3 Little Truths That Make or Break Your Training

When I think about what creates my gains in strength and fitness, hard work in the gym isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. That might come as a surprise since crushing it with weights is a core component of success (along with a healthy eating lifestyle).

But an equally important factor in consistent gains is the mental work – having a mindset that prevents failure and knowing what works and what doesn’t. In this post I lay out a few truths  that keep me on track to building muscle, strength, and a lean, cut body.

No F*cking Excuses

Recently I posted on my wall that it was a beautiful, late-winter day… but that I was still going to the gym. Predictably, a few of my dear friends pointed out that I was nuts. They scolded me  to train outside… use a playground… or go for a bike ride or walk/run. Get creative and don’t waste time indoors!

I love my Facebook peeps, but I had to disagree. If a nice day is going to keep you from your weights workout, then you’re letting another excuse get in the way of your goals. This might seem like a rigid position to some, but I didn’t get in the best condition of my life by skipping workouts due to weather.

The excuses will always be there – there’s a family obligation, the house needs cleaning, you didn’t sleep well. But here’s the bottom line: Is your workout non-negotiable or is it the first thing to go? If it’s an “only-if-nothing-else-gets-in-the-way” proposition, then I’m sorry – you won’t achieve that killer body or strength that you want.

I also didn’t get this way by doing bodyweight exercises. I’ve spent a lot of time at playgrounds and know that chin ups, planks, and pushups obviously can be done there. But in order for muscles to grow and strength to increase you need progressive resistance. If I don’t have access to barbells and dumbbells then I’m simply maintaining my current state.

Life happens, as they say. It happens EVERY DAY. Yes, you have to gauge each distraction individually to see if it’s worth missing or modifying your workout. But it’s only when making you’re your workouts becomes a mindset that you’ll get results that come from a long-term commitment. It’s also called consistency.

Holy High Reps!

You see it everywhere: Challenges that require very high repetitions on a single day, sometimes every day – 100 pushups, or 50 burpees, mountain climbers, box jumps, etc. When you take on a challenge like this, ask yourself why you’re doing it: to be a bad ass and say you did it? To burn calories? To become stronger?

Metabolic resistance training can torch calories better than standard weight lifting, and that’s all good. But it shouldn’t consist of the same exercises over and over; they should be varied so that not one pair of joints is being pummeled. If you’re consumed with doing a challenge to build strength or get in shape, think about this: Increases in strength, conditioning, and mass require constant change and progressive resistance, which you’re not getting with any of these challenges.

Plyometrics especially can cause injury in the unconditioned, and doing a high volume can cause injury in anyone. Some experts recommend only doing plyometrics a few times a week due to the stress it causes on the joints.

If you’re doing 50 reps of kettle bell swings every day (or any other strength training exercise), why? Even the 20-25-rep range should be used sparingly and can set you up for overuse injuries. As I discuss here, the number of reps you do affects your results. Do you really need or want hamstrings that can handle a large volume of repetitive work or do you want stronger hamstrings? Which brings me to another truth…

Question the Class

I went to a weight-lifting class at my gym for about a year and a half – the kind where you use barbells, dumbbells, and a step to get a strength-training workout. It was a great way for me to get back in the swing of lifting and held me accountable, since other people knew I was coming.

But after about awhile my elbow and knee started to ache and I had to actually decrease the resistance. The ultra-high repetitions done in the class weren’t increasing my strength or mass, but they were causing overuse injuries.

If going to classes makes you happy and doesn’t affect you adversely, then by all means do it. But rethink your workout if (1) you’re achy because of doing the same exercise throughout a three-minute song, or (2) you’re not able to increase the resistance week after week. Chances are your gains are going to plateau pretty quickly if the reps are always high or the routine doesn’t change frequently. And with high repetitions, it’s almost impossible to increase the resistance appreciably.

These are just a few of my mantras that create success. Feel free to weigh in here or on Facebook and add your own. I love hearing from you.

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Comments

  1. Great article. I agree. There have been some classes where I had a similar experience as you. Sometimes you need to listen to your body. And while you have encouraged me to increase my weights, I am doing so slowly. I am reluctant to go balls-to-the-wall crazy with reps OR weight while I’m still building up my strength. My poor knees!

    As for excuses–yes. There will always be obligations. We have to decide where our health and fitness rank in our obligations. For me? It’s on top.
    Lisa recently posted..Body Love Week: Structure, Perfectionism, and Authentic LivingMy Profile

    • I like that you’re taking it slow, Lisa. I’ve “known” you for quite awhile now and know you need to be pushed a bit. And of course, that’s my job so it comes naturally (bossy!!!). You’re someone I admire because you DO put it at the top.

  2. Hey there sweetness..

    as always you are the voice of reason in my ear. While I am light years from where you are, this advice is still sound.

    Letting life get in my way has done NOTHING but make the difficult that much MORE difficult. And if I am honest with myself, I DO understand that if I’m not healthy, then I’m not much use to anyone. If I don’t take care of myself, then there is no way I can help others who may need me.

    Big fat juicy kisses to you!
    ragemichelle recently posted..I’ll Never Be Your Beast Of BurdenMy Profile

    • There’s your sweet spot sister, and it’s important for you to know that. If you want to exercise to be healthy and able for your family, then that’s why you should do it. And you’re right – letting life get in the way doesn’t make for very good results. Hugs and kisses right back at you!

  3. You are ripped! I love this post, way to preach it woman!
    lindsay recently posted..All things Green and WinnerMy Profile

  4. I definitely agree with you when it comes to going to the gym,even on a sunny day. I LOVE the outdoors and try to take advantage of the nice days whenever possible, unless it interfers with my workout. If my plan is “easier” carried out on gym equipment and/or I know I will work harder at the gym, then that’s where I head. I don’t want my planned workout to become a nice hike with stops for picture taking…don’t get me wrong, that’s great for a recovery day or a cool down. But I find myself very easily distracted with all of the prettiness.
    Lynn~Learning Curves recently posted..31 Days of Adventure ~ RecapMy Profile

    • I love it! And I love hiking too. But you won’t get a very good workout by enjoying the scenery. A leisurely hike with little kids doesn’t equate to sweating bullets on a run. I guess the bottom line is no f*cking excuses and you’re there, sister.

  5. I love you!! Well, in that awesome – you are like me – way! 🙂

    Yes, I have done 100’s when I was bodybuilding as a means to mix up my training & even now, I do a lot of drop sets due to what I know about my bod BUT I start with heavier weight for me & drop down…. it is just what I know about me. I know now to keep progressing I have to lift heavier. I did that when I wanted to get big when I was younger. At one point, since I was an easy gainer, I wanted to be smaller & I lifted for that but I so agree with you on your points!

    I also make my workouts non negotiable. The fact of when I work out also makes it possible for me since if I want to go out & enjoy the day, workouts are already done! 🙂 When I was working 60++ hours a week, they were scheduled in & that was that!

    Such a great post!
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & Life Long FriendsMy Profile

    • I’m with you Jody, I also use pyramids and drops and four to six sets at times. And this doesn’t come even close to the high reps found in these classes or challenges. I do think the Hundreds Push ups program is awesome… It doesn’t require that many in a day lol. Thanks as always for stopping by, sister!

  6. You’re usually right on the money in my book, but shouldn’t “…having a mindset that prevents failure” actually be “having a mindset that pursues failure”? 🙂

    Two types of jokes I’ll never get sick of: Love jokes about tennis, and failure jokes about strength training.

    I have to admit that I have dabbled in a few of the high rep challenges myself (I swear 100 pushups sounds like a past post), but they’re more like a fun motivational tool for me, not the main focus of my workouts. My strength training is always front and center and as long as what else I do doesn’t interfere with that, then it can say. If not, then it has to go!

    I love that heavy weights is your thing. If you ever do Workout Nirvana t-shirts you should definitely incorporate the heavy weight concept into your slogan, logo, etc. 🙂

    Looks like it’s working!

    Best wishes,

    Matt
    Lean Muscle Matt recently posted..Juice Fast Recipes and ChallengeMy Profile

    • This made me LOL! I may have to put that on a tee shirt (I Have a Mindset that Pursues Failure :)). I totally see how those challenges are motivational, too. I think it’s when people do them too often that it’s too much, and it irks me to see the same bloggers pushing them over and over. Love ya!

  7. As usual, I love your post.

    What “normal” people may not understand: the opportunity to lift heavy iron is a privilege and an opportunity, not a drag–something to be thrown aside every time the weather is beautiful.

    As for the old high-reps delusion–I am and have always been old school. The bottom line is building and maintaining muscle, for good looks, increased metabolism, and strength for the long haul. Don’t get me started on the goofy things I see women doing with the trainers at one of the gyms where I train. What I don’t see: squats, deadlifts, bench presses, military presses, or anything else that allows a trainee to grow some lean tissue.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..Are you still afraid of lifting weights?My Profile

    • For real Mary! Sometimes it seems like old school is under attack. If you’re a traditional lifter then you’re not doing functional training, and you’re totally out of the times. I like to do both with my clients because they really do need overall conditioning, most times. But for people like you and myself, traditional lifting has crazy benefits! It simply cannot be disputed, although many will try.

  8. I remember Franco Columbu, in his book, Coming On Strong, talking about living and working out in Germany with Arnold. Referring to a lack of warm and sunny days in the German Winter Franco wrote, “Arnold and I led the league in skipping workouts, taking in the sun, and enjoying those rare days. I was 16 when I read. Loved it. Still agree with it 🙂
    Emergefit recently posted..The Art Of Self…My Profile

    • Yeah… for some reason you and I don’t agree much anymore Roy. But thanks for reading. Another thing… we have a culture of slackers. People who have gotten lazy. In my opinion – and you can disagree – is that people need to be pushed to be accountable. That’s all I’m trying to do.

  9. I so agree with you about the dangers of injury when doing high reps in your workouts. Proper form is HUGE for me and I always teach it above the number of reps. I would rather see someone do one pushup with good form than ten with bad form!
    Suzanne Bowen recently posted..Get Better Results Faster by Getting into the FireMy Profile

  10. I guess the high reps issue depends on the exercises involved and whether it’s consistent with your training objective. I can’t imagine doing 100 kettle bell swings, but 100 burpees is great endurance training for someone who likes to do obstacle races (ie, Spartan Race, etc.) in which there’s going to be a lot of flopping down on your belly to crawl under/over stuff, etc.. That’s a very specific example, obviously, but there are times when high reps may have relevance. Your point is well made, though, about the necessity of progressive overload.
    Jonathan Aluzas recently posted..Vacation, Time to Get AwayMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by. Agreed about the objective. I’m talking about people who have weight loss and strength as their goals, not necessarily endurance-type goals. But you’re right that in some cases you’d want to employ that technique!

  11. Nice article. Just found your site, I’m digging it so far. I feel the same way much of the time when I tell friends I absolutely have to hit the gym even if it’s sunny, rainy etc. If you have a goal, you must do what it takes to achieve it. Not go half-way. If today calls for squats, sorry friends, I must do them.
    Good point about metabolic resistance training also. I use it sometimes and it is effective but you have to know what the pros and cons are also, with regards to joints and injury.

    • Glad to meet you. So many myths out there about what does and doesn’t work. Hope to help communicate truth… Along with some opinion :).

  12. Yah the million reps workouts are just going to wear your body down. More than three sets of 10 of anything is too much.

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