This something I wish I knew when I first started training, and though I’ve addressed it in part through many rants, I want to get it completely out in the open.
It seems logical that, in the pursuit of strength, one must lift heavy things. The logical extension of this thought process in turn develops such that, if lifting heavy things makes one strong, lifting heavier things makes one stronger. The more you lift, the stronger you become. However, we must understand that amount of weight lifted is not always an indication of pure strength, but is instead a manifestation of many facets of ability, to include ability/skill, state of fatigue, state of emotional arousal/hype, bodily health, etc etc. Sometimes, what we interpret to be strength is instead something entirely different.
Sometimes, it's just sheer willpower...but most likely it's drugs
Being unaware of this concept, many trainees attempt to max out their non-strength variables in the hope that, in doing so and allowing themselves to move heavier weights in training, they will get stronger than if they were to lift lighter weights. They lift in the afternoon, after getting plenty of sleep and eating several meals, properly stretch out/warm-up, take a pre-workout supplement, get hyped up watching youtube videos, crank the tunes, etc etc. They put themselves into the most optimal and ideal state for moving heavy poundages and pick the highest priority lift first in order to ensure that they move maximal weight during their training. Surely THIS is how one becomes the strongest.
But let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose, in the above mentioned scenario, the trainee was able to squat 500lbs for 10 reps. Now, suppose, in some alternate universe, on the exact same day this trainee instead only got 4 hours of sleep, trained first thing in the morning in dead silence with no protein supplements or motivation at all and hit squats last after hammering leg press, GHRs, reverse hypers and the ab wheel. The alternate universe trainee only manages to squat 450 for 10 reps…yet despite the difference in weight lifted, did either trainee actually possess different levels of strength proper? The external variables have all been altered, but did anything actually change on the INSIDE of the lifter?
No, wearing this will not help find the answer
This is the point we must understand: the strength is ALWAYS there, barring of course autoimmune disease and other such maladies. One’s ability to CHANNEL the strength may be altered, but the strength itself remains a constant, and it’s this CONSTANT we are wanting to improve in training, not the other variables. Yes, in a competition, we strive to create the optimal environment to move the most weight, but in training our goal is to improve the attribute of STRENGTH, not weight moving ability.
This understanding is vital toward one’s success, as it allows us significantly greater freedom and lack of stress in training. One of the constant lamentations made by the full body trainee is how, after the first lift of the day, the remaining lifts suffer. This trainee believes that they are making their first lift stronger at the expense of their other lifts. What this trainee must understand is that they are still developing strength for all of the movements they train, they are simply altering the conditions upon which they train them. Being aware of these conditions is crucial toward tracking and monitoring progress, as is being able to keep them somewhat constant, but the strength is still being developed regardless of the uniformity of these constants. As long as the effort and intensity is present, one is developing strength.
Case in point
We once again arrive at the understanding that it is effort that dictates results. One can get stronger lifting less weight in sub-optimal conditions if the effort they recruit is greater than the one utilized to lift heavier weights in optimal conditions. This also allows one to re-evaluate “stalls”, in that, if one continues to hit the same numbers for one lift in their program, and that lift is NOT the first lift, AND the first lift continues to increase, then one is still progressing. Whereas before, someone managed a record of 30 reps of DB rows with 100lbs after benching 315 for 3x5, NOW this trainee has managed to hit 30 reps with 100lbs after benching 320 for 3x5. That is progress on both the bench AND the row, for one was able to maintain a rep total even under more strenuous circumstances than before.
This is the liberation new trainees need in order to continue to progress even if, according to the logbook, something is amiss. Understand that, even if lifts are not increasing, or in fact they are decreasing, as long as the effort is present, progress is being made. When the stars line up, you may be able to hit some crazy records but, if, even on your worse day, running off 2 hours of sleep for 48 hours and only being able to eat 3 pixie sticks you’re still able to deadlift 600lbs, you’re doing alright for yourself.