My bench press just kept going up.
My twenty-year-old shoulders were a wreck. But my bench press was in the 300’s, so I stuck with it.
The formula was simple:
- Head to the gym.
- Hit ten heavy sets of three on the bench
- Superset with one-arm dumbbell rows
- Do some accessory work
- Get out
Two or three days later, do it again. Only heavier.
Side note: Ten sets of three is still one of my favorite set and rep schemes for size and strength… I just do it differently these days.
Go hard or go home! That was my motto.
I prided myself on being the hardest worker in the gym.
And it just made sense to me that if I lifted 300 pounds last week, I should be able to lift 300 pounds today.
Heck, probably 305!
I worked my way up to a 335 lbs bench this way and life was good.
Until it wasn’t.
Going hard every day was a solid plan on paper. But the results spoke for themselves. I progressed like crazy for a while, then found myself stuck in a rut of stagnation and injury.
Go hard or go home didn’t work in the real world. Nor did the idea that lifting X amount one day meant I could/should/would lift the same or more the next.
Progress, I eventually learned, didn’t happen linearly.
There’s an old story about a young wrestler named Milo. He lived in Croton, and at an early age started walking with a baby calf on his shoulders. Every day he would hoist the young bull up and walk with it. As the calf grew, so did Milo’s strength and ability to carry the heavier animal.
He started light, added weight every day as the calf grew, and eventually walked with a full-grown bull on his shoulders.
It’s a cute story. But had that bull kept growing, there would have come a time when Milo would have collapsed under it.
We all fantasize about adding five pounds to our lifts every workout. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
Instead, we need to be smart. We need to recognize patterns and plan accordingly. We need to look at our lives and realize that there will be ups and downs along the way.
Two steps forward, one step back. That’s the secret.
Do this for a few years and you’ll be in a pretty good place.
It’s our ability to show up continuously – to stay consistent – that leads to progress. Going too hard on any given day can prevent us from doing that.
If I run so far or so fast, or if I lift so heavy or so much, that I get hurt, that’s not good. I know, Captain Obvious here. But it’s true. The week or two that it takes for us to recover after a huge effort is time we don’t get back.
Fourteen days of work at 80% effort is much better than one all-out day.
How much quality work can you do over time?
That’s what counts.
That’s not to say that there aren’t times to go all out. There are. But it is our responsibility to follow these days up with rest and recovery. For every all-out day we have, we lose a week or two of solid training. So it’s in our best interest to keep these all-out days few and far between.
Pick a date on the calendar, sign up for an event, and make that your big day. Then start over and build yourself back up before doing it again.
And, when training for your big day, remember that the most important workout is always tomorrow’s. You need to be reasonable today because tomorrow is more important. It’s the chain of quality training days that counts, not any single big workout.
I learned this the hard way. Don’t follow in my footsteps.
By ‘saving ourselves for tomorrow’, we prevent ourselves from going too hard. We allow ourselves to continue to grow and train without peaking too soon. We stay healthy. We stay motivated.
And we end up doing a whole lot of quality work and enjoy the best progress of our lives.