I’ve never quoted Joe Namath, but you couldn’t ask for a better line to start the week. “If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?”
Maximal results do not come from half-efforts. Just think of action and reaction, if that makes sense. Take Newton’s Third law and apply it to everything you might do in life.
To be heard you have to beat your drum loud and often. To make more money, find ways of solving more problems and helping more people, right? Sure, and the same thing is true of training and strength. If you want extraordinary results in the gym, you’re going to have to work extraordinarily hard.
This is why I’ve always loved Louie Simmons and his approach to training. He abides by a core truth – You can make people brutally strong and explosive by employing heavy and light loads. The key is completing each and every repetition with maximal intent, purpose and effort.
That would actually be my first question to anyone that’s struggling to make progress in the gym. “How hard are you working, really? Are you just racking up repetitions, or are you training with intent?”
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Think about effort, load and intent. We can lift heavy and light barbells, our options are endless. The same is true of intent. Everything we do in the gym falls along a spectrum, someplace between passive motion and max-effort. The hard part is deciding between all of the possible programming variables. How heavy, how light? What about everything between?
Let’s start there.
Beware of medium!
There’s a time for keeping the intensity down. New athletes have to spend plenty of time getting comfortable and learning movement. Also, during the offseason, unloading weeks or times of injury medium makes a lot of sense. But it’s a shitty growth strategy.
Medium can be a trap. It’s heavy, but not nearly heavy enough to build strength. It’s also light, but still causes fatigue. This is common in athletes who are struggling to make progress in the gym. Endless 5-rep work sets have left them beat-up, stale and feeling slow. Maybe you can relate?
During strength building phases you should be completing every repetition with sharp intent and great effort. It doesn’t matter what the load on the barbell might be.
If you want to be stronger and more explosive, start by trying way more often.
Louie’s style of programming includes every kind of load. His max-effort days are very heavy, with limit loads prescribed. The dynamic days are much lighter. Every single repetition is performed for “speed”, but the intent is the same. You have to give the barbell everything you’ve got. If you hold back, you won’t get much of anything in return. Action reaction, you know?
Don’t be afraid of going heavy and being aggressive with the barbell. You might be an advanced athlete, brand new, or someplace in between. The white board might list 10 reps, 5 or 3, whatever, it doesn’t matter much. Just make sure you’re adding load and keeping the quality of your work high.
Put as much intent into the barbell as possible, even when the load is light. Every set is an opportunity to build strength. By the end of training your body and mind should be zapped, at which point you can start the really important part of your training.
Experiments at Westside Barbell
Practice more often.
I think it’s critical to expose your body to high tension, and very high load. It should be a hard thing. It should progress in intensity week to week. But still, this is a small factor in your training, believe it or not.
How much time do you spend underneath a heavy barbell? Not much, actually. On balance, most of your life is still spent at work, in your car, your fluffy bed. We cook, we shop, we fuck around, in total most of us spend maybe 4-5 hours a week working on strength. That’s not much, really.
You could just lift heavy more often to accelerate your strength gains, but for most humans that presents a recovery problem. And remember, the same thing is true for medium loads.
The big advantage of going light is that you can do it all of the time. Instead of not working on strength at all, you can effectively practice the skill at any time, as much as you want.
Do you suck at squatting or snatching? Do you have muscular weakness or mobility issue that’s limiting performance? Just go into the gym on an off day and spend an hour moving with a barbell. Work on the skills you lack.
It doesn’t have to be hard at all at first, just keep the quality high. Make it two sessions a week, then three. Slowly add a little load to the bar. As you rack up the practice hours your technique and fitness will improve a ton.
You’ll be able to train heavier more often in no time at all.
Check out Chris’ new book, Get Change
I hope this gives you some ideas to take into the gym with you. If you have any questions, just leave them in the comments below. I’d love to talk training with you.
- If gaining strength is your goal, check out our brand new program – The Shrugged Strength Challenge.
Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the monotony of every day life, and to carry that into a training session. Next thing you know, your moving slow and every rep is a grinder.
This is a great reminder.
Awesome! Louie is a genius. Thank you for these, additional awesome on top of metric shit ton you guys already give us.
Thanks Shaun. Cheers,
What rep schemes and percentage would you suggest for squatting, pressing and deadlifting heavy (building strength) and light (causing fatigue)?
How do accessory movements play into this?
Did you get a reply cause I would like those same answers.
Accessory work is always done lighter. You’ve done the main strength work, which causes fatigue. You follow with moderate to light efforts for higher reps on the glue ham raise, good mornings, RDL’s, KB swings, all that stuff.
If you want a very easy way to monitor load, check out Prilepin’s table. 70% and under would certainly be “light.” Over 90% is VERY heavy.
[…] Read the full article here: Beware of Medium […]
just got dun listing to the Tim Ferriss’s interview with Pavel Tsatsouline. It was awesome. Lenard about interesting ways of training for srength and training for strength for sport that you guys have not talked about on BBS (or at least I haven’t seen the episode but I’m purity sure I’v watched all your episodes). You guys should try to have him on the podcas.
Pavel is very unique, and of course we’d have him on. It’s just a matter of when paths cross.
I second that – it would make for a great episode
The article is singing the praise of Louie Simmons, why not look to his programs for rep schemes.
Kev, that information is all over the internet. If I showed it here, it would take away from what I wanted to achieve, which was to point out WHY you use certain kinds of loads. That’s more important.
If you want a guide for loading, this chart is really easy and really effective. 70% and under is obviously light, speed weight stuff, while 90% plus is very heavy. Louie would call it “Max effort.”
Fitness and life in general is all about the delicate balancing act…thanks for the reminder Chris!
thanks for reading.
Great article as usual! Evan had a great comment as well about the monotony of life carrying over into training. Working a desk/management job, I find myself too often in this situation where, even after a pre-workout, I go into a lifting session with “medium” purpose. Thanks for sharing Chris!
Question: How important is it to have your “training max” (Wendler 5-3-1)established versus just going off your straight max?
You still get stronger by using a training max, so why not do that instead? You can always go heavier later.
[…] Beware of Medium […]