Photo: Flamingo Pictures (Shutterstock)
If this sounds familiar to you, tell me: you’ve trained to do something – your first pull-up, shall we say – and after weeks or months you can finally do it. Hooray! But try again the next day or week, but now you can’t. Have you gotten weaker? Hasn’t your training really paid off? Are you a failure Should you just lie down and cry?
Of course not: you have achieved this PR (personal record) and it is yours. You deserve it. Nobody can take that away from you. But if it’s real why can’t you do it every time?
This is not just a problem for lifters. Beginners sometimes fall into the trap of planning their training runs and trying to cut their time on each day they go out. But Walking slowly makes you faster in the long runand constant training makes you stronger in the gym.
Fatigue masks make progress
You are not who you were yesterday. Maybe you are stronger, but maybe you are also more tired. Maybe you ate well and slept well, or maybe you didn’t. Perhaps you are particularly stressed out from work today. All sorts of things can affect our body’s ability to lift a certain weight or run at a certain speed.
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The biggest factor in exercising consistently is fatigue. I don’t mean that I feel sleepy (although that can happen). I am referring to when your body has worked so hard that it cannot perform at its best. You did a pull-up once, but now you can’t do any more.
Fatigue is not a bad thing! In fact, it is a sign that you are doing things right.
You see, beginners often worry that they are not “recovered” enough or that they need more days of rest. And it may be true that after a few days of rest, you may be able to start that PR again or create a new one. But if you had made a habit of waiting until you had fully recovered before resurfacing at the gym, you’d only be doing a workout or two a week. And that would ultimately affect your progress because you weren’t training hard enough or often enough to keep getting stronger.
Short-term gains don’t always mean long-term progress
Measuring your performance by what you can do at the gym today versus yesterday is shortsighted. Instead, what if you compared yourself to what you could do last month or last year?
Here is an example. A few years ago my best deadlift was somewhere in the low 200s. Deadlifting two plates, 225 pounds, was a goal of mine. One day I lifted 215 feeling fine and decided to put the other 10 pounds on and give it a try. I didn’t expect the weight to actually increase, but it did. I drew 225! I ran off and grabbed my cell phone so I could do it again for a video. I walked up to the bar with the camera rolling and … it stuck to the floor.
I tried again later that day. I tried again later this week. I couldn’t figure out why I could only lift it once and never again. Finally, about three weeks later, I drew 225 for the second time in my life.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t abandon my other workout. In the meantime, I kept showing up at the gym and picking up everything that was on that day, whether it was a heavy single with 205 or reps with 185. I kept getting stronger, even when my fatigue (or stress!) Whatever!) Hid my ability to draw 225.
What happened was the minimum I could lift on any given day went up. By the time I hit 225 for a PR, my “oh yeah, no problem” weight was probably 200. As I continued to work out, it wasn’t long before 225 was a weight I would put for a heavy single everyone could expect training day. Then it was a weight I could do for repetitions. These days, 225 is a number that I hit while warming up. then I put on more weights and keep going. It’s been a year and a half since that two-plate PR, and I can now pull over 300 on any old deadlift day.
Progress is not linear; Every week and every training cycle has its ups and downs. Maybe you can only get a chin-up on your best days right now, but over time you can do a single chin-up every old day, and you can do three pull-ups on your best days. Some time later, three might be your minimum, and on your good days you can do five. The key to progress is meeting these minimum requirements.
Training days are not test days
If you’re one of those people who is capable of doing PR every day of training and you’ve kept the PR line up for a while, congratulations! You are in your “Newbie Gains” phase and this is a fun time of your life. Keep training. Just don’t be surprised if you don’t meet PR one day. This is a sign that you need to focus more on the strengthening process than on the results of your own tests.
Remember to build strength as you learn a new subject in school. If you have a little prior knowledge, you may be able to pass the Chapter 1 test without really studying. Maybe Chapter 2. But if you really want to learn new material, testing yourself will not get you very far. At some point you have to open a book and study.
Training is like that. If you’re looking at your upcoming workouts and can’t figure out which ones are for training and which are for testing, you may need to rethink how you are doing things.
When you register for a competition, you can schedule a test day. However, you can also choose a date yourself and mark it on your calendar. Strength training programs last a certain number of weeks and then often have a test day at the end. (Likewise, training plans for running often end with a race.)
Then you look at some amount of training – usually one to three months – that has a purpose. This purpose makes you stronger, faster, or better on your test day. You may feel tired by then, but it doesn’t matter as long as you finish the day’s workout and look forward to the next.
Use calm strategically
Before a competition or a day of testing, it’s time to peak. (Runners call this rejuvenation.) For a short time, maybe a week, you exercise less. The training becomes shorter and easier. You may have a few extra days off. By exercising less, you are sacrificing a tiny amount of future gains but getting temporary relief from fatigue.
Without that fatigue masking your true abilities, you will be ready to do your best on test day. Now you can expect a PR. But remember, the summit didn’t make you stronger. it just showed the strength you already had.
Sometimes beginners notice that they appear stronger after a few extra days of rest. This can backfire if they mistakenly believe that rest is a tool that makes them stronger. Your progress will stop so they reduce the exercise volume and add some rest. When it comes to a standstill again, they do even less. Do this long enough and you will end up barely exercising wondering why you are not making any progress.
Instead, continue training and save the tests for test days.