Make Haste Slowly

“Always err on the side of conservatism. Even when you know you can do better, drop back to the point where you are using just a bit less weight or doing one or two reps less than you had planned to do. Then, every week or two, gradually increase you sets, reps, or weight. – Perry Rader”

Perry Rader was a smart man. Credited with inventing the bench press and starting Iron Man Magazine, he was a proponent of basics-first, long-term weight training. It’s easy to get caught up in making progress right. This. Instant. But it’s important to step back, ask yourself what you want from your training and adjust from there.

This past Friday was a heavy deadlift workout in which I perform a top set of 3 reps. During the previous workout, I way overshot my goal by pulling 375lbs for 5 reps. In an effort to get my weight heavy enough for only 3, and also because the plates I were using were actually 2″ too short, I added 25lbs to my set. I came into the gym feeling OK but really motivated to pull 400lbs for 3 reps. Strapped with my new leather belt, I saddled up, dug in, and…got 1 repetition. The pull felt sluggish and I was clearly too heavy. If I had been following my own advice, I would have taken the weight up to 380lbs and pulled 3 reps even if I had more left.

Coaches, especially in weight training, are a rare breed. We can do more than most of our clients (accounting for the coach who trains pro athletes, powerlifters, or bodybuilders) and urge sensible training techniques and programming. However, there is a tendency to completely ignore such advice when it comes to our own training. Whether ego or otherwise, we often act as if we’re immune to the same things our clients would suffer but we’re not. In fact, such thoughts are retarded and ego-driven. I was in a hurry to get 400 for 3 (my year end goal) and, though I wasn’t injured, I pushed too fast.

I’m a big fan of small plates (.25 to 1lb) for reasons of consistent gains. As talked about in Practical Programming, novices makes workout to workout improvements and intermediates tend to make week to week improvements. Beyond that, month to month improvements are great for the advanced athlete but small plates let one improve week to week in tiny increments. Not fast enough for you? Imagine that your current bench press working set is 250lbs for 6 reps. Add a measly 1/2lb a week and in 5 years you’d be benching 380lbs for 6 reps. Few trainees beyond novice status would be disappointed in this progress, assuming they’re a mere mortal with a job and family needs to tend to. Of course, poundage progression cannot be linear indefinitely even at such a small amount. If they could, you’d have a lot over 500lb+ bench presses in your local gym. What YOUR limits are are up to you to discover.

For some trainees, this can seem far to distant in the future to be relevant or motivating now. How can one get excited about half a pound a week? Well, training should be looked at as a life-long activity. Dave Draper is 66, Clarence Bass is 70, and Art De Vany is also 70 and all continue to train and train hard. While the trappings of youth lead me to believe that I needed to be “broly” to get the attention of women or be considered successful at what I do, I’m no longer confronted with such nonsense and thus have stopped spinning my wheels, mentally and physically. I train twice a week and play basketball a few times a month. I intend to do this until the day I die. What’s the rush?

One more word of advice from Stuart McRobert:

“You will not be able to train forever. Eventually you will not be able to apply dedication and determination to anything, let alone your training, diet and recovery. So be sure you make the absolute most of the present!

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