I hear it when you say it can be a struggle getting the results you want. An online friend even pointed out to me the other day that knowing the theory and science behind building muscle and losing fat doesn’t always translate into results – getting buff, that is – that holy grail of looking exactly like you want to look.
So I started thinking about the ingredients of attaining a buff state and how much of it is a series of questions asked throughout my workout. I realized I follow an internal check list – a little voice that guides me and is ultimately responsible for getting me to my goals. As I’ve become more aware of it, I’m truly impressed with how effective it is.
You have a little voice following you around during your workouts too, and if you’re not seeing the results you want, it’s time to tune in and listen to what that voice is saying – or not saying.
If there’s negative talk going on – “I can’t lift that much… that will make me look stupid… what if I hurt myself” – it’s affecting your results. Negative thoughts only serve to distract you from your goals.
You also need to realize that weight lifting requires reasoning and comprehension to be effective. Just double-checking your form alone involves an ongoing thought process throughout your workout. Add the questions I list below and you can see why you need to have a laser-like focus every time you lift weights. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be focused.
Take a look at my check list to see if there’s something your internal guide is missing. If you don’t have a check list, you may be cheating yourself out of the results you deserve.
How many reps should I do?
This question automatically pops up when I approach a machine or bench. It is crucial because the number of reps you do directly impacts your results. The answer will depend on these things:
- If I haven’t increased the weight in long time, I’ll keep the reps low/resistance high to increase strength. I’ll also think about using an advanced technique to surprise my muscles.
- If I like my current results and the weight is still challenging, I’ll do 8-12 reps to stimulate muscle growth.
As you can see, I vary the number of reps according to my current goal. It’s not random, and in order for me to see a difference in either my strength or size, I need to ask myself this question every time I start an exercise. Another question you need to ask, perhaps less frequently, is how long do I rest.
Can I go heavier?
As alluded to above, I must continually lift heavier to get bigger and/or stronger. Please don’t let that scare you; women cannot get big and bulky without steroids. And if you’re lean, strong, and muscular, you will be what’s referred to as “buff.” Isn’t that desirable?
As I discussed on my wall, “toning” is a myth. Muscles cannot be “shaped” with light weights and high reps; they can be enlarged or atrophied. If you want definition (that buff look), you’ll need to work on enlarging your muscles while eating lean. You won’t see muscle definition until you lower your body fat.
So when I ask myself if I can go heavier, I again look at my current goals:
- If I’m doing a special technique to shock my muscles into growing (like a reverse pyramid), I think about the weight I need for that. For a reverse pyramid, that’ll start with the heaviest weight I can lift for three to five reps. I’ll want to do about two more reps each set after that. But can I go heavier than last time? If I don’t ask myself this question, I’m not progressing.
- If I look at my training log and see that I did 12 reps easily the last few times, I know it’s time to try a heavier weight. I’m almost always pleasantly surprised by how much stronger I’ve become when I do this.
As I approach my target rep range, positive thoughts kick in such as, “I’m strong,” and “I can do this.” If I’m doing it right, the last few reps are hard. I have to push it. I’m breathing hard and grimacing. All the stuff you see bodybuilders doing during their sets? It’s not (always) just for show. It’s because they’re serious about getting results and they’re pushing it. They know the power of positive self talk, too.
If you really want to see results and feel strong, you need to push it. Among other things, that means asking yourself every set whether you can do one more rep.
- If you’re within your prescribed rep range and cannot, then you’ve pushed it. You may even need to lower the weight to get back in the right range.
- If you can do one more, then you need to ask whether it’s possible to lift more the next time or if it’s just right. Being able to lift the weight once or twice more is ok – you don’t want to go to failure every time. But again, that’s fairly individual.
So you see, weight lifting is really a series of questions asked over and over during your workout. As you can see, keeping a training log can be truly beneficial for more than keeping track of your workouts. It can tell you what to do next. So listen carefully while you work out… and watch for the results.