do in strict fashion - and done at relatively low volumes (I would say 25 or less total repetitions each side).

If you’re rowing a weight that doesn’t require use of straps, the weight isn’t heavy enough.

I do predict that if you performed rows at higher volumes to begin each workout, say 30-60+ reps per side, that a pre-exhaustive effect would set in and your performance would in fact suffer for that session.

That’s just a guess though. Maybe I’ll try that in the future.

As for now I’m going to keep doing my heavy rows at the beginning of each day. I like how they make me feel and I like what they do for my lifts.

Try them for yourself and let me know what you think…

Strength Wins Again

Last night I had a conversation with someone who had been experiencing chronic low-back pain for years. After several injections to help relieve the pain, she was told that her only option moving forward would be to undergo several procedures involving nerve manipulation, if she wanted to resolve the issue.

Needless to say, she did not like the sound of having to resort to this course of action.

Instead of doing more of what she was already doing, she identified some lifestyle changes that could be made and started heading in a different direction.

She started eating better and she started doing some true strength training.

She didn’t start doing 5lb. dumbbell curls while standing on a BOSU ball.

She didn’t start doing karate kick burpees.

She didn’t start doing twirly-do-dah twisty planks.

She started training movements that build total body strength.

If you have ever experienced low-back pain, you may gasp when you read that she started doing deadlifts.

She started to squat.

She was bench pressing and pressing overhead.

She spent time building a stronger upper back and midsection.

She didn’t do what many do - avoid things that involved her lower back altogether.

She actually did quite the opposite. She directly attacked her lower back with movement, working to strengthen and mobilize local tissues.

She familiarized proper positions.

She spent more time on her feet, and less time sitting.

She pushed for heavier and heavier weights.

She pushed for more and more repetitions.

Over the course of the several months she has given a strength training program an honest chance to do its work, she has noticed vast improvements taking place.

During our discussion last night, she reported to me that she no longer expects to need to go under the knife, and hopefully will never have to get an injection again.

Now that is a real, meaningful result!

I have written about how important it is to build, and then to retain your strength.

When you get stronger, any goals you are after become more reachable. Strength should always be the foundation.

I am very proud of this person. She has worked so hard and has had 100% trust in the powerful process of getting stronger the whole way. It’s amazing what a strong body will do for you!

I'll Be There

A couple of weeks back, a local HS football player contacted me for help with getting on an eating regimen. After a few days of corresponding back and forth via email, I got to work on designing his meals and eating schedule. After finalizing it, I sent it over to him and also invited him to lift alongside me sometime if he was ever interested.

He did express interest, so we began to coordinate our schedules.

This was on Tuesday.

He told me that on Wednesdays, he is done with school around 2pm. I told him I would be lifting tomorrow from around 2:30-4:30pm and that he was welcome to join me.

To paraphrase his response, he said “I’ll be there.”

I was impressed.

He didn’t ask me what we would be doing. He didn’t remind me that he already does offseason lifting on M-W-F mornings. He didn’t tell me that he needed to check on a few things to make sure he could make that work. He didn’t tell me he’d think about it.

He accepted my invitation without making any stipulations.

Then it became Wednesday afternoon.

Even though he seemed serious the night before, I know from too many experiences that a person saying they’re going do something is not the same as a person actually doing what they say. I was optimistic that he would be joining me but I wasn’t going to count on it, so I carried out my day like I normally would as I kept an eye out for him.

At about 2:45pm, the door to the gym opened and in he walks.

I greeted him and we chatted for a couple minutes before getting to work.

He was a strong kid, and a respectful one, too. He did everything I asked of him without having any reservations about anything we did.

^This is the attitude we must have when working with a professional.

Forget what you think you know. Forget what you have heard. Forget what you did this morning, or what you’ll be doing tomorrow. Use the opportunity to fully trust and learn from the person you have sought out.

Before he left, I told him he could continue to lift with me for a while.

We’ll see if he shows up again.

My guess is that he will.

User Error

I don’t believe a single bad exercise exists.

I don’t believe there is a single bad form of exercise either.

But you can make an exercise bad.

You can make a form of exercise bad.

It is how you do things that is most important.

It is the quality of your movement that is important.

If you have done thousands of push-ups using poor form, it will be difficult for you to ever learn to do them correctly.

It is also likely that your shoulders will be banged up.

What is really bad, is that if you have racked up thousands of reps, you probably think you are doing them correctly.

And when the aches and dysfunctions begin to set in is when you start to place blame on the exercise.

In reality, you deserve the blame.

It is never the tool’s fault, it’s the user’s.

Take time to truly understand every aspect of the movements and lifts you are performing.

Don’t develop, and especially don’t drill bad habits!

Working Out Is Boring

Working out is boring…if you’re doing it wrong.

If every time you lift, you lift the same amount of weight, for the same number of repetitions, you’re going to get bored.

If every time you run, you set the treadmill to the same speed, and run for the same duration, you’re going to get bored.

And it isn’t the doing of the same things over and over that makes working out boring.

Doing the same form of exercise over and over can be (and should be) exhilarating…if you’re doing it right.

Adding pounds to your lifts is exciting. Doing more repetitions than you could do a couple of weeks ago is exciting. Being able to run faster is exciting. Being able to run further distances is exciting.

It is progression, or lack-thereof, that determines whether working out is mundane or engaging.

A person does not exist who wouldn’t take interest in improving their physical capabilities.

We all could appreciate our body experiencing performance enhancements, but many of us don’t give these enhancements a chance to take place.

Don’t become complacent during your workouts.

It doesn’t mean that you need to make massive advances every single session.

Add weight to one set of one exercise. Do an extra set of one exercise. Rack the bar, wait 10 seconds, then do a couple more reps for one set of one exercise.

^^^Do one, or some of these for a couple of sets of one exercise…or for several sets…or do them for just one set of every exercise for the day…or do them for multiple sets of every exercise.

There are endless ways to continue to make progress.

Be sure you are making it in some way, otherwise you are sure to lose interest.

Training Yourself

At one point, you were taught how to do every single thing you know how to do.

Once you were taught something, you had to train yourself to become better at it.

You trained yourself to brush your teeth.

You trained yourself to tie your shoes.

You know that you must train to get stronger. To build muscle. To lose body fat.

To be able to lift 100 pounds, you have to train yourself to do it.

At first, it might be challenging to lift 50 pounds. But you know you’ll never get to 100 if you don’t keep training.

So you keep training, and eventually you are able to lift 100 pounds.

Whatever it is that you start but always have trouble sticking to, happens because you are not approaching it as training.

On day one, two, and three of your diet you may have no trouble staying on track. But at the end of week one, and into week two is when things begin getting difficult.

You think to yourself that this just “sucks,” but it is really that you are right in the heat of training.

This is how it should feel. And it should feel like this for a while. For a lot longer than you think it should.

You have to train yourself to be disciplined.

You have to train yourself to eat right.

You have to train yourself to drink more water.

You have to train yourself to get enough sleep.

It will never be easy to lift heavier and heavier weight.

It will never be easy to run faster or to jump higher.

Don’t expect being able to eat the right things or being able to avoid eating the wrong things to be easy.

That is training.

More On Maxing-Out

Yesterday I wrote a post about working up to your 1-rep max. I had some more thoughts and suggestions to add to the procedure, so I recorded a podcast on the subject.

Look for Eat-Nap-Lift on all major podcasting platforms. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode!

Listen to “Thoughts on Maxing-Out”

Listen to “Thoughts on Maxing-Out”

Testing Your 1-Rep Max

When it comes to weight training, nothing is more exhilarating than maxing out.

And although the basis of maxing out is simple, there is more to it than just loading up with a bunch of weight and going at it. There is some strategy that should go into a max-out session.

The purpose of testing your 1-rep max (1RM) is to determine the maximum amount of weight that you can lift for one repetition of a given exercise.

Below is the typical protocol I like to follow for working up to a 1RM…

  1. Ideally, you should begin with a 5-10 minute light-paced general warm-up.

    Then you should start to drill the lift you are testing, beginning at a light intensity, and gradually ramping up to a higher intensity.

  2. Start with 1-3 sets of 5 (using a weight you could actually do 20+ times).

    The purpose of these sets is only to groove the movement and to get some blood flowing through the system. You don’t want to be expending much energy on any of these sets.

  3. Then move on to 1-3 sets of 3 (using a weight you could actually do 10-15 times).

    You should start to feel the weight, just a little bit, on these sets. At no point should you have to grind out reps. Each 3 reps of every set should feel crisp and relatively easy.

  4. Finally, start taking singles the rest of the way up.

    Your first couple of single attempts should still feel pretty smooth. If I must choose a number, you should actually be able to do 5(ish) reps with your first single. If you’re barely making your first attempt(s), you have over-estimated an appropriate first attempt, or you have wasted too much energy on your work-up sets (or even a combination of both).

  5. Once you start taking singles, it is pretty straightforward from there. If you successfully lift the weight, add weight, repeat, and continue to do this until you cannot add any more weight. Whatever the heaviest weight you have lifted one time is, is your 1-rep max.

This is only general layout for how to go about maxing out. I have more detailed suggestions that I would share if anyone is interested. Let me know in the comments!

You Won't Get Big On Accident

In my experience as a personal trainer, it has always been difficult to convince some people to train with weights.

Many people have come to me over the years believing that lifting weights is dangerous and that it is sure to make them look like The Incredible Hulk within 2-weeks time.

Actually, it’s far more dangerous to go through life not lifting weights than it is to lift weights.

And it is extraordinarily difficult to look anything like The Incredible Hulk.

The fact is that most people that ARE TRYING to get big, can’t even get big.

It’s very audacious of anyone to think that they might start to look “too bulky” by accident.

***It takes years and years of frequent, consistent, and sufficiently intense weight training to build muscle***

The majority of people who are concerned with getting too bulky will never train for enough years, will never train frequently or consistently enough, and because of their misinformed belief that they’ll probably get too big from this stuff, will never train at high enough intensities to risk getting anywhere near the dysmorphic size they fear they’ll become. So there’s one more reason not to worry.

I don’t encourage weight training to firmly impose my training style and goals onto others. It really doesn’t matter what your goal is. I already know you should train with weights.

Properly utilizing the weights will support any training goal.

If you want to slim down, you should lift weights.

The weights won’t make you bigger, it’s other things you’re doing that may.

By the way, not all exercise that includes weights is “weight training”. If you’re using a weight for a set of 8 that you could really do 15 times, you aren’t lifting weights, you are quite literally wasting your time (go back and find the ***).

More Frequency

I think one of the best ways to force an adaptation in the body is to use higher frequency. 

Want to get better at running long distances? Run a mile every day.

Want to get your legs stronger? Squat every day.

Want your chest to get bigger? Do push-ups every day.

The only way your body will change (whether it be performance-based or aesthetic-based) is to do enough work to elicit the necessary training response. You might as well be accumulating work as often as you can.

If the typical recommendation to never train a muscle two days in a row comes to mind, know that your body is highly resilient. It will figure out how to function under whatever environment you put it into.

More isn't always better, but sometimes more is better! 

Who You Lift With Matters

Yesterday during my workout I just didn't have it. I wasn't focused and felt myself getting distracted by other things. It led to it being a sub-par session.

A couple of hours later during my group class, I began working in amongst the class and quickly started to feel in the zone. It ended up being a great workout!

The only thing different from two hours earlier was the people I was with.

It reminded me how important your training environment is.

It is difficult to motivate yourself day after day when you are the only one who is there to push. 

When you are surrounded by people who are there with you to get after it you feed off of each other.

Thank you to everyone who let me lift with them last night - I needed it!