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Progress - Don't Get Mired in Minutiae

Some of our clients are very attentive to detail and numbers-oriented when it comes to tracking their workout progress. They are very interested to know how much weight they use on a given exercise, what their time under load was, and how it compares to previous workouts. Other clients care very little about those things. These trainees often just want to come in, perform their workout, schedule their next session, and go home. There is certainly nothing wrong with either mindset, and part of what makes my work so stimulating is that each client brings something different to the table. I do believe it is important to periodically talk with clients about their progress and offer different strategies to help them achieve optimum results, and for those clients that are interested I send them a link to their workout spreadsheet so that they can keep up to date on their progress. Knowledge of results is definitely important, but I think you can drive yourself crazy if you focus too much on minutiae.

I certainly respect detail-oriented people, for I am one of them. However, over the years I have learned that although small things matter, it is important (and probably healthier) to see the big picture. This is certainly true when it comes to common goals that people often come to Total Results to achieve: strength gains and fat loss. An appropriate pace for losing fat is one to two pounds per week; this way we ensure that we hold onto muscle and all the other important tissues while just losing fat. Nonetheless, we must realize that fat loss is not going to be completely linear; it will likely look like a line graph that rises and falls at times. This is because we are human beings who are not perfect, and it is unrealistic to think that life won't occasionally get in the way of maintaining the right habits. A healthier approach is to take a long view and look at the trend rather than obsess daily. This is why I don't recommend weighing yourself every day or after every meal - your fat loss goal can very easily turn into an unhealthy obsession! Look at where you are on a given day and compare it to where you were when your journey began. Chances are great that you have made significant progress worth celebrating.

The same view holds true for increasing your strength. When novice clients start at Total Results, they usually increase their poundages quickly over the first few weeks. This is due to a couple of factors. One is the learning effect; clients are learning new movement patterns and acquiring skill, and your central nervous system adapts to the new demands. The second reason is that beginning poundages are typically conservative, in order to optimize proper form, speed of movement, and turnaround technique. Once you reach muscular failure consistently on all the exercises, the law of diminishing returns enters the equation. You will not continue to add weight or increase time under load (TUL) on every exercise for every workout; it doesn't work that way. Yes, we will continue to increase the load by a couple of pounds or improve TUL every few sessions or so, but do not get discouraged when it doesn't happen every time. That is in no way a reflection of your workout performance. I also recommend not putting an emphasis on achieving an arbitrary TUL; some people seem to think that two minutes is a magical number. It isn't. The real objective of exercise is thorough inroad, and if that happens in 1:40 rather than two minutes, so be it. If you do the right things between workouts (proper sleep, nutrition, hydration, supplementation, managing stress) and give your best effort during each session, you will succeed.

While looking at your workout spreadsheet and weighing in are very specific measurements of progress, there are also general ways to get a feel for how you are doing. Taking both the general and specific viewpoints together paints a clear picture of your progress. How do you feel? On the whole, are your energy levels higher and more stabilized than before you started working out? Minimizing processed foods, sugars, and eating a whole-food, nutrient-rich diet will level out your blood sugar and regulate hormone secretion, making it much easier to avoid spikes and crashes. How do your clothes fit you now compared to when you started? If they are looser, that indicates that you have lost inches (and body fat) while gaining muscle. On the whole, are you less susceptible to minor colds and other infections? Do you have fewer aches and pains, are you more participatory in life, and are you still functionally independent? Increasing your strength makes you more injury-resistant, less reliant on mobility devices, and more energetic, which will enable you to perform tasks with less effort. These are qualitative measures of progress. Small victories add up to big results over time.

Bill Walsh, the Hall of Fame football coach and three-time Super Bowl winner, often said that the score takes care of itself. This meant that if his teams executed correctly and did the things they needed to do instead of worrying about the other team, the outcome would be in the San Francisco 49ers' favor. Another of Walsh's maxims was, "Concentrate on what will produce results, the process rather than the prize." To that end, I would add that you are better off obsessing about proper form rather than the result of each exercise. Great form leads to an exceptional stimulus, which is what the body needs to make physical improvements. Remember that learning is a continuous process, and mastery takes a lifetime. Treat each workout as an opportunity to achieve something meaningful, and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Posted January 11, 2024 by Matthew Romans