Getting Stronger? Are You SURE?

OK, I admit it – I’m a number nerd.

But the reality is numbers are simply the best tool we have for measuring all kinds of progress.

So, if your golf handicap drops steadily from the mid-30s to single digits, you know you’ve become a better player.

No question.

But not all numbers provide equally useful information – they need to be relevant to your objective.

That’s why you don’t claim to be a better golfer just because you’ve shaved an hour off the time it takes to play 18 holes.

After all, becoming a faster player isn’t necessarily the same thing as becoming a better player.

Now this may all sound really obvious, but most people trying to get stronger either:

1. Don’t actually measure their progress at all, or

2. If they do measure something, it tends to be the wrong thing

That’s why even folks who recognize that strength is the fountain of youth end up not making the progress they want and deserve.

So it’s about time we fixed that.

Can You Feel It?

People who don’t measure their progress tend to rely on subjective feelings as proof of effectiveness.

• That 4-minute fat-blast workout felt really hard – it must have burned a ton of calories!

• I sweated so much during that workout – I must be making awesome progress!

• My muscles feel really sore – I must be getting stronger!

But the reality is subjective feelings absolutely suck at giving us reliable information.

Perhaps you’ve tried this neat little trick with your kids:

1. Dip your right hand into a bowl of ice water for a minute or so,

2. Then immediately dip both hands into a bowl of lukewarm water

Same water, but the temperature feels completely different, right?

It’s all relative.

And how does it feel just staggering to the bathroom when you’re sick in bed with flu?

Really fricking hard.

Now does that mean staggering to the bathroom makes us fitter or stronger?

Hell, no!

And it’s the same deal for any activity that makes us sore or sweaty.

Sweat

But this is precisely how most folks judge the effectiveness of their workouts.

And all of us have fallen into this trap at one time or another.

We get into the habit of doing something that makes us feel a certain way – hot, sweaty, tired –  and then just kind of assume that the desired progress is automatically taking place.

Nowhere is this more true than my muscles feel really sore – I must be getting stronger!

Now let’s go back to basics: strength is the ability to produce force against an external resistance.

The bigger the external resistance you can overcome, the more force you can produce, and the stronger you are.

It’s obvious when we think about it, right?

Now here’s something really important: if the external resistance can be quantified, we can easily tell if we’ve become stronger.

That’s one of the reasons why weight training is the most effective way to get strong.

After all, if we can’t measure the resistance, who knows if we’re stronger, weaker or just treading water?

If we want to increase our strength, we need to be working with progressively larger external resistances over time.

Even really smart folks get this wrong and end up spinning their wheels because they’re using the same old weights week-in, week-out.

Spinning wheels

But the harsh reality is if we aren’t able to lift more weight, we haven’t gotten any stronger.

It doesn’t matter how much we sweated, how tired we felt or how sore we got.

Sure, we may feel any or all of these while actually getting stronger, but they’re side effects rather than the objective.

So don’t pay too much attention to them.

Just Do More?

If you want to get stronger not only do you need to be measuring, you need to be measuring the stuff that’s most relevant.

The same way if you want to get better at golf, you focus on minimizing the number of strokes you hit to play 18 holes.

You don’t carry a stopwatch and get all OCD about reducing the time it takes to do it.

For folks who want to get stronger, one of the easiest ways to veer off course is by focusing on the wrong thing.

That usually means increasing the number of exercises, sets and repetitions.

But the reality is being able to do a bunch more reps with a light weight isn’t the same thing as getting stronger.

If you’re lifting 45 lbs 10 times, 20 times or even 100 times, the amount of force required to lift the weight is exactly the same for the first repetition, the last repetition, and all the repetitions in between.

Sure, it felt harder towards the end because of fatigue – maybe almost unbearable.

But that doesn’t automatically translate to increased strength.

Remember, if you aren’t able to lift more weight, you haven’t gotten any stronger.

Doing a bunch more repetitions may burn a few extra calories or improve your endurance – which is fine if that was your main objective.

But if you want to get stronger, the answer lies in using increasingly heavier weights, not in doing a greater volume of stuff with weights that are easy.

Training Log

The bottom line is we should rely on relevant hard numbers instead of subjective feelings, especially when those numbers are so easy to write down and record.

That’s why a training log is worth its weight in gold.

And here’s what we should be recording:

• The exercises performed

• The number of sets

• The weight used for each set

• The number of repetitions performed each set

• The rest taken between sets

This way we can easily compare today’s exercise performance with last week, last month and last year.

And if we’re now able to use heavier weights, we have undeniable proof that we’re getting stronger.

But if we’re using the same old weights as always, or if we have no training diary and are using subjective feelings as our guide, we could be running on a hamster wheel.

Putting in a ton of effort, but not really getting any stronger.

Trust me, I know firsthand just how frustrating that can be.

So record your workouts, consistently add small increments of weight, and keep making measurable progress.

You’ll be amazed by the incredible strength you can achieve.

– Tim

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Images: Eric McGregor – getting-huge.jpgPablo Manriquez – Florida SweatBigstock

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