Keep on Tracking By Plotting Your Progress in The Gym

Plotting Progress

Advanced Health & Natural Training Science

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Roger Mason is an absolute bundle of enthusiasm and energy-he approaches his workouts with an almost frightening level of commitment. In fact, the way he attacks his training, you get the feeling that if only he'd been at the Alamo, things might have turned out differently. There's just one problem with his approach, however: He changes routines faster than most channel surfers can hit their TV remotes.

For example, he might be into singles and nothing but singles for a couple of weeks. Ask him about his training philosophy, and you'll get an impassioned speech about the wonders of one-rep maxes that culminates in the strong personal testimonial, "I have always felt that to get strong you have no choice but to handle the heaviest weights you can."A short time later it's nothing but sets of five-the absolute Way to Power- and if you ask about this one, you're sure to hear another emotionally appealing argument, such as, "Ask the Russians what they can squat, and they always quote what they can do for five reps."

And so it goes. Doing absolutely no power rack training ("Have you ever seen a power rack in a Bulgarian gym?") gives way to power rack training as the path to success ("Our guys just don't know how to use a power rack correctly"). Until you get used to the pattern, the changes can make your head spin. This amazing elasticity in terms of training philosophy doesn't just apply to Roger's lifting routines. Consider his aerobic training. For two weeks he'll be on a mountain bike kick, going through several workouts that include at least 3,000 feet of climbing per day. You can be sure that you'll hear all about these-not just how tough they are, hut also how mountain biking is the be-all, end-all of Roger's life and, by the way, this is something you should try too. Next comes a couple of weeks of silence, and if you ask Roger about his biking activities, you'll learn that he hurt his ankle, got saddle sores or in some other way had a monkey wrench thrown into his cycling program.

Things might remain quiet for a while, but one day he'll call you to report that he just ran 20 kilometers, including some hills. He'll also tell you that he did the same thing yesterday and plans to do it again tomorrow. "You know," he'll say, "you really should get into running." Two weeks later, for whatever reason, he'll be out of it. The pattern is similar throughout Roger's life. For example, as with a lot of other people, he hates his job. Give him half a chance and he'll fill your ear with tales of woe about what jerks his supervisors are, how they shaft him at every turn, etc., etc. If you took him literally, you'd have to believe that Roger's job is killing him, so it's hardly surprising to hear him say one day that he plans to be out of there soon. Correction: Roger says that he'll definitely be out of there and very quickly. Unfortunately, the first time you heard that one was about five years ago, and since then you've heard it almost as many times as you've heard the phrase "steroid replacement." Roger keeps talking about changing courses-doing everything from opening a restaurant to moving to Alaska-but, just as the ever- new, nearly perfect steroid replacements keep chugging down the pike, Roger keeps showing up for the job he hates, complaining about it every step of the way.

Roger suffers from the twin problems of a short attention span and lack of focus. As you might guess, these two maladies keep him from ever making any significant progress in his life-in either his training or his career-so let's talk about how you can avoid them, Your attention span boils down to how long you can work steadily on a particular task or activity, whether it's your training or your income taxes. Did you ever notice how a first- or second-grader might be hard-pressed to do the same thing for five minutes, but a college student can work steadily for hours at a crack? This example is important not just because it illustrates how your ability to stay focused improves with maturity but also because it implies how, with practice, you can train yourself to increase this ability. In addition, it demonstrates how the ability to stay on track is a prerequisite for success in nearly all walks of life.

Let's assume that you're convinced of the value of concentrated, steady effort and that you want some tips on how to increase your ability to work that way. First of all, you need to define where you want to end up. In a sense, you have to do everything backward when plotting your course, starting with your end point and retracing your steps. "Easy to say but harder to do," you observe, recognizing that, for example, you are torn between winning the Mr. Olympia, getting a gold medal in weightlifting at the Atlanta Games and trying to post a powerlifting total that's 200 pounds above Ed Coan best. Sure, in an ideal situation you'd have everything planned out from day one-kind of like those kids who "know" at age four that they plan to become medical doctors, thus giving their lives direction from preschool on. In the absence of such pinpoint targeting, take the pressure off yourself and pick a three-month goal, for example, and start laying out your game plan to reach your objective. Especially if you've been bouncing around almost from day to day the way Roger has, you need to commit to a definite goal that will require some systematic effort to reach.

Let's say that you decide to enter a powerlifting contest in three months, with the goal of medalling. Looking at last year's results, you have an idea of what it's going to take to win, place and show, so you can set your training goals accordingly. Since your walking-around weight is between two bodyweight classes and you're what is politely called "tall" for either class, you decide to boost your bodyweight to the limit of the higher class. This becomes a sub-objective, or one that leads to your overall objective, which is to place in the contest, and serves as the basis for your training. If you prefer, consider this weight-gaining effort to be the first phase of your overall three-month program.

Continuing toward your goal, you shop the market and settle on an aggressive bulk-building routine that should put you in the bodyweight range you've targeted in several weeks. Having a fairly short-term, specific goal-gaining, say, 15 pounds of solid bodyweight-is a powerful attention-rein forcer, but you get an additional boost because the training program you have selected requires you to add five pounds to the squat bar at every workout, The fact that these milestones are so concrete and come so quickly will be tremendously helpful in terms of keeping you on track, Notice that one of the characteristics of Roger's misadventures is that he seems to pick workouts on a random basis-a technique that might work when you're playing the stock market, but not when you're looking to build size and strength as quickly as possible.

Once you get to your bodyweight goal, you turn to the second phase of your program, hitting a strength peak. Just as you used specific, short-term goals to keep yourself focused during the first phase, you do the same thing now. For example, you map out the remaining weeks leading to your contest so that you back down to the weights you plan to handle each week. This system applies equally well whether you use an elaborate program that carefully cycles your intensity levels based on percentages of your one-rep maximum or you simply try to add, say, five pounds to the bar every week or two. The point once again is that you take programmed steps toward a specific goal, which is drastically different from Roger's knee-jerk approach to training.

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