Toay’s post is part 3 of a 5-part series (click here if you missed part 1, and here if you missed part 2). Here’s a quick recap: Master instructor Mark Reifkind recently retired from StrongFirst and was asked to summarize his decades of coaching experience.
Instead of writing an entire novel, he boiled it down to just 5 bullet points. Here they are…
- We stand on the shoulders of giants. Study the greats that came before you.
- N=1. What works for you? We don’t need to discover the training “theory of everything.” Just what makes you progress.
- Consistency trumps intensity, and intensity is born from consistency.
- Control the breath, control the body.
- Feed-forward tension is the master key to strength.
In an effort to honor him and everything he’s done for us, I’m writing a post on each of these topics discussing what I’ve learned from Rif in the context of each.
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Lesson 3: Consistency trumps intensity, and intensity is born from consistency.
My favorite question to ask new students…
“You’ve signed up for a twice-weekly training program, so you’ll have approximately 9 sessions per month. Out of those 9 sessions, how many do you think should be easy? How many should be hard? And how many should be kinda in between?”
The most common response from new people is, “Well… shouldn’t they all be hard?”
Of course, ‘hard’ is relative. When you’re new, any exercise program will be ‘hard’. The initial evaluation that we use with new people has very little actual exercise in it, yet most are surprised at how sore they are the next day from it. “I can’t believe I was so sore! We barely even did anything!”
Once you’re past the ‘total newbie’ phase of training (about 30-90 days depending on a variety of factors), simple training sessions will no longer feel hard. So, once that phase is out of the way, how many sessions should be easy, medium, and hard?
There are two good answers to this question:
The first one is my personal favorite… If you have 10 training sessions per month (just to use a round number), two should be pretty hard, two should be easy, and the rest should be in between.
I also like Pavel’s answer, “If you don’t have hard days, you don’t need easy days.”
I think both of us agree on one thing: The vast majority of the magic happens in those moderate training sessions. BUT, they must be consistent.
In his book “Fat Loss Happens On Monday” Josh Hillis says that people highly OVER estimate what they can accomplish in a month, but highly UNDER estimate what they can accomplish in a year.
When I told my new student Melisa, a young lady who weighs less than 100 pounds and came to us deadlifting 65 pounds in her previous exercise program, that within one year of consistent training she could deadlift 200, she thought I was crazy.
Turns out I was close. Here she is deadlifting 198 one week before her 1-year anniversary with us…
At the same time, many gym-goers fall for the “Get the body of your dreams in 90 days” ads that bombard us daily. On behalf of my industry, I apologize for these terrible marketing practices.
One of the mantras of the StrongFirst program that is echoed by Rif is, “Strength is a skill.” This might be one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned from him.
Virtually any hobby/activity we enjoy has an element of skill. No one expects to a be master woodworker their first time in the woodshop, but somehow we walk into a gym and expect to be magically awesome from day one. This simply doesn’t work. If we don’t take the skill element seriously, high-level results are unlikely to come.
I’ve had many people over the years from outside the gym (as well as new students) ask me what my own workouts look like. If they could be a fly on the wall, they’d be sadly disappointed. The vast majority of my training is performed at loads/intensities that are around 50-60% of maximum capacity. “Maxing out” happens extremely rarely… like maybe once or twice per year… and it’s usually on a competition platform.
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Why train like this? Wouldn’t I be more awesome if I trained harder? I don’t know, but here is what I do know: Training like this makes going to the gym much less daunting. Instead, it becomes the highlight of my day. I hang out with my spouse and training partner; crack jokes, lift heavy stuff, and have a good a time. There are some other important things too…
- It’s very hard to injure yourself training at 50-60% efforts
- No injuries = no lost training time
- No lost training time = consistency
- Consistency leads to intensity
If you dread every session in the gym, consistency is unlikely to happen. Find a movement practice that you love and enjoy the journey!
Until next time,
Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached “Team Protocol” to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Marie, and dog, Asher.