Shortcuts to Success

what you can learn from the mistakes I made.

Numbers and data are great. I recommend everyone track their weight lifted and reps completed for every set at the gym, or at least the primary exercises that you targeted for progress (everything…).

Tracking your workouts is awesome. It allows you (or someone else) to look at your data and analyse patterns. Here are a few things I’ve noticed in my training.

  • I fatigue a lot quicker on pressing movements than pulling movements (comparing second and third sets to first set).
  • My second set of squats is usually stronger than my first (unlike other compound lifts).
  • When I do a lot of dead lifting, my seated hamstring curl improves strongly, but lying hamstring curl barely changes.

The other benefit is accountability. If you look at your training and notice you haven’t progressed in a lift for 6 weeks, you know that something needs to change.

I’ve been tracking my workouts for about four years, and just today I was looking at my data from my old phone. This took me back to a time where lifting form meant very little, and the main focus was numbers. 

Ego is a powerful tool. Used correctly, it can push your training and progress to a new level. Used incorrectly, it can do the exact opposite and also set you up greatly for injury 

Now there were two popular methods I used to enhance my numbers, and I still see other people using them everyday.

 

POOR FORM (read: too much weight).

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I pled guilt to multiple charges of poor form/fraud and consequently served time by making no gains. The worst thing about poor form is that it becomes almost impossible to monitor progress.

Let’s use the bench press as an example. While warming up, every rep would come down to the chest and the form would be good. As the weights go heavier, the reps got more and more shallow.

The moderate weights might get near the chest but once it got heavier, the bar was lucky to clear the rack.

My heaviest recorded bench press was 3 x 130kg in January 2013. I cannot recall that session, but I can assure you that the bar didn’t touch my chest and I would have been heavily spotted.

If I loaded up 130kg now and used proper form, I’d be lucky to push out one rep (in fact, I’d be lucky not to get squashed under it).

Now I guess you can monitor progress if the weight keeps increasing and you assume the bar is going just as deep (or shallow, in this case).

However, between my warm up sets and working sets, I was literally completing three different movements. The first was a complete bench press (bar to chest), the next was about a three-quarter rep and the heavy weights was a half rep at best.

 

OVER RELYING ON SPOTTERS.

Spotters are great. They can save you from dropping weights on your face and the subsequent surgery. However, they can also steal your gains (if you let them). To avoid this, read my guide to spotting at the gym.

If you need to be spotted on the second rep of a set of eight, the weight is too heavy.

With the exception of shoulder press and maybe high incline presses, if you can’t move a dumbbell into position on your own, that’s another sign the weight is too heavy!

These are two rules that every lifter should follow.

But no, not me. My heaviest recorded incline dumbbell press was 4 x 56kg in August 2013. I remember this… almost dropping the weight trying to get it into position (with assistance) and then being spotted on the first rep (it’s all you bro!).

Why I went for four is a mystery. Why I recorded it is beyond belief.

 

WHAT’S CHANGED.

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Mid last year I realised that this was ridiculous. I got sick of only being able to big weights with a spotter and got a reality check when I trained on my own.

I decided that technique would become number one priority and I wouldn’t count any reps that were assisted. I think forced-reps (with assistance of spotter) are a valid training method, but they shouldn’t be confused with what you are capable of on your own.

Over the past year I’ve made the best progress so far. Despite some minor injury setbacks (none of which were gym related) I’ve been able to make continual progress on every lift.

The gym also becomes so much simpler. Just look at what I did last week and try to beat it. No need to worry about getting a certain spotter or what technique I should use.

 

LESSONS TO LEARN.

  • Half-reps don’t count.
  • Assisted reps don’t count.
  • Progress is more important than weight.

 

WHERE TO NOW.

I avoid spotting wherever possible and don’t record any reps that were assisted.

Now I just keep training simple, stick to my program and look to always push performance. I keep a track of every workout, and if I notice my big lifts aren’t progressing over a few weeks (no weight or rep improvements) I will consider a deload week or different training stimulus. 


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