The most important factor for progress
If you’ve come for a secret to training, I’m actually going to give you one.
But it’s only a secret because it’s something people don’t consider when they approach their training. It’s not a secret in the sense that it’s hidden or magic in any way.
As I keep saying, no matter what anyone wants you to believe magic results just don’t exist in training. There is no such thing as a ‘revolutionary’ training idea that is going to get you anywhere faster.
Even if science does come up with some sort of pill one day that can safely and sustainably make everyone super strong, super lean and super fit in an instant that still won’t be able to replicate the character and discipline you build from actually having to do the reps and do the time.
Anyway, I digress. The following is actually something extremely important to consider when it comes to benchmarking progress and getting better in whatever physical pursuit you like to follow.
If we’re talking goals in the weight-room it basically means that over time you need to be doing more weight for the same reps, or more reps of the same weight, or both. If we’re talking endurance running it means being able to run at the same speed for longer, or run the same distance faster.
It sounds pretty obvious right?
It is, but it is a simple concept that can get lost in the deluge of conflicting fitness information that floods the internet on a daily basis.
It’s all too easy to get hung up on worrying if you’re doing enough drop sets or negatives, or if you should be doing 3 day splits over over 4 days.
But if you want to be able to benchmark your progress it is the only real true indicator of how effectively you are training.
Soreness, rep ranges, how many sets, how long you are in the gym, how many protein shakes you take, whether you think you ‘look’ bigger, none of that counts for anything if you are not progressively overloading your body.
What do I mean exactly?
In its most simple form it means that when you look at what you could lift for 10 reps 6 months ago, is it less than what you can do now?
If it is, good, keep doing what you’re doing: you’re making progress.
If it is the same, you haven’t progressed, at least in the strength department. Your body has had no reason to adapt to a greater stress. Because strength and muscle size are so dependent on one another, it also means that in actual muscle terms you haven’t built any either.
As I’ve explained before (see link below), for the natural trainee looking to maximise their growth potential the most important thing to focus on is getting stronger.
Related article: Why your goal should be strength, not muscle
Working in the optimal rep range helps (i.e. low reps for strength) but this is more due to the fact that pushing less reps allow you to put more energy into each lift, rather than from it building “just strength with minimal muscle growth”.
That’s broscience, and the mainstream belief that there’s ever a situation for the natural trainee training for strength where they risk getting TOO big.
Never, ever, going to be your problem.
The truth is that every rep range will help you to build muscle PROVIDED you are progressively overloading, i.e. getting stronger over time.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be hitting PR’s and 1 rep maxes every workout. What it means is that over your desired rep range you need to be moving more weight 6 months from now, to be sure you have actually improved your body’s capacity to train.
Whether that’s increasing your 10 rep max by 5 kgs or your 1 rep max by 2.5 kgs they both indicate that you have changed your body for the better, and are therefore going in the right direction.
This is one reason why it is a good idea to record your workouts, or at least keep a rough note of your numbers week to week- it’s easy to forget what you did yesterday let alone months ago, and having the cold hard figures in front of you can ensure you are honest with yourself when assessing how your program is going and whether you are making progress.
Just remember that small consistent improvements can add up to impressive gains over time.
Consistency is what matters
The importance of progressive overload also validates the rule that with training practice and consistency are the standout rules, and why the fads of ‘changing it up’ or ‘keeping your muscles guessing’ are not going to get you any results in the long-term.
The only way you can continue to progressively overload is by being consistent in making your body better at doing certain, precise things over and over- squatting, running, pressing.
The way you get better at the violin is to hone the same patterns by playing scales and practicing specific movements. The way you improve at a language is by repeating the same things over and over.
Training is no different. It is a learned skill of co-ordination, balance, mind-body harmony and adaptation that combined lead to a stronger overall unit.
You have to practice for a long time to be good at it. And to be good at it, you have to keep improving your body’s capacity, measured in kilograms, seconds or miles.
That is the key to getting results in training, and that should be your overriding concern when it comes to assessing whether your program is working for you.
Being sore and sweating a lot can tell you that you’ve had a workout, but they don’t mean you have made your body adapt and change. Curling a bag of sugar 200 times will definitely make me perspire and be sore the next day, but no-one would claim that is an effective workout.
Progressive overload. Write it down and stick it on your mirror or on your gym diary to remind yourself what you need to be worrying about more than anything else when it comes to training.