Let’s start by thinking about where you’re at with your workouts these days. Maybe you’ve been feeling the itch to stretch the edge a bit and try out your new chops on something a little scary or a little hard.
Or maybe right now, more challenge is too scary. Too hard.
Or maybe you’re just sort of… in between.
Remember, it’s a continuum. A spectrum.
On one end: An emerging athlete with a strong body and a confident attitude. Head held high. Every move is pure power and grace.
On the other end: An overwhelmed, not-so-compliant, struggling with nutrition, dreads training so why would I want to
push myself even harder. Doing your very best, but feeling like it just isn’t good enough.
Find yourself on the spectrum and ask yourself some questions.
Honestly and quietly. The answers are just between you and you.
- Are you feeling inspired in your workouts to see just how strong you can be — even in a tiny way?
- Have you looked over the fence at the badass lifters in your gym, or people playing football in the park, and wondered: What is it like to have that much fun?
Or are you fighting inner voices telling you to quit after two sets, ’cause you should get home and let out the dog and you biked to work so it should be OK to bail on the last set and wow
— you are really sweating so it must be fine cause you also didn’t really get your protein for the day so you should take it easy?
Most people feel all these things. It’s normal.
Now is the time to sort these things out. Air out your dirty workout laundry.
All we need is a starting point.
Progressive resistance, in exercise, means that things get more difficult over time. We need progressive resistance in order to get better. We can’t keep doing exactly the same workout all the time.
Eventually, our bodies get used to it and we stop changing. Yet if we try to be just a little bit better every time we train, these small efforts add up.
For instance, let’s say you add 0.5kg to a lift every time you do it.
Let’s say you do that lift twice a week. Now, in the short term, that’s not very notable. That’s only 4kg a month. However, in the long term, this small improvement makes a big difference.
- 12 months, you’ve added 48 kg.
- 2 years, you’ve added 96kg.
- 5 years, you’ve added 580kg.
- 10 years, you’re a freak of nature.
Now, obviously it doesn’t work exactly like this. But it gives you an idea of the importance of “a little bit better”.
It’s not as easy as just adding a few more pounds to the bar. More weight doesn’t help you if you need to progress in a different way — say, by improving your technique, or your focus, or your attitude.
Maybe you actually need to progress by going backwards — by shushing your ego, lowering the weight and improving your pain-free range of motion. Whatever you need to improve, the only way to discover a purposeful progressive resistance is to do an honest inventory of where you are at right now.
What is your starting point for improvement?
This is the first step in deciding how you are going to stretch your comfy edges in a way that is meaningful to you.
Begin, with knowing where you truly are on the spectrum
Now, find your joy. Find what excites you. What scares you or makes you nervous. What makes you curious.
Imagine — just for one thrilling moment — what you could do if you helped the little athlete inside you grow. If you faced your challenges and chased your strengths.
1. Train with a purpose.
2. Use the “just one more” approach.
3. Focus on quality.
4. Try something new.
5. Look silly.
7. Track progress and next steps.
Train with a purpose
Every time you work out, have an objective.
This objective can be very small. It can be things like:
- Use the 20kg instead of the 10kg dumbbells.
- Do another minute or two of cardio.
- Focus on driving through the heels when squatting.
It can be larger things like:
- Try a new class or activity.
- Try a familiar activity in a new way (e.g. if you normally run
on a treadmill, get outside).
- Try something totally different… maybe even a little intimidating!
Whatever your objective, use it to focus your workout. Use it to give yourself a purpose and a project.
Fill in the blank: “Today, I want to try ____.”
Write that objective down at the top of each day’s workout sheet, and refer to it throughout the workout. At the end of the workout, assess how well you did.
You don’t always have to have a goal. Sometimes it’s fun to just get out and play. However, shooting for “just a little bit better” can really focus your training.
Use the “just one more” approach
- Add just one more rep.
- Just one more pound.
- Just one more mile. (Or one more meter. Or inch.)
- Just one more notch higher or lower in my assisted pullups or inverted rows.
Think of one more “nudge” along the “continuum” towards better.
What does that look like for you?
Sure, it might get ugly. That “one more rep” could be teeth-grittingly tough. But try it anyway.
Focus on quality
Improving the quantity of exercise is often obvious. It’s easy to add “just one more”, and that’s a great place to start.
But you can (and should) also focus on improving the quality of your movements too.
- Do the same number of reps, but do them better. Make your technique perfect. Ask someone for feedback if necessary — or try filming yourself and see what you notice.
- Do the same number of reps, but do them faster. Or more consistently, like a machine.
- Do the same reps/weight but do it with less rest.
- Expand your pain-free range of motion.
- Focus on what your body is doing, and carefully controlling each piece of it as you execute the movements. This helps you build body awareness along with the better form.
Try something new
Gym routine feeling a little stale? Then try something new, or shake up your routine.
- Get outside. Try a different environment, such as a park or playground.
- Try a new activity or skill. If you normally run for your intervals, try swimming, speed climbing, salsa dancing, or boxing.
- Train with a friend. Or lots of friends.
Many people avoid trying new things because they’re afraid of looking foolish. But you’ve already learned that falling down is part of taking risks.
So go ahead. Feel like an arse. You’ll discover it’s not so bad.
You can’t have exciting new adventures without risking foolishness.
Instead of running and hiding, laugh when you fall down. Then keep going. (Here’s a secret: Nobody’s actually watching anyway.)
If you enjoy competition, why not get a game going — either with yourself or with others?
- Time your circuit workouts and see who can finish faster.
- Track your intervals and see who can do the highest intensity.
- Compete to see who can be the most consistent — 100% compliance for X weeks.
- Race your kids (or spouse, or dog) around the block. Or play tag for your intervals.
- Have an informal strongman competition: Grab some heavy stuff, put it in the backyard, come up with some weird lifts, and let
the fun begin!
- Sign up for a local race or competition in an activity you enjoy.
Today, ask yourself, “How can I make this workout just a little
better than the one before?”