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Leaving the gym tired doesn't mean you're achieving results - it can mean the opposite

Concentrate on quality rather than quantity, writes Ciaran O’Regan.

It's not always about getting a pump on.
It's not always about getting a pump on.
Image: Shutterstock/onixxino

‘Never chase fatigue, chase performance’ 

DO YOU APPROACH your strength training with the mentality of getting tired or with the mentality of using that session to actually get better and improve your skill at lifting?

Getting stronger is not just about training individual muscles, it is also about refining movement patterns and that is what the above quote by Christian Thibaudeau comes down to.

There is a huge difference between these two mindsets. The first is about getting tired and sore in the session at hand whereas the second is about viewing that session as part of the bigger picture and using it to build towards bigger and better things.

To illustrate how these two different mentalities can drastically alter the outcome of the same situation lets look at the example of a hypothetical scenario in which you are doing some bench presses in the gym using a programme you got online to improve your max bench press (the most amount of weight you can lift once).

You have recently reached the milestone of 100kg and want to reach the next big milestone of 140kg as soon as possible.

Scenario 1 – Fatigue chasing mentality

Your programme says to do five sets of eight reps with 75% of your maximum after your warm ups. Your max at the moment is 100kg so therefore you will be aiming for five working sets of eight reps @75kg after your warm up sets.

You lie down on the bench but since you only care about working the muscles and not the technique you go straight to 60kg for a set of eight and because it feels so “easy” you just bang out eight fast floppy reps that look nothing like a one rep maximum rep would look like.

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You then go straight to 75kg for your first work set after only a short break and you use the same floppy shit technique. Since it was too easy however and you didn’t feel the “burn” you decide to ignore the three minute minimum rest periods as advised in the programme and decide to take just 1-2 minute break between sets.

By the time you get to your last couple sets your pressing muscles are exhausted and your technique is all over the place but you just about get the prescribed eight reps in each set.

Since you are sweating profusely however and have a bit of a burn going on you are delighted regardless and head on to do some quick assistance work.

Scenario 2 – Performance chasing mentality

Picture the exact same situation as above. This time however you do not rush the warm up but actually do eights technically sharp reps with the 20kg, 40kg, and then 60kg before moving on to your five work sets of 75kg.

You then proceed to take at least three minutes between sets and bang out five sets of eight reps with the same focus as if each rep were a one rep maximum attempt.

You then move on to do some assistance work happy that you have gotten in some great quality and have improved your pressing technique.

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So what is the difference between these two scenarios in the big picture?

Scenario 1: Because of the lack of warm up sets, appropriate rest, and technical focus the session included 48 awful looking reps that looked nothing like a one rep maximum would.

Scenario 2: By the end of the session you have 64 sharp technical reps (3x8reps in the warm up and 5x8reps in the working sets) in which you focused on your technical cues and made every rep look technically look like it was maximum set except for the obvious difference in bar speed.

It’s pretty clear which mentality will get you to the 140kg bench sooner. In the second scenario you treated every rep as if it were a max and so when it comes to actually performing your next max attempt months down the line you will have so many good reps in the bank you will only know how to do it properly.

Getting stronger is not about making yourself sore and getting a pump; strength is a skill and it should be treated as such.

Gar Benn and Ciaran O’Regan are part of the team at the CityGym in Limerick. Read their weekly fitness column on The42 every Friday. 

For more information visit their website, follow them on Instagram or Facebook

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