TRAINING LIKE A PRO
By Alex Ayliffe
In Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” he describes the difference between amateurs and professionals:
“When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of ‘professions.’ I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences.
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
The amateur plays part-time. The professional plays full-time.
The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional shows up seven days a week.”
Having analyzed training method after training method, principle after principle and thought process after thought process of what I would consider ‘professional’ lifters, I’ve come to notice some common themes in the average lifter’s training that run contrary to the way professionals train. Be honest with yourself and make the change if you fall into one of these traps. You have nothing to lose, and an entire world of strength to gain.
BUILD. BUILD. TEST.
The first major problem I see many intermediate lifters falling prey to is testing too often. It worked well for them as a novice because well, anything works if you’re a novice, so they keep doing it week after week and they get nowhere. If you were building a car, you wouldn’t be able to just buy the parts and drive it; you need to spend time putting it all together, testing it and troubleshooting. This is no different for lifters. We are quite literally building our structural anatomy and fine-tuning our nervous system to lift more weight. This doesn’t happen without time and work. I see far too many lifters who never build their lifts. How do we build lifts? Lots of sets, lots of reps, with consistent and intelligent increases over time. Singles every week till you miss will do nothing for you other than drag down your moral and cause your body to shit itself in one way or another. Which brings me to the next point…
PLANNING FOR PROGRESS
Far too many lifters have no plan. Some lifters don’t even have days set for certain movements. We’ve all heard the bro-squad come bumbling into the gym only to have the inevitable conversation:
Bro 1: “What are you doing today?”
Bro 2: “I was gonna do arms, but I kinda feel like doing shoulders.”
Bro 1: “Yeah, yeah, lets do shoulders. Wanna go heavy?”
Bro 2: “Nah lets pump the volume. I saw this sick giant set on Insta last night. I’ll show you.”
Bro 1: “Ight. Tight.”
What the fuck.
It seems many people miss one of the most important principles of training:
Your body adapts when it is exposed to a specific increase in stimulus over time. How long depends on how advanced or close to your genetic capacity you are. In order to expose your body to such a stimulus, there needs to be some sort of order to things. How can you tell if you’re consistently stressing your body more and more if you never do the same workout (with an increase in volume, intensity, or both) twice? For many people this is a “duh” moment, but sadly, for many it is not.
Some lifters have a plan, but there is no method of progressing from week to week, month to month, to actually apply an overload. Training has to get harder. This should be common sense, but again, doesn’t seem to be. It doesn’t need to be complicated; something as simple as adding 5lbs to sets of 3-6 reps over the course of a few months is all that is needed for most people, especially if they’ve never added weight to the bar consistently. Start light, progress slow and eat to perform. Simple. effective.
THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE
If we look at your training life like a giant staircase, each step representing a 5-10lb PR, what would be the most effective way to get up the stairs? Would you jump as many steps as possible each time? Probably not. You’d run out of breath, your legs would fatigue, or you’d stumble and fall down the stairs eventually – given a big enough stair case. The most effective way would be 1 or 2 stairs at a time at a consistent pace indefinitely. You’d pass the hopping trainee while he puts his shoulder back in place after falling down a few flights, and keep on cruising.
So why do people go for 40lb PR’s every month?
Ok. Here’s the deal; your body will only adapt so quickly. I mean, sure, maybe you’ll get some of those 30-40lb PR’s. But then what? Now you’ve subjected your body to this stimulus. Are you going to train with a training max 30-40lbs higher? Probably not the best idea for the long haul. Your training weights will go up by a hell of a lot and chances are your structural system and nervous system aren’t ready for that shit in the least bit. There’s a really good chance you’ve been training pretty damn hard to put that sort of weight on your lift, so your body is probably already beat up and now you’re going to increase the weights by that much? Recipe for injury, my friend. IF you manage to smash a huge PR, it’s probably a good idea to still only increase your training max by 5-10lbs. After all, training at those weights got you there, and it’s the progression that matters – try to juice every weight for everything it has, don’t skip steps.
But here’s a better idea; keep the giant PR’s for a couple days a year (preferably competitions if you compete) and just aim for the 5-10lb PR. These PR’s add up quickly if you’re consistent and they keep you intact. Don’t be the guy with a fucked up face and his ass in the air at the bottom of the stairs because you let your ego take over your training.
A MINDSET FOR SUCCESS
Ask any successful, veteran lifter (20+ years) and they will tell you that there are very few places for ego in training, but you have to be mentally tough and determined.
A good friend of mine once told me “Patience is a lost art, and those who never find it are doomed to wander the streets of mediocrity.” It’s no secret that training is a marathon, not a sprint, so lifters need to be patient. Never focus on big shiny numbers like 500lbs or 405; focus on 5-10lbs more and take what the day gives you. If it’s not there today, it’s not there. Live to fight another day, because if you’re doing things right, it will be there in the future.
However, this is not a license to be a pussy; you do need to have the mental fortitude and determination to grind through a set or session. These attributes need to consciously be developed over time. Becoming comfortable in the discomfort of a heavy lift is essential, and having the will to dominate a weight will keep you in the fight. You don’t need to yell and scream or froth at the mouth (though that may help), you just need to control the weight and be aggressive. If you unrack a weight with doubt, you lose.
There are many differences between the amateur and the pro, but these are the issues I see to be the most glaring. If you’re serious about lifting, make the effort to learn everything you can. With the advent of the internet, there is no excuse for piss-poor education in the world of strength and conditioning. So, whether your training is a hobby or an obsession, make the shift to approach your training the way a professional does and enjoy the process of progress.
Grind. Evolve. Thrive.