If you do the same things you’ve always done, you will never change and grow and make progress to become different than you’ve been.
As humans, we like comfort. We like routine and knowing what to expect. More than that, we like to maintain our physical comfort. We avoid temperatures that are too hot or too cold, walking on rocky surfaces or without shoes, and pushing for that extra 5 seconds during a sprint. However, these brief moments of discomfort are those that make us better. They push us to evolve, to change, to adapt. Nowhere in the fitness space is this more noticeable than strength training.
Lifting weights should not be easy. There should be a certain amount of discomfort and struggle when we’re performing each of the exercises. Progressive overload refers to the gradual increase of weights over time. This added weight forces the body to adapt to the new and increased stress. In the absence of increasing weights, the body would not become stronger or build more lean tissue.
Homeostasis, or internal equilibrium, is the body’s safe space. It’s where it likes to hang out and is always eager to return to this state. Following a workout is one of the times where the body is furthest from homeostasis. When we place a stress on our body, the body adapts to that during the time it takes to return to this state of homeostasis. If we continue to lift weights we’re comfortable with, we likely won’t deviate from equilibrium and, therefore, not require the body to adapt to increased stressors.
Of course, not every set of every exercise of every workout will be to failure. There is a very well carved out time for deload weeks, lighter weights, and regeneration. But, if you’re in the gym to build strength, muscle, or simply put in the work during a strength training session, don’t shy away from the heavier weights!
One way I like to do this for my clients, especially when they’re first starting their exercise journey, is to set up their sessions with rep schemes. For example, I may have them do goblet squats for 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions. This range is then used as a guide. They should be able to hit the first number, 10, for the majority of the sets. However, if they find that they’re able to reach the second number, especially on the last set, it’s an indication to add some weight and make it heavier. By using this method, we’re able to progress the weights and provide the body with that stimulus.
As much thought needs to go into progressing exercises, reps, weight, and sets as it does in choosing the exercise that will be performed. It’s not a time to throw caution to the wind and go to failure on every lift. By progressing intelligently, we’re able to consistently make progress while reducing injuries and maximizing our true potential.