Drop the Ego and Get Strong for Real

If you follow me on twitter you know I’ll post somewhat frequently (for me at least) that it’s extremely important to drop your ego when you get serious about the strength game.

About a year after I started lifting I thought I was progressing much quicker than everyone else and it must be because I was simply superior to everyone around me.  I was pulling 345 for 3 on my deadlifts after only one year, I was so damned strong…

In reality it was the fact that I was using lifting straps, a belt cinched as tight as my intestines would allow, shoes with overly thick soles, and a back as round as a scared cat.  Of course this story ends in injury.  My injury wasn’t huge, I’d just have an excessive amount of trouble walking, tying my shoes or lying down for days after deadlifting but about a week later I’d be okay and I’d do it all over again.  Squats were a similar story…

I believed that all the pain meant my body was going through a rapid adaptation and that I was just working harder than everyone else, and therefore I’d surpass them. Clearly this was not the case.

After a long hard look at some footage of me squatting and deadlifting I realized how bad it was and decided I needed to pursue better performance instead of just stacking on plates.  I dropped the weight on all of my lifts to a measly 95 lbs for the first week, practicing better form without the aid of anything and slowly increased the weight.  I became much more critical of my form as I added weight, if my squat was deep at 135 but I suddenly couldn’t drop below parallel at 145 I’d drop the weight back down and climb my way back up.

Nowadays I can pull over 400 lbs on my deadlift without the aid of anything except a bit of chalk, squats leave my knees feeling good rather than creaky, and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been (for real this time).

The strength game can be extremely humbling because very few can actually make significant progress much faster than the average.  Individual rates vary and newbie gains are speedy gratification but for any natural weightlifter that’s been in the game for a while knows that progress slows and eventually the biggest factor becomes how consistent you are.

Getting Strong, Properly

There are innumerable methods to gaining strength available but all of the good ones rely on the same basic principle: Progressive Overload.  Progressive overload (PO) is the principle that the muscles will continually adapt to progressively increasing demands.  The key with PO is that the levels of increase need to be manageable increments and not lofty goals of going from 185 to 225 on bench in the span of a single session.

Some of the most popular effective programs available utilize this principle extremely well; you set a given rep range for an exercise and when you can perform the upper limit of the range with a given weight you increase the poundage, when you can’t complete the lower limit you decrease the weight.  These kinds of programs involve consistently performing at the edge of your capability which is what makes them so effective.  The limitation with these programs is the exclusive focus on a given rep range can be less than optimal for developing the skill of strength.

I’m certainly not saying you should throw these programs out!  Many of them are based on some very solid research, yield amazing results and are overall very well designed.  What I am saying though is that sometimes we should “inject” a phase of training with an array of rep ranges to develop our skill.

Periodized Training is a method of progressively overloading the muscles in training.  Typically people think of it as “Start with High reps, low weights (High Volume) and move towards high weights and low reps (High Intensity)” and while this is kind of correct it is not the type of periodization I am talking about.

In my free program, The Gauntlet: Phase One, I like to utilize a different kind of periodization.

If we define the rep volume as:

# of Sets x # of Reps = Rep Volume

By keeping the rep volume relatively consistent we can incrementally increase the weight in cycles that allow us to continually push the overall intensity of the workout higher while simultaneously utilizing multiple rep ranges.  For instance in the Gauntlet: Phase One program the deadlift is programmed in two 3-week cycle and looks like this:

Week 1: 4 Sets, 9 Reps Each, 70% of 1RM

Week 2: 6 Sets, 6 Reps Each, 75% of 1RM

Week 3: 9 Sets, 4 Reps Each, 80% of 1RM

Week 4: 4 Sets, 9 Reps Each, 75% of 1RM

Week 5: 6 Sets, 6 Reps Each, 80% of 1RM

Week 6: 9 Sets, 4 Reps Each, 85% of 1RM

As you can see the overall rep volume stays the same each week and only the weight increases.  Weeks with higher reps allow us to practice the movement repeatedly with a lower weight, which is beneficial because it taxes our ability to maintain the form.  Weeks with the lower reps per set allow us to refine our skill of lifting a very heavy amount with plenty of attempts (sets).  The weeks in the middle are the ones I find the most challenging because it requires a mix of the two skills we develop in other weeks.

How does this relate to dropping my ego?

A program structured similar to the one listed above requires two things: a plan, and the capability to follow through with that plan.  When we walk into the gym every week with the plan of “Just gotta do better than last week!” we are vulnerable to allowing our ego to take hold and pushing much higher than we should.  Maybe the guy next to you is squatting 25 more pounds than you and you want to show him you can hang.

When we employ a program like this we have to plan everything ahead of time and stick to it.  We can relax our egos and trust that the numbers we programmed will allow us to develop our strength.  We’re not just trying to get one really really good workout in, we’re cultivating our strength strategically and focusing on consistently improving over the long haul.

Be Strong With me

The type of program I described in this article is similar to the one I designed in

The Gauntlet: Phase One

This program is meant to be a 6 week injection into other programs to help increase your strength across the board.  Test your before numbers and run The Gauntlet, you won’t be sorry.

Have you already completed The Gauntlet: Phase One?

Tweet me your before and after maxes (@brawnforbrains) and be featured in future phases of The Gauntlet.