There is a perception that we always have to push ourselves hard if we want to make progress, and whilst greatness requires effort, maximal effort might not always result in greatness. Pushing hard matters, particularly in competitive arenas but there is also a time and a place for moderation and leaving ‘One in the tank’.
Intensity can deliver results, sometimes fast, ask any Crossfit convert. However if we take the example of an un-trained individual who has never set foot inside a gym and they go balls-to-the-wall in their first session… what must they do in their next session? If you have to give 100% just to get through every workout every time you set foot in the gym, what happens if you have an off day, get sick or hit a plateau? As capacity and capability grows so can (and should) effort. Intensity is important, however it is relative intensity and progress that warrant our focus.
There is a difference between what we are able to do in the gym and what we do in the gym enables us to do.
A training session is preparation for what is to come, whether that is performance in competition, looking great at the beach, enjoying physical activities or simply living a healthy and happy life.
We do not need to push the limits of our capability to increase our capability, but we do have to increase the limits of our capability if we want to push them.
If we have never performed a deadlift before, a PVC pipe or an empty barbell may suffice. If an experienced lifter introduces a new exercise and is performing sets of 10 reps and uses a weight that requires an all-out effort to achieve those 10 reps, increasing the weight may prove challenging, take time or at worst, progress might stall. Starting out at a weight around 50% of that 10 rep max would allow the lifter to increase the weight each time they perform the exercise over a greater length of time.
The speed at which an individual progresses and should progress will be different. At an elite level an experienced coach will alter that progression depending on a number of contributing factors. For the vast majority of lifters, beginning a cycle with lighter weights and increasing those weights slowly over time is arguably the best place to start.
If we start light, check our ego at the door and are willing to delay gratification a few things happen:
- We are more likely to make regular steady progress
- We will perform a greater number of repetitions over time, which results in more time developing our skill in each movement
- Which in turn leads to fewer missed repetitions
- Which results in a longer lasting progression
- Which leads to greater gains in strength and/or size.
There’s a time and a place for max effort, but it isn’t on day one of the program and it isn’t every single workout either. Most of the time, leaving ‘one in the tank’ will leave us hungry for more each and every time we enter the gym and allow us to make steady progress over a longer period of time whilst minimising cumulative stress to our joints, tendons and central nervous system. Slow and steady wins the race.
Save ‘Beast Mode’ for the end of a training cycle, when you’ve milked a progression for all you can and want to eke out every last ounce (28.35g) of benefit from it.
We do not need to lift big-ass heavy weights in order to get strong, but we do have to get strong in order to lift big-ass weights.