Killing Your Own Progress
by Lonnie Ducote T-Nation
You've done it. You've made the decision to work out and eat right, and have even managed to stick it out long enough to see the get-in-shape-for-summer crowd fade away into obscurity. It's just you and the regulars now, but there is one problem...
You still suck.
And let's face it, so do most of them, and they have for years. You made decent progress for a few months, but now everything seems to have come to a halt. What's going on? You go to the gym 4 times a week and your food preparation strategy is no longer yelling a number into an electronic clown face, and yet all the girls at work are still asking that other guy if he can help lift the heavy boxes. Talk about frustrating.
Well, it's time to become that other guy, and I'm here to help. I've spent years under the bar, and while I'd love to tell you that every year was a magical one devoid of mistakes and filled with stellar gains, that would be a lie. Hell, looking back I can honestly say that I probably wasted a few of those years, but after sharing with you the mistakes that I made, hopefully your time in the gym can be much more productive.
Buckle up and break out your highlighters, because I'm about to tell you a few reasons why you still suck and, more importantly, how to fix them.
1. Your Program Doesn't Match Your Goals
When I was just getting started in the iron game, I read everything I possibly could (I still am) and soaked it all in. Here were the biggest, strongest guys in the world giving me the training programs and tips they used to achieve the top status in their sports. In a few years' time I had tried out programs used by the top power lifters, Olympic lifters, strong men, football players, and other assorted athletes. There was one big problem though:
I wanted to be a Bodybuilder.
Somewhere along the way I lost track of my goals and was caught up in the allure of these other styles of training. These types of programs are all great on their own, and certainly can help one get bigger and stronger, but they're not the most efficient way to create the type of physique I was after.
Looking back, I was making great gains on my body building program but I abandoned it because I got caught up trying to test drive too many programs, and instead of finding myself on the fast track to the finish line, I spent a very long time wondering why other people were passing me by.
In many ways I had too much information, and now that I'm older I can read these articles and glean the lessons from them without abandoning my training program all together.
There's an old saying that goes, "success leaves clues." Apply that to athletic endeavors and it means that whatever your physique or performance goals are, you should follow the principles of the people who've achieved what you want to achieve. Aspiring football players need to train for the Combine, not worry about the angle of their pinky on a side lateral raise.
If you don't want to spin your wheels, then step one is to not reinvent the wheel! Can a power lifter benefit from some Crossfit? Surely, but he won't ever realize his full potential as a power lifter if he veers too far off course and is hitting tractor tires with his girlfriend's yoga ball, or whatever those Crossfit people do.
Don't succumb to training program ADD like I did for years and try to be a jack-of-all-trades. Decide what your goals are and work out accordingly.
2. You're The Same Lifter You Were Last Month
The strength gain, fat loss, and body building process is really quite simple when you break it down to its most basic principle: An adaptation to stress. That's it. That's why you get bigger and stronger when you lift weights; the body is being placed under a new level of stress and in order to better handle it next time, you add muscle mass and get stronger.
The reality many lifters (especially women) don't understand is that you won't progress if you don't increase the intensity of your workouts. You must impose more stress than last time; not the kind of stress that you get when your head pops off your pillow on your wife's birthday and you haven't gotten her so much as a card yet – I'm talking about physical stress.
Many guys will reach the all-important 2 plates per side bench press... and then stay there. Forever. Why would the body add new muscle mass or get stronger if you continually perform the same task?
There are many ways to progress in a program, the obvious ones being to add more weight to the bar and to lift the weight for more reps. Here are a few more basic ones to think about:
Lift the load faster
Rest less in between sets
Do more work in less time
Focus the load more on the targeted muscle
There are many others, but the key is to always make sure you're doing something better than last time to ensure long term gains.
Now that you know what to do to improve, how can you ensure you're making progress week in and week out? You absolutely MUST keep a training journal and track the variables upon which you're trying to improve. You simply can't leave this up to chance.
If you see in your training journal that last week you lifted a weight for 5 reps, you must beat that number this week. This cycle of progression is what will stimulate your body to produce gains week after week.
Remember though, not all variables are equally important for every goal. Body builders don't need to worry too much about their 40-yard dash time, and MMA fighters don't need to focus on their band-assisted speed bench work. Choose the most important variables for your sport and get to work beating your numbers!
Just as the Ladder Theory states that men continually strive to date hotter and hotter women, so too must you strive to date women who squat more and more... Or something like that.
I get confused when I think about hot chicks squatting.
3. Great Expectations
By the time someone reaches any level of exposure in the sport or physique world, you can be sure that they've achieved an extreme level of development and invested years mastering their craft.
Unfortunately, those are the only people that we see, and many young lifters and athletes are never exposed to the people on their way to the top who are good at what they do, but not yet ready to be on the cover of a magazine or represent their country in the Olympics.
These athletes and champions can be a great source of inspiration, but unfortunately many people who are just starting out feel they should be at that same level in a year's time, or less! They wonder why they don't look like Arnold after following his routine for 6 months, or why Usain Bolt is still blurring past them after doing a few sprints at the track.
Take Michael Phelps for example. At a mere 23 years of age, Phelps captured the imagination of the nation by winning 8 Gold Medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Looking at his training program and history is revealing – Phelps began swimming with a coach at age 11, and his training gradually built up to swimming upwards of 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. The same kind of story can be found behind almost any top tier athlete.
It's tough for a 23-year-old guy who's been training for one year to internalize this idea because the idea of doing ANYTHING for 11 years is almost unfathomable. We see pictures of guys like Arnold at our age and think that we should be at that level already, not realizing the years (and other factors) that went into creating that physique BEFORE he was 23.
You should most certainly set lofty goals for yourself both in the gym and out, and you can definitely achieve great things in your sport, but temper that with the reality that it will often take years of hard work.
Most importantly, don't get discouraged when you're not are the top of your game in only a few months' time. Keep chugging away and you most certainly will attain your goals.
4. On Again, Off Again Training
The ability to consistently execute the plan that you've laid out for yourself is what will make you a champion. Even if you've followed everything I've said up to this point and are executing flawlessly, you won't get anywhere if you're inconsistent with your training and nutritional habits.
If you are training like crazy for 3 weeks, tracking everything in your journal, eating all of your meals...and then you take a few weeks off because you're tired, not "feeling it", have some soreness, or would just rather hang out with friends, you'll be stuck at square one forever. There is no room for this "off and on" behavior if you want to excel in any endeavor, be it piano or the squat.
The difference between those who achieve their goals and those who don't is the consistency with which they execute and the standards they hold themselves to. The top-level bodybuilders in the world never miss a training session or a scheduled meal. The best basketball players in the world are at every practice.
The bottom line is this: If you're serious about the goals you have set for yourself, you must not only set your standards high (well above your current level of development), you must then strive for 100% consistency in performing the actions that it'll take to get there. It's not enough to go to the gym "sometimes" or follow your nutritional plan "every now and then." You must demand more from yourself if you want to go to the next level
Are You Ready To Be That Guy?
Armed with this information you now have the tools you need to stop sucking and start achieving your goals. So, are you ready to be that guy that everyone at the gym looks up to? Are you ready to be that guy that everyone asks for advice?
Are you ready to be that guy that finally took charge of his life and stopped settling for average?
Good, cause I need someone to help me move this weekend... What? You didn't think those girls were going to start talking to you, did ya?
Author Bio: Lonnie Ducote is a Registered Nurse and an amateur body builder. Having been everything from the 150 pound weakling, the 240 pound fat-but-thinks-it's-muscle guy, to the 165 pound contest condition guy, he is ready to assist others in not only achieving their goals, but doing so faster by educating them on all the progress killing mistakes that nearly all beginners make.