The Stress-Free Approach To Training
In this day in age, information is abundant. Everyone has access to endless and in-depth resources on just about anything they could possibly have an interest in.
By spending just a few minutes each day surfing fitness web pages, you can easily be exposed to ten to twenty totally different approaches to training and nutrition. Heck, you can even nail down the basics of training periodization in about twenty minutes.
While all of this is absolutely great, there is a definitive down side.
Information Overload is a Real Problem
The problem? Information overload.
Often times, we are so busy searching for the absolute best, most optimal muscle growth or fat loss protocol that we lose sight of perfecting the basics. This is missing the forest for the trees, so to speak.
Even as a fitness professional, I find myself falling into this quest for perfection in my own training. This often leads into neglecting the very foundations of fitness and nutrition.
Spending time nit-picking studies on optimal rep ranges for muscle growth, or how many grams of leucine to ingest to maximize muscle protein synthesis is great. But not when it interferes with your training.
The majority of us entered the gym to change our lifestyle. Maybe get a little healthier or get stronger… But most likely it was to look better naked.
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Along the way, we fell in love with training. The gym became our sanctuary. Where else can we go for a couple hours a day, and not think about one damn thing besides the weight that’s crushing us. We are too busy trying to survive and succeed to worry about life’s other problems.
The best part? We know we are making progress. Day in, day out. Each time we enter the gym, we leave a little stronger. Both mentally, and physically.
Overthinking and Overplanning Your Workouts
With the rise of evidence-based fitness, I have noticed a trend. People are beginning to train differently. With purpose. They adhere to fully periodized programs, log every single set, and track the over all volume and intensity of their entire lifting career.
Believe me, this is great.
Here’s the catch. Many of these folks are implementing this optimized, scientific programming, but instead of the gym being the thoughtless sanctuary that it once was, it becomes another calculated work place in life.
If we miss a rep, or the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) is a whole lot higher than it was last week, we get bummed out. Our thoughts start to swirl and the frustration builds. Why are we even doing this?
What was once a hobby that provided the most exciting time of the day, has turned into a chore.
Now, one thing I have noticed is the reaction to this type of calculated training is very individual from a psychological stand point.
Some lifters absolutely love the control and knowing everything they do. While others simply get overwhelmed and listless. I attribute the differences to personality type, competitive goals, and stress outside of the gym.
If you take someone who has a very stressful life, and you fill their escapist and stress relieving gym time with highly structured training, it can be a recipe for disaster and mental burnout.
Real World Bodybuilding and Powerlifting Optimization
What is more optimal?
Training consistently in an entirely auto-regulated fashion over a period of months? Or taking an extremely rigid, calculated approach to periodized training, but burning out and missing every third and fourth week.
I’d be willing to bet the consistent approach would be optimal in this circumstance, and would lead to an overall happier athlete.
I want to guarantee I make progress, but avoid stressful training…what do I do?
To be quite honest, the art of strength training is never black and white. It’s more like fifty shades of gray (although, not quite as exciting as the book.) The many shades of gray in training, whether good or bad, lend themselves to quite a few different approaches that work.
In this situation, I would capitalize on all fifty of those shades of gray by using an auto-regulatory approach to training. For a bodybuilder, this may mean mapping out all of the movements and volume you’d do on a weekly basis, but not schedule out each day.
If you take someone who has a very stressful life, and you fill their gym time with highly structured training, it can be a recipe for disaster and mental burnout.
Simply said, hit each rep, set and movement when you’d like as long as it gets done within the week. A “to do list,” essentially. Pro natural bodybuilder and Team 3DMJ Coach Alberto Nunez has implemented this approach in his training recently if I’m not mistaken.
As a Powerlifter, things get a bit more complicated but your training can also be auto-regulated. By nature, lifting for maximal strength requires a bit more planning and periodization in your training as opposed to lifting purely for muscle hypertrophy. But, there are ways to have a less structured program.
Enter, APRE or Auto Regulated Progressive Exercise. A fully detailed description and plan can be found here on Matt Perryman’s blog (which I highly recommend). To summarize, Progressive Resistance Exercise is essentially linear periodization (adding weight to the bar each workout).
The auto-regulated version of PRE allows you to adjust the weight lifted, and amount of repetitions you perform based on how you feel on that particular training day. If you like you’re on top of the world and can’t be stopped, great! Add some weight to the bar!
Feel like you’re getting crushed during your warm-ups? Take it a bit easier today.
The overall trend towards heavier and heavier weight or more reps will lead to more volume. This falls nicely in the gray area of strength gaining.
Wrapping Things Up
No matter your goals, the most important aspect of training is consistency. Enjoying your training will leave you craving more time in the gym. As interesting and important as scientific approaches to training are, don’t be afraid to take a step back and get back to the very grass roots of why you set foot in the gym in the first place and how it made you feel.
Once you de-stress a bit, there’s always time to try another approach. Happiness is above all else in life. You only have one shot on this Earth, might as well enjoy it! And make gains too!