The Reality of Weight Training
“There are a good many people needing physical exercise and wishing to become strong but lack the necessary time. They must adapt their exercises according to circumstance.”
-George Hackenschmidt. World class strongman & wrestler. 1908
George and his counterparts, such as Eugen Sandow and Arthur Saxon, knew a lot about how one's lifestyle had to match their training and vice versa way back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They knew a great deal around the importance of matching their training to their lifestyle, stress levels, sleep, the use of ice baths for recovery purposes, their diet and staying lightly active in between strength training sessions. These things weren’t studied back then, but these men knew the importance of them all.
Today we have the science to back all of their claims, yet many struggle to listen to it falling into the “all or nothing” trap of an attitude leading to plateaus, frustration and burnout.
Many training plans fail when we increase the work load on paper faster than our ability to physiologically adapt to what we are trying to achieve.
When it comes to training and whether or not you should be hitting it hard, there are excuses and there are legitimate reasons.
Knowing yourself and finding the balance between the two is crucial.
Work long shifts 6 days a week?
Going to school and work full time?
Got a newborn that keeps you up all night?
All legitimate reasons not to train intensely and pursue what might not be an attainable goal at the moment. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be doing anything. There is nothing wrong with hanging out at maintenance, in fact it’s necessary more often than you’d want to think. You just don’t want to hear it and can’t stand the thought of it mentally, but the fact of the matter is that it is a necessary part of the process.
You should know when you are making excuses because you’ll feel weak and ashamed of yourself when you do so, no matter how much you try to suppress it, it’s there taunting your subconscious, and hopefully you have people around you that will call you out on them instead of coddling your weakness.
I see a lot of people with an all or nothing attitude when it comes to training, and this is great, at the right times it can be used to tremendous benefit, but when our lifestyle takes a turn and does not suit our desired goals we must absolutely find ways to train our bodies & minds that won’t add unwanted stress to an already stressful state.
More is not always better, yet nothing is certainly always worse.
Often times the middle ground is paved with the path to success.
Think of it this way: Your central nervous system is the amplifier and your muscles are the speakers.
If you fry your amp, your speakers aren’t going to work very well are they?
Now when we are in a chronic state of stress, such as working excess amounts of hours, sleeping poorly, or both, think of our central nervous system and hormones not really knowing the difference between that stress and a positive stress, called eustress, in the body such as from exercise. Adding further stimulus at the wrong time will cause more inhibition than progression.
This is where many get frustrated and usually do the exact opposite of what they need, being either trying to go harder causing further damage such as burn out, otherwise known as HPA Axis dysfunction or adrenal fatigue, injury and more, or some just quit or put their fitness on hold until things settle down, or in other words quit…
What this comes down to is HORMESIS or HORMETIC RESPONSE to exercise, which is either a low dose stimulation, “the sweet spot”, or high dose inhibition being basically too much. Same goes for other stimuli such as fasting, exposure to cold, heat and other micro doses of stimulus that have built up our immune systems and tolerances to various stresses throughout the course of evolution.
When that stimulus is the correct amount, we adapt & overcome such as by getting stronger, building more muscle or losing fat in the case of a calorie deficit.
But when that stimulus is too high, such as too much volume, intensity, frequency or too much of a calorie deficit on top of a lifestyle that does not suit our goal, the body does not respond nor adapt as well as we’d want it to.
Training should improve your life, not take over it. If that means taking it down to maintenance a couple days a week for a period of time until you have improved your situation, then so be it until you sort your shit out. No big deal. There is no rush. In fact, several clients that have come my way wanting to break plateaus are moved from a 5-6 day week routine to a 2-3 day a week protocol until their stress levels and lifestyle have been managed properly, they’ve fixed their sleep habits, nutrition and they start to see the benefits of prioritizing recovery. And guess what, they get stronger, feel better, perform better and get leaner or bigger depending on the goal.
Not seeing progress after training hard for months on end? Take 5-7 days off, prioritize sleep, stress management & nutrition and see what happens when you get back into it with the right amount of stimulus that you need as an individual.
Been hitting the big lifts for months on end and not seeing any more progress? It’s probably time to take it down a notch and focus on some dynamic stability, range control, accessories and movement quality.
Not a cool thing to talk about. Nobody wants to hear it, nobody wants to do it. We want the awesome stuff we can post on social media and brag about. But the thing is that in my experience training both average people and athletes, the average person usually ends up trying to do more than the athletes they follow, inevitably leading them to nowhere.
Is this neglect to see the bigger picture not a weakness itself if it is hindering your progress?
There are several physiological reasons that athletes go into post-season and off-season phases.
Everyone wants to do what the cool kids are doing. Train like this guy or that girl, comparing themselves to others and trying to do what they do. The thing is that you mostly see athletes on social media when they are at peak performance. The other thing is, you probably live a much different life than them and have far less experience in doing what they do. Attempting to train like them at their peak does not allow you to skip years of hard work, dedication, skill acquisition & sacrifice.
Always remember, you will not be in peak performance forever. This is where people freak out and think they are not getting anywhere.
The fact of the matter is that if you have been doing the right kind and amount of work consistently, then you are doing better than just a couple months ago.
That’s progress, and the speed of progress fluctuates.
Written by: Ethan Buck | Iron Will PT