Friday Roundup: Strength Training Mindfully for the Best Progress

To progress with an exercise, you've got to stretch yourself.

Photo credit: DSebourn

Last Friday’s roundup about whether strength training should be gender-specific drew some interesting comments. I’m enjoying the in-depth conversations right here on da blog.

This week I’m asking you to think about your training a little differently. I’m also sharing my own thought process about making progress in a long-stagnant area to show you how you can do the same.

Why You Doin’ That?

It may seem obvious, but unless you have a personal trainer looking out for your goals, you’ve got to figure out how to progress yourself. So if, for example, you want arms that cause people to stop and stare like you’re a rock star (it can happen), you’ll need the right plan AND the right follow-through. And even if you figure out what it takes and then execute your plan, you’re up against plateauing unless you keep educating yourself and again, executing the plan.

This is not to discourage you, but to save you time. I’m betting that a huge number of people either never reach their strength-training goals or take a very long time doing so.

Fixing What’s Broken

Avoiding this conundrum means being purposeful with your training – asking why am I doing what I’m doing?

This week I finally started thinking about why I never make progress on my bench press. I’ve been stuck at about 80 percent of my body weight for years. A few reasons? Benching has never been a priority. I don’t bench regularly enough, I don’t push myself, and I don’t think it through. And since I never progress, I don’t enjoy it, either.

So this week I did two things differently:

  1. First, I added five pounds to my previous weight and decided I would try to do four reps. I was a surprised by how nervous I was, but people do get stuck under the bar (or have the bar fall on their face) and I do not want to be that person. However, I felt I could do this (and I did complete two sets of four reps).
  2. After two sets, I decided to use a spotter so I would be more likely to complete another good set safely. I should point out that finding the right spotter is freaking crucial. You can’t tell just by looking at someone whether they know how to spot properly. Some people wrongly touch the bar too often and others don’t support you enough. I happened to ask a trainer I was familiar with and fortunately he did a good job. (Incidentally, he also told me the bar drifted towards my head on one rep and that’s good for me to know so I can address it.)

The result of using the spotter was that I lifted six reps for two more sets (and he didn’t touch the bar). I noted in my workout log that having someone stand there made me stronger, apparently.

From now on, if I want to make progress with my bench press, I’ll need to push myself like I did this week.

If you’re not seeing the progress you want, I encourage you to (1) do something differently, (2) ask yourself why you are doing it, and (3) then follow through for at least eight weeks. You’ll also need to think about your next steps, because the new thing you try will stop working at some point too.

Your body will absolutely stop adapting if you aren’t on top of it. We don’t want that. We want you to be excited about what you’re accomplishing in your strength-training workouts.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

You might be wondering how I found the motivation to suddenly start working on an area I dislike.

It’s all about finding your sweet spot. For me, I’ve been thinking about developing my anterior delts more and realizing that people who bench heavy also typically have larger anterior delts. Logically I know that bench presses engage the anterior delts, but I’m just giving you my thought process here.

And I want to be stronger, too; my back is very strong and an imbalance could cause me issues. But I’m unapologetically motivated mostly by hypertrophy (increased muscle mass), and that’s why I make the best progress when I focus on that sweet spot. As a side note, benching more frequently the last few weeks has also caused me to start enjoying it more.

Take some time to think about what motivates you. Once you find it, make a plan and follow through. Progress isn’t just made in the gym… it starts with being mindful of your training.

Let me know what you’re working on in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on

6 thoughts on “Friday Roundup: Strength Training Mindfully for the Best Progress

  1. Right now I’m just getting back into strength training after a long time off from recovering from a c-section and fairly limited lifting before that while I was pregnant. I would really like to do a pull-up (I’ve never been able to do one) but it’s frustrating because I’ve lost all my progress that I had made before I got pregnant.


    • You’ll get there Sarah. Start with a plan and then just follow through. A c-section will definitely put you back for awhile (I had one too) but you will rebound. Let me know if I can help you.


  2. I’m just now getting back into weight training. I used to be very active with weight lifting when I was in the Marines but after being out for a year I’ve become quite the couch potato. I’m starting out with some body weight exercises to get over the initial soreness. I think it’s extremely important to remember to stretch after lifting heavier than normal weights. Good read, looking forward to hearing about your results.


    • I agree with you about stretching after lifting heavy, and unfortunately I don’t see enough guys doing it though. Stretching and foam rolling keep your range of motion healthy and minimizes muscle imbalances. Kudos to you for doing it and welcome back to lifting!


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