Make sure you are hitting your muscles—not your ego—in the gym.
By Vince Del Monte
PQ: From 15 years of experience in the industry, I can tell you straight up that this “seeking exhaustion” mindset is killing your gains.
Some of the biggest BS advice in fitness, the kind of stuff that I hate the most, is anything associated with the theme of “destroy it” or “beast mode” or “leave it all the gym floor.” In my mind, all of these saying promote one thing: exhaustion.
The entire industry is obsessed with seeking exhaustion, and if your approach to getting better results is “harder,” “heavier,” or “longer,” and you don’t have the body you want, I say “stop!”
Think about this for a moment: Is the problem that you’re actually not going hard enough? In reality, how much harder can you actually go?
From 15 years of experience in the industry, I can tell you straight up that this “seeking exhaustion” mindset is killing your gains.
Achieving a lean, strong, and muscular body is not about chasing exhaustion, it’s about managing exhaustion.
In fact, your workouts are meant to leave you invigorated, not destroyed or even exhausted. You should always be leaving the gym with a few more reps left in the tank. You do not need to leave it all on the gym floor. And guess what? This holds true even for the genetic freaks and walking pharmacies. No one can defy these principles.
My friend, fitness coach and author Scott Abel says, “Coax it and the body responds positively. Force it and the body reacts negatively.” Amen!
Let’s talk about the iconic eight-time Mr. Olympia champion Lee Haney for a moment. Haney retired at 31 years old. He achieved a feat that puts him in the legendary class of bodybuilders, surpassing even Arnold himself. Most impressively, Lee is in his mid-50s now and has no injuries, not even any nagging aches. This may be common with the average gym-goer, but at the pro level this is almost unheard of. No hip replacements like Ronnie Coleman, no quad tears like Branch Warren. No heart surgeries like Arnold.
Go on Facebook today and you’ll find guys in their 20s and 30s with a laundry list of injuries that include arthritis in both shoulders, bone spurs, loss of cartilage, full tears in the biceps, lower back surgeries, partial pec tears, calf strains, hamstring pulls, and the list goes on.
Why do some guys (who don’t even do this for a living) get more banged up than a guy like Lee Haney and even other great bodybuilders like Rich Gaspari, Lee Labrada, Mike Christian, Gary Strydom, Shawn Ray, and Vince Taylor, who have very few lingering injuries or pain?
The answer lies in Haney’s famous quote: “Stimulate, don’t annihilate.”
Haney trained hard, but more importantly, he trained smart. He never used as much weight in training as he could have because he always understood the risk-to-benefits ratio.
Lee learned how to build his body without much weight. While he could easily squat 400 to 500 pounds or more, he stuck with 315 so that he could save his spine from the pressure.
Meanwhile, you have the other eight-time Mr. Olympian, Ronnie Coleman, who was known for squatting up to 800 pounds and leg pressing more than a ton. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Ronnie has had not one but five back surgeries over the past several years on top of having both hips replaced?
I feel bad for all these young kids who follow their YouTube idols (cashing in now by chasing heavier weights for more views) loading up their workouts with heavy squats and deadlifts and just trying to go as heavy as possible. They are being led straight to a miserable time in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, and they don’t even know it.
I did some research on Haney’s shoulder training because he has huge shoulders. Guess how heavy he went on shoulder presses? Sixties, and on rare occasions he might have gone as heavy as 70s. For a split second you may be thinking, “Haha, I’m stronger than that!” Well, that’s why your shoulders are trashed and his aren’t.
How many times have you tried to use weights that you couldn’t control and that you could hardly manage, even with a spotter by your side? Let me tell you: The heavier you train now, the heavier you’ll pay the price later.
Please, don’t let your ego get the better of you.
Choose your weights wisely. Use just enough weight to get the job done—and no more. Heavy weights are a tool, but they are not the entire tool box. They play a role but only to a certain degree. How do you expect to avoid injuries if you’re putting equal stress on your joints and connective tissues as your muscles? Eventually you’ll find yourself limping, immobile, and eventually injured. Some of these injuries can heal, but some of them will never go away, which means you’ll always be limited by what you do in the gym. Was it worth it?
We live in an industry that preaches “more is better,” but this is a lie. More is not better. Better is better! It’s critical we all find out where our threshold is and then discipline ourselves to stay underneath it.
Hopefully the damage hasn’t been done to you, as it has for many people reading this. Every time you’re about to select a weight, ask yourself, “Will this stimulate or annihilate?” IM