Ask any 10 people what to do when your workout starts to go bad, and at least nine of them will probably say, ‘Bail out.’ In fact, it’s taken as a sign of prudence, if not downright wisdom, to back off when things don’t feel right, and heading for the door is considered a perfectly acceptable response. After all, everyone knows that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that progress is best coaxed, not forced. So it’s foolish to beat your head against the wall, right? Wrong.
Like some other myths kicking around gyms, the idea has become popular’not because it’s productive but because it’s the easy way out. Who wouldn’t embrace the idea that whenever you hit rough waters, you can turn around and head back to shore? The only problem with that approach is that it will leave you sitting fat and happy on the beach’and you’ll never be able to accomplish all that you might have. To maximize your gains, you need to have a sense of urgency’on each rep, in each workout.
The idea of backing off on a bad day makes a lot of sense, but so did the idea that the earth was flat. Why struggle today when tomorrow will bring another day, and with it the hope that things may go easier? The best way to understand why that approach sells you short is to consider the nature of progress.
Every bodybuilder knows the story of Milo of Crotona, the ancient Greek who carried a calf on his shoulders every day. Since the calf gained weight each day, Milo was inadvertently using the principles of progressive resistance and overload. Most people can handle progressive resistance, especially in the abstract, but overload isn’t such a warm and friendly concept. Overload demands that you do more than you’re easily capable of doing because until you do more, you’re not going to make progress. That hurts, and because we don’t like pain, we do our best to avoid it.
Back to Milo, who by now is lugging around a bull on his shoulders: Greek kid becomes a muscleman, wins a pile of Olympic gold medals. If he lived now, he’d be on his way to the movies and a string of infomercials. And while we like the result, we forget the steps that took him there: all those days when Milo got out of bed and felt like saying, ‘This stuff is a bunch of.’
There was a time when only a couple of men in the world had closed the infamous IronMind No. 3 Captains of Crush gripper. When that elite group expanded to the point of including an entire handful or two, the No. 4 gripper was developed, and it became known around the world as the gripper that nobody could close. Then along came a guy from Tennessee, Joe Kinney, who mashed the beast. Kinney was hardly what people were expecting: He bought his vitamins at a feed store, didn’t even weigh 200 pounds and was about 40 years old at the time. Since then Joe has been swamped with requests from people looking for magic routines and secret formulas for improving their grip strength. A patient man, Joe explains that you have to be fired up to try really hard, that it takes a lot of effort; and when he gets frustrated by someone looking for an easy route to the top, he might shake his head and mutter under his breath, ‘Why do you think they call it making progress?’
That’s the real key to the riddle of gains: You have to make them, and the main ingredient is the mental fire that comes from a sense of urgency. You have to do it now.
Next, consider high-level athletic competition, such as the world championships or the Olympics. Guess what? If you’re scheduled to compete at 5 p.m. on March 12, that’s when you’re expected to show your stuff’whether you feel good, bad or indifferent. That’s precisely why some international-level coaches don’t buy into the back-off-on-a-bad-day philosophy. Is that what you’d do at the Olympics? Of course not. So why not prepare yourself right now to deal with the situation?
What you do at this moment is going to determine what you become next. Treat each rep as if it’s the most important one in your life, and you’ll be on track for making serious progress. The future is just a blink away, and you shape yours by what you’re doing at this very instant.
Editor’s note: Randall Strossen, Ph.D., edits the quarterly magazine MILO. He’s also the author of IronMind: Stronger Minds, Stronger Bodies; Super Squats: How to Gain 30 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks and Paul Anderson: The Mightiest Minister. For more information call IronMind Enterprises Inc. at (530) 265-6725 or Home Gym Warehouse at 1-800-447-0008, ext. 1. Visit the IronMind Web site at www.ironmind.com.