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Slow and Steady Wins The Race

I woke up this morning to an inquiry from someone who began following the site in early December. He came across my blog after watching the compilation video below.

He mentioned how the video had inspired him to increase his weighted dips. It has been six or seven weeks since he began focusing on the exercise. Initially, he experienced solid progress. The weight that he was hitting for five reps had increased gradually from week to week. Unfortunately, he wrote to me in disgust that his early gains had plateaued. It had been two weeks since he was able to add more weight to the dip belt. Clearly frustrated, he asked for modifications that he could make to his program to bring his numbers back up.

His email concluded with the following question:

“What do I need to do to beast it out like you on the regular?”

Unfortunately, I was not able to respond with any earth shattering advice. There isn’t a secret rep range or program to follow that will boost your numbers continuously from week to week. True strength is not developed in weeks. A few weeks is literally a blink of an eye. It takes years to develop truly impressive strength. Many weeks pass where I do not make any gains in any exercise. I also have days where I may not hit as many reps as I did the week before. Yet having a bad day or a period of plateaus does not cause me to panic. I have been around long enough to know that continued gains are hard to come by.

Unfortunately, this seemingly obvious fact is rarely mentioned in today’s industry. It is more common to see short term programs marketed with promises of rapid gains and transformations. How many 30 day miracle programs are available today? Such programs litter the web with enough false promises to make Pinocchio look honest.

Slow and steady isn’t a marketable phrase for an exercise program. People want overnight results. They don’t want a long, arduous journey that is filled with ups and downs. The marketing powers therefore cater their message appropriately to the demand that exists. As a result, the consumer is left frustrated and confused when a week or two passes without noticeable improvements. I receive emails like the one described above on a regular basis.

Therefore, my goal with this informal entry is to provide a much needed reminder that legitimate gains take time. Just because you see a highlight video of me or anyone else does not mean that we don’t have bad days. I’ve had my share of days where I feel everything but beastly. I don’t allow a bad day to throw me off track however. I’m experienced enough to know that bad days come with the territory. It’s part of life.

You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what caused a bad day or you can let it go and keep moving forward. I choose the latter. I don’t let bad days or missed reps interfere with my quest to improve. I’ve been training regularly for over 20 years now. That’s over one thousand weeks. If I made gains every week, I’d be wrestling with elephants.

In summary, be realistic with your expectations. I’m all for getting beastly in the gym, but there is no such thing as being too good for a bad day. If I find myself stuck in a rut, I do what I have always done. I work, work, and work some more. I continue to grind until I am back on top. Sure, I may trip or fall at times, but I always get up and keep moving forward.

My approach may sound a bit crude or archaic, but it’s always worked for me. I’m not about to change.

+++++

When in doubt, outwork everyone else.

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22 comments

22 Comments so far

  1. Dirk January 28th, 2013 1:51 pm

    Very good post. I have been thinking about this for some time now, I’ve been a gymnast all my life, but recently (about 5 weeks ago) I got bored and set new goals (deadlift 185kg, squat 155kg, bench 115kg) so I’ve been training 3 times a week, everyday focusing on one of the big-3 and I`m making good progress. but during the days where I have off and do things for recovery and mobility and stuff I`m really anticipating the next workout. Because I want to get under that bar and get that rep with that weight. I`m really eager and my brain wants to tell me you can workout more often and stuff but I have been training long enough to know that’s not true. I really learned that patience and consistency go a looong way.

  2. Hobbes January 28th, 2013 1:59 pm

    First, that is a great compilation. Love your training, Ross.
    Second – the other reality of strength is the higher you go the harder they (they being strength gains) come. I think it was Terry Todd who said this, but everyone faces it. You have to enjoy the process and let the results happen. Leo Babauta (of zenhabits) wrote a great post recently about mastering discomfort – to me enjoying the process means learning to master and even enjoy discomfort.
    When I see Ross training I always see someone who is willing to get out of his comfort zone – someone who enjoys discomfort or at least masters it. So to slow and steady I add – that don’t mean easy. Your progress is always measured by the sweat you leave behind.

  3. Pearse January 28th, 2013 2:02 pm

    Digging the quote at the end.

  4. Elizar January 28th, 2013 2:12 pm

    Great post, I laughed so hard when I read “I’d be wrestling with elephants.”

  5. Danny J Albers January 28th, 2013 2:22 pm

    Lifting as heavy as I can that day, as many times as I can.

    Always kept me moving forward in the long run

  6. manny hagler January 28th, 2013 2:32 pm

    this piece is so wrong. if you made gains every week for 20 years, you’d be CRUSHING elephants from the planet KLINGON!

  7. Ryan Lee January 28th, 2013 2:40 pm

    Rome wasn’t built in a day. Fitness is a lifestyle choice not trying to fit in a wedding dress in 3 weeks. You watch a brick layer lay the first brick and you think of the almost impossible task he has before him, but over time, work and persistence; one day there is a wall!

  8. Neil January 28th, 2013 3:04 pm

    Excellent post Ross. Perhaps some people have luck with “30-Day-fit-in-a-wedding-dress” only because they were so out of shape to begin with. Slow and steady absolutely does win the race.

  9. Minimalist January 28th, 2013 3:59 pm

    Exellent article.

    If I can just throw in one tip for this guy who was asking for an advice to overcome a plateau. I recommend the following only if anything else will not work. Why? Because progressing this way will be slow.

    Based on my own experience, microloading can work for a long time – at least in one main exercise. Obviously not indefinitely, but for much longer than six or seven weeks, if the program has the basics down and one is not trying to increase the results in all of the exercises at the same rate.

    Microloading on chins or dips requires weigh-ins just before training and adjustments of the weights based on whether the bodyweight has gone up or down. The other thing is that if you don’t have very small weights, just drink the exact amout of water so that the total weight is just right or put a carefully weighted water bottle in you pocket or whatever. Obviously this kind of precision stuff is easier(and more accurate) to do if one trains at home with own weights.

    If I train once every 4 days and add 200 grams every time for a year, that’s 18 kilos right there. Even half of that, 9 kilos per year, is a very good number if one is already pretty strong in the exercise. I’d gladly take 4,5 kilos per year, if I was at the limit.
    This is not a magic trick for infinite gains and maybe for some people will not work at all, but I’d recommend just to try it out, if one is not bothered with the hassle of the small weights and anything else will not work. It’s much easier to lift 50-250 grams more while staying away from failure(at least away from failure most of the time) than trying to crank out an extra rep.

    And of course it is good to remember that the most important thing in traing is not linear or constant progression but staying injury free, learning and enjoying what you’re doing.

    And now some inspiration ala Jacko Gill(sorry if this has been posted on this site previously):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgRphH_Yuzc

  10. jp January 28th, 2013 4:53 pm

    “If I made gains every week, I’d be wrestling with elephants.”

    Classic. Props for keeping it real. Excellence takes hard work and dedication!

  11. Eric January 28th, 2013 5:51 pm

    Sometimes when you reach a plateau on an exercise, especially an exercise you’re specializing on it’s best to back off the exercise entirely and perform a similar or an assistance type exercise. For instance if you were trying to increase your bench press and hit a slump, drop flat barbell bench presses entirely and start doing substitute exercises like inclines, dumbbell bench presses, weighted pushups between chairs, benching with different grips, etc. I know this from personal experience because like many who started weight training in the Seventies, I was obsessed with bench pressing poundages. I would often go in and start my workout with bench pressing and if I had a bad day on the bench would abandon the whole workout and walk out of the gym. I’ve become much wiser now and wouldn’t ever care to “specialize on one movement” unless you were preparing for some sort of contest. However, maybe for this guy with the weighted dips, which are often used by many lifters to increase bench pressing by the way I would try a program that worked wonders for increasing my bench press back in the day. Lift only 3 times a week and perform your dips as your first exercise, on monday do 5-6 sets of 5 working up in weight, example 25lbs x 5, 50lbs x 5, 75lbs x 5, 100lbs x 5, etc. Don’t do a sheetload of exercises for the rest of your workout but since the dips work the upper body push muscles just add an upper body pull movement and a leg movement. On Wednesday do the same format but do 5-6 sets of 4 instead with slightly heavier poundages, on Friday or Saturday do 6-8 sets of 3 using the same format and perform a lighter “pump” set of 10-12 reps at the end. Maybe on Wednesday instead of performing the 5-6 sets of 4 reps of weighted dips, do weighted pushups with a weight vest or a weight plate on your shoulders between two chairs. Close grip bench presses with a straight bar or an olympic ez curl bar or excellent assistance exercises for increasing dip strength as are handstand pushups. Use those assistance exercises.

  12. KingTooter January 29th, 2013 7:44 am

    Brother, there are very few people who I consider even remotely intelligent — but you my friend, are one.

  13. Speedy January 29th, 2013 2:21 pm

    That too was my focus and like everyone else I suffered falls and plateaus, but I also found slight changes also make all the difference in the world. So what I can’t do my 3×5, then I will do my 3×3, and hell maybe I will stick to 3×3 with added weight, and then in a few weeks go back to 3×5 with the weight that was previously kicking my rear. You need to also be open to change. Man I love reading these articles for they always inspire me to get out of this damn office and into the gym. :-D

  14. Ibrahim January 29th, 2013 4:50 pm

    Ross, thanks for the truthful and inspirational words

  15. Supersets February 2nd, 2013 11:38 pm

    [...] Ross training – Slow and steady wins the race. ”True strength is not developed in weeks. A few weeks is literally a blink of an eye. It takes years to develop truly impressive strength. Many weeks pass where I do not make any gains in any exercise. I also have days where I may not hit as many reps as I did the week before. Yet having a bad day or a period of plateaus does not cause me to panic. I have been around long enough to know that continued gains are hard to come by.” [...]

  16. Rob February 4th, 2013 3:04 am

    ‘If I made gains every week, I’d be wrestling with elephants’

    Love that statement and it helps me keep things in perspective when it appears I’m not progressing.

    Great site Ross & I love your book I recently purchased, Never gymlees – It’s Clear & precise, first class.

  17. Tim February 15th, 2013 12:58 pm

    Ross,
    Love the video, all the quotes and the music too.

    Got me thinking ‘But where are his quotes?’

    well that was until a little voice in the back of my head said ‘what do you think your watching dummy?!!?’

    Actions speak louder than words (Mark Twain?)

    Thank you for your quotes, Ross.

  18. Slow and Steady Wins The Race - lookfi March 6th, 2013 7:34 am

    [...] Click here to view the embedded video. [...]

  19. Stan Martin March 15th, 2013 6:50 pm

    Great post Ross.

  20. shafaan April 16th, 2013 1:07 am

    Exactly, Bruce Lee even said it takes years to master and develop skills! It doesn’t take weeks but months, years… you must consider the physiological adaptations that are required and need to develop over time. Things like neural adaptations and muscular connective tissue. These will soon enhance and then be able to deal with more weight/resistance. A process that takes a long time.

  21. Christine Ascroft October 2nd, 2013 9:05 am

    Hello Ross, that video is so inspiring and what you said really helped , when im struggling in the gym i will think of it, watching you doing your training just makes me want to work harder and harder… thank you:)

  22. Dave Wheeler October 2nd, 2013 9:13 am

    Have always enjoyed / learned / been inspired by your work, thanks. I’m reminded of what Coach Dan John said: some days you just show up and punch the clock, and that’s it. Those are the days that help make you the person you want to be — the unseen days that kinda feel like knock-offs or cheats, but really go a lot farther than we realize.

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