Originally I set out to do an article strictly on progressive overload — one of the most important concepts related to muscle building, essentially meaning causing your muscles to grow by introducing them to more stress over time — but since I’m not someone who likes to write about topics that have been written about millions of times, I decided to tackle something that I don’t see anyone else talking about.
Have you ever noticed that some days you’re stronger than others?
I would assume that most people who lift weights keep close tabs on the amount of weight they lift during each session. I would also assume that most people who lift weights set out to become stronger over time.
While it’s reasonable to be concerned with becoming stronger in the long run, I think the problem lies in the fact that we all expect this process to be far more linear than it actually is.
What if you reach failure in less reps today than you did at the same weight 3 weeks ago? Or what if you had to do less weight today than 3 weeks ago for a particular exercise on your final set? Does that mean your muscles aren’t growing?
* Prior to going any further, I would like to make a point: I am not a competitive powerlifter, nor is that my area of expertise or of any interest to me. With that said, the amount of weight a competitive powerlifter lifts is paramount. This article is for people whose goal is to build muscle, not whose goal is to lift the heaviest weight possible — not that I am implying that those goals are mutually exclusive. *
If your goal is to build muscle, I implore you to remember that your goal is to BUILD MUSCLE, not to LIFT HEAVIER WEIGHT.
I think it’s very common for people to confuse their goal with their current strategy for reaching that goal.
Let’s use the example of someone having the goal to build bigger muscles…
The GOAL is to build bigger muscles and a potential STRATEGY is to progressively overload the muscles with more weight.
There is nothing wrong with that strategy, but it should not cause you to become discouraged if you are not as strong one day as you were a different day. If you reach muscle failure in less reps today than you did three weeks ago, the only important part of that sentence is that you reached FAILURE. Your body can care less about how much weight was on the bar, all it knows is that your muscles have to grow in order to handle the increased demand being placed on them.
Our muscles grow out of necessity.
Muscle hypertrophy—the growth and increase in the size of muscle cells — occurs when our muscles are introduced to new levels of stress.
Once our muscles reach a certain level of fatigue during the course of a workout, they begin the process of expanding by demand. In other words, our body realizes that in order to be able to handle the new level of stress being placed on our muscles, the muscles will have to grow in size and working capacity.
There are many ways to progressively overload your muscles to cause muscle hypertrophy other than by simply adding more weight, however those strategies are outside the scope of the point I’m trying to make in this article.
There are a few main things that I want you to take away from this article: Don’t confuse your goal with the strategy you are currently employing to reach that goal, and don’t allow extraneous details to discourage you.
Don’t Confuse Your Goal With the Strategy You Are Currently Employing to Reach That Goal
This is an important lesson to learn when it comes to working toward the achievement of any goal — don’t allow the results from a potential means to an end to discourage you from continuing to charge ahead toward that end.
Another example of this would be someone who wants to lose weight (goal) and chooses to go on a specific diet (strategy), then becomes discouraged when they find that particular diet to be unsustainable for them — there is no need to get discouraged, just try out a different strategy. For some more details on what I consider to be the best way to go about losing weight, check out my article, Weight Loss Made Easy.
If you’re interested in some more information about this topic as it relates to building muscle, check out my article, I Don’t Count Reps. In that article, I talk about how I do not stop lifting during a given set simply because I reach a certain number of reps. In other words, I listen to my body, and stop once I reach a certain level of muscle fatigue, as opposed to when I reach a certain number.
Don’t Allow Extraneous Details to Discourage You
This is related to the first point, but has some wider ranging implications. One of the most difficult things about achieving a goal is learning the ability to drown out all of the noise.
Remember what your goal is and don’t get discouraged — if at first you don’t succeed, change your strategy and try again!