There Is ALWAYS Something To Learn

Though I am guilty of a lot of things, one of the main things is that I can very easily get into a routine where I don't waiver and don't like to step away from my comfortable little box.  I either have to force myself out of it or situations that are out of my control will force me out of it.

It's easy to do, really.  I mean, when you do something as long as I have done it, you have a pretty damn good idea of what is going to work and what isn't.  The problem that we (and I) tend to forget about is that everything (including ourselves) is constantly changing and that includes a myriad of variables that we may not even be aware of.  EG:  It was easy for me to ditch behind-the-neck presses years ago because they were uncomfortable and never seemed to produce any noticeable positive response.  Fast-forward to 20 years later when I forced myself to revisit some exercises that I had written off years ago, and the damn things have been a god-send for my shoulders (when done correctly and within specific ROM parameters and at a specific angle). 

I was forced to train later than usual a couple of days this week and found myself going into the gym pretty damn tired.  I am a creature of habit so anything that is out of the ordinary -- including something as relatively innocuous as training after a 4th meal instead of a 3rd meal -- can have me feeling like I'm not in my usual pattern or routine.  Basically, routine can be a very positive thing ... until you get so used to being in such a black-and-white routine that as soon as something minor changes, you feel like everything is wrong.

Because I wanted to open with bench presses, I was careful to warm up very well and took my time, only to find that my shoulders were uncomfortable and tight.  I ended up staying with the exercise but was limited quite a bit on the poundage that I could use.  

Now, you have to undertand something here:  I don't have "bad" workouts.  I know that might sound like bullshit but I have been training for so long that instinctively I can typically see an issue and will adapt or change my plan to accommodate whatever that issue is.  However, because some of us can be set on "I have to do this," we sometimes can catch ourselves forcing an issue that isn't a good idea.  At that point, it occurred to me that I have no need to open with bench pressing, anyway, and would be better suited to using it as a finisher -- at least from a safety standpoint.  I would be much warmer and ROM wouldn't be anywhere near an issue. 

I thought back to how many times I have had a really good chest workout when opening with the bench press and though the workouts weren't "bad," I could honestly say that when I opened with the bench, my shoulders would always ache for any other presses that would follow the bench, to the point where it would sometimes limit my poundages.   So, I passed on opening with bench and my incline poundages soared and my shoulders felt great.  Even after 35 years of training, it is sometimes hard to get away from the idea of "I have to do it this way."

The other thing I found this week (and last week) after being away from the gym for 2 weeks is that my volume is just too high.  I am accomplishing about 90% of the positive effect of training a body part within the first 50% of my sets for that body part.  The rest if just filler to continue to train under the guise of doing more work gets me a better pump and works the muscle harder.  At the same time, as hard as I am approaching these sets, it became apparent that I am likely not getting much of anything out of the last half of the sets that I am doing for a body part.  Think about it: roughly 50% of my efforts in the gym are not only not helping me progress but they may actually be holding me back from further growth.  Um, yikes.

These are the things that can sometimes be missed when the mentality is wanting to train harder and maximize gains.  More work, logically, makes sense.  However, logic doesn't make you big; training efficiently makes you big.  Otherwise, we simply train beyond our recovery ability and that becomes nothing but wasted time and effort.

It is times like these that I am reminded and humbled by the fact that there is not only always more to learn, but that no matter how long we have been doing something, there has to be constant analysis due to changing variables.  What worked a month ago may not work now and what didn't work 3 years ago may well work great now.

One last thing that I should point out about this "learning" thing is that the time that I was forced to take off while out of town, ended up being a huge positive.  Not only did I return with no aches or pains, but I also was able to break the 230 mark and hold it.  I had fought for this for quite a while and when I finally decided not to fight the scale anymore, guess what happened?  Yup.  Shocker.  Sometimes we get so fixated on something that it ends up being an obstacle.

Here's a bitch of a lesson, though:

After analyzing my log books over the last year, I have found that my strength is not any higher than it was when I was 10 pounds lighter.  Now, that doesn't mean I am not growing, but it DOES mean that I need to question whether the added weight is actually causing my physique to get better and progress, or if I am simply adding weight for the sake of adding weight.  I will need to continue to analyze my progress, of course, so if I find my strength improving over the next handful of weeks at this weight, great.  It's a no brainer.  If I don't see strength climbing, I will question the last 8-10 pounds.  The last thing I would want is to add 4-5 more weeks of dieting time just because I felt the need to push my weight up.  

These are the questions that need to be asked because adding the 8-10 pounds can be remedied relatively quickly if I decide that I am not progressing any better at this weight than I was at the lower weight.  Imagine, though, if I was so fixated on the scale weight that I simply clung to the idea that I had to continue to gain more weight to progress and grow more muscle (like a lot of people do)? This is exactly how people get fat under the facade of "growing" or "bulking" in the off season, only to end up right back to where they were when they get lean again.

Question everything and be honest with yourself.  It will save you a lot of time over the long haul.

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