Shrugged Collective

Beware of medium

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.

The max-effort. 

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.

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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.




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Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?


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