It’s been…thrilling…thus far, but amidst all this chaos, I have received some variation of the following question, and I believe it’s time to review: “How come I’m progressing, even though all signs should point to the opposite?”
Now, I’ve received this question in the form of “once I got back into the gym, I thought I would’ve lost strength, but I was back up to weight and hitting PRs within a few weeks; how?” & statements like “I know most people are complaining about no gyms, minimal equipment, and boredom, but I’m enjoying my training now more than ever.”
I want to delve into why this quarantine year has been a catalyst for tremendous results for many folks like you.
No More Under-Recovery
- HIIT sessions 3+ times weekly
- Team “no sleep”
- Trainees who think “more is better,”
- Those who wake up early for fasted cardio when then didn’t sleep enough anyway and they still have a strength session later
- Most of the training population who places tremendous value on being sore, not sleeping, “going hard,” sweating, and the grittiness associated with training
If you’re in any of this camp, you’ve likely been your own progress-roadblock.
Grit is a characteristic you’ll likely begin to foster when you get serious about training, but there’s a point of diminishing returns, without a doubt.
Like with many things, it’s not solely about “training harder” or “training smarter.”
It’s about both. (*ahem, midpoint…)
I was captain of team “grit” for years.
“Sleep is for sheep.”
“Yea, I’ll add some HIIT intervals after my leg day.”
“Hey, want to come in for cardio with me tomorrow morning?” “Yup!”
Once the steam runs out of that engine though, and you start rolling backwards down the hill, you’ll have to either prioritize your recovery, or settle.
This year has forcibly placed many who get their kicks on doing more into an ideal situation for recovery. You’re probably able to sleep more now (maybe even nap). The chance of you getting sucked into drawn-out, grueling, unnecessary sessions with gym-buds has diminished.
Many of us in this category love the environment of the gym, to our own detriment. *
We’re at home, or at the park, or outside, or where have you. Point being, you’re likely not opting for extra HIIT sessions, or for dropset-bench sessions with the boys.
You’re training; you’re getting your sessions knocked out, but you’re not overdoing it.
You feel guilty at first, but begin to rationalize with yourself saying “I’ll just maintain for now.” In reality, you’re still training, only now you’re not catabolizing yourself.
You’re sleeping, you’re training effectively, you’re eating, you’re not compelled to train extra.
So now, those previously weak, dim, nearly extinct signals for recovery and adaptation, begin to have a stronger pulse. Your body isn’t in this perpetual state of “breakdown.”
You’re still training; you’re creating muscle damage, you’re sending the stimulus to your body that you need to adapt in order to get better at your training. But now, following that, you get some more sleep, maybe you train 4 days a week instead of 7. Only 1 HIIT workout weekly now. Maybe more time to focus on better quality food; maybe you actually have time to digest the food now.
Maybe you’re actually able to focus on progressively overloading your workouts now, instead of training with everyone else, and just thinking about the next time you can get in the gym.
You’re recovery is improving. You’re not living in a constant state of soreness, immobility, and hyper-stress.
Recovery has improved, thus the signal for adaptation is shining through.
Finally your quads are getting that teardrop.
Your bicep vein is poking out like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Your shirts are starting to irritate you around the armpit because the chest and lat gains are rolling in.
Your glutes are starting to look like a shelf you can hold your shaker bottle on.
“Why am I getting better results now?!”
Because now you’re able to reap the benefits of your training. Now you have a grasp on the other incredibly important aspects that determine results.
Experience is always the greatest teacher, and I’m thrilled people are experiencing this, where it will really resonate with them. It takes time to love the process of training, but it takes longer in most cases to understand, and love the process of knowing how to train intelligently. Because of the situation at hand, many have been unwillingly thrust into better results, just simply by indirectly prioritizing recovery.
A positive in the negative.
Less Focus On Weight, More Focus On Movement Quality
Who has hundreds upon hundreds of pounds to be tossing around in their garage, or living room?
Who has any pounds to toss around?
A lot of us have very limited equipment, if any at all.
If you’re used to squatting, deadlifting, pressing, and pulling hundreds of pounds, you’ve likely had to take a sharp left into the land of “movement quality.”
I do agree that in this land of movement, there are some hippy-dippy super-nimble no-muscle havin’ fools who are prancin’ around telling you about embryo poses and other nonsense. Aside from that, there is a ton of progress that can be had with just focusing on your movements, and your mind to muscle connection to those movements.
Think about it like this: Before, if you had 3×8 of pretty heavy squats, you were likely focused on getting that down and up squat done. A controlled way down, core brace and mild pause at the bottom, stand to fully contract the quads and glutes, and draw the navel in at the top are not atop your list. Getting the set done, however, is.
When you do that, you’re still fatigued, tired, you’re feeling it in your muscles, you’re CNS is taxed afterward, of course. But you’re responding to the load placed on you. You’re trying to move it. You’re not necessarily trying to optimally contract your muscles, perfect your form, make each rep “count,” or see how well you can connect to the muscle, or muscles that’re in charge of that movement.
Now, on the other hand, we’re chasing the difficulty of previous workouts. You’re squeezing, and contracting, and looking for ways to make exercises you deem “inferior” more challenging. You’re training muscles more directly. You’re able to connect mentally with a specific muscle. You’re targeting weaker muscles more effectively. You’re able to “turn on” muscles better while you warm-up. You’re aligning your posture better, and “stacking” your joints. You’re finally able to depress, and retract your shoulder blades now because you’re not just muscling-up heavy rows. You’ve included more single-arm, and single-leg work, and now your stability is improving, and your imbalances are starting to dissipate.
Think of this as a phase, or a “block” of training that will only add to your success with everything you were doing prior. All of those workouts, and exercises you graded yourself on, but got a bit too hung up on – will see momentous improvement with your newfound body-awareness, and control.
Taking your improved form, mind to muscle connection, stability, symmetry, and understanding of posture back to your lifts will result in plateau-obliterating realizations.
A novel training stimulus is sometimes the exact thing needed for gains.
Time to Focus
This time that many of us suddenly have to really, truly, take a step back to train and not have to panic about finishing our class-workout in time to jump in the shower, run to starbucks, and get ourselves to work, briefing through a HIIT session after work, just to sprint home and put out the fires of the day with the family, or powering through a squat sesh to hurry and limp our way out of the gym – is a monumental shift for our exercise habits.
We can set our time aside, without having to meticulously account for traffic and other morons unaware of our schedule, no issues packing gym bags, getting our tupperware ready, and our supplements all nestled in their secret pouches; our gym is likely a few feet from our work space, and we can have our session ready on our phones and dive right in.
We can go through our warmup, we can focus on that tight left glute, or opening up that nagging shoulder we’ve been putting off. We can actually take rest periods in between our strength sets, and not justify skipping them because “I’ve gotta go.”
Not every exercise has to be paired with 13 other exercises in circuit fashion, and now we probably don’t have the luxury of excess accessibility to equipment anyway. We don’t have loads of equipment to mindlessly hop on and perform repetitions until we’ve satisfied our innate need for satisfaction in the form of sweat, or exertion.
With less worries of places to be, and variables to consider, we have this notion that we have to train still.
In general, the hours in the day are the same. We’re just not-so plagued with other variables to consider, that often compromise our focus, and presentness while training.
This time in the day to complete our workout for some has proven to be a game-changer.
Never underestimate the power of training with intent.
Less Options, More Clarity
It can be hard to be consistent when things get tough, or monotonous, or when we have so many choices at our disposal.
If you have a tough leg day coming up, but your bff shows up and she’s doing arms, and some machine circuits, it’s mind-numbingly easy to rationalize why you should too.
Maybe you’re just getting into training, and you’ve loosely written up a routine for your week. You know today is upper, tomorrow is lower, but you’re still learning movements, and exercises. You think “there’s a ton of machines, that’s the safest way to get started” and you proceed to sit, have your resistance training stabilized for you, and receive nominal returns on your gym-investment.
Maybe you have your routine, and you love it. There’s nothing new to learn, nothing to change, and you know how long it’ll take, about how much fatigue it incurs, and where everything is. You know deep down you should change it up, and everytime you think you’re about to, you fall into the usual.
Those all-too comforting luxuries have likely been discarded. We have less machines, friends, bystanders, and options to be distracted by. You know what you have to do: train. You know what you have to work with, and you work with it.
Less is more.
This novel stimulus for many of us has been long-avoided – change is work. We’re already working hard, we’re in the gym. Changing our routine is even more work so we think, and we avoid it.
Now we’ve been forced to either do it, or just not train.
& lookey how well those who just jumped in are doing!
Perspective of Health
Amongst everything we’ve been told, whatever you believe is necessary, whatever you believe to be harmful, or whatever you believe is safe…
IT PAYS TO BE HEALTHY.
For many, this year has been an eye opening occurence not just because of the disruption it’s caused to our economy, ways of living, social experiences, and our daily lives, but because of the clear, standout realization it’s provided to us about our health.
Maybe you were a haphazard exerciser, maybe adding in some greens, and an apple every now and then to your diet, and the occasional “self-love” quote shared to your IG story, and then *BOOM – quarantine hits. You had the awareness of health and fitness prior to this outlier of a year, but the events that transpired suddenly gave you the understanding of the importance of health to accompany that awareness.
You might be prioritizing health and fitness to a higher degree than you ever have, and that’s phenomenal.
It’s all individual, don’t compare yourself to others, just continue to prioritize the best insurance policy there is: your health.
Maybe you’ve always been an avid health and fitness nut, but now you’re focusing more on “being healthy” or “longevity” instead of just training harder, dieting more rigidly, and chasing appearance.
Fear-mongering isn’t the ideal way to inspire, yet this year, if you think about the significance of being health, and look to your children, your family, your closest friends; you want to be healthy.
Uncover movement quality.
Appreciate your body.
Sacrifice more training for more sleep.
Give your time to spot someone who’s less experienced.
Eat more real foods.
Find a better balance with your relationships.
Develop better habits in relation to food, and moving your body.
Be a healthy person, everyone wants to be.
Some people scoff at healthy people, or the idea of doing things that healthy people do. Which I’m guilty of joking around, and not taking myself too seriously, but don’t be the person who identifies with not being that healthy person.
Health is relative. I’m not saying I want you to do Kettlebell swings until you spew your spirulina, but everyone can benefit from being a healthier them.
Thanks for reading! Happy 2020, folks.