Try to Improve, But Not at All Costs
When I reflect on the best workouts I’ve been through over the last 18 years, one common theme continues to emerge: Recording the workout.
To be clear, the scientific research tells us that we probably don’t need to record our workouts. Instead, we should simply train to muscle failure, the point where we can no longer complete a perfect rep. The physiological basis for training to muscle failure is “Henneman’s Size Principle.” In simplest terms, this principle states that we recruit more and more muscle fibers as a set continues. The only way we can guarantee that we recruit all of our muscle fibers is to continue to the point of “failure.”
So what role does recording workouts actually play?
Recording the workout, in my opinion, encourages us to truly get to the point of muscle failure. Think about it. You are doing an excruciating set of leg extension and you just completed the 10th rep. Every part of you wants to stop because you are so uncomfortable. Your trainer reminds you that you did 11 reps in the last workout. This serves as salient motivation to get that 11th rep today (and possibly a 12th rep!) and in doing so, you recruited more muscle fibers and made the set that much more valuable.
The “pressure” of knowing what you did last time can be a powerful source of motivation. But you have to harness it (more on this in a second). My last workout was Tuesday night at our Chanhassen location (Jordan trained me) and the workout was one of the best I’ve had in 2019. Jordan’s coaching and feedback were great, but I think the pressure to improve was instrumental.
Take caution, this can and often does backfire.
The goal is to recruit more muscle fibers, NOT to “get another rep.” We get no credit for actually completing that 12th rep. It’s imperative when trying to beat a rep number from our previous workout that we maintain perfect form. And rest assured, our body will take the path of least resistance. We will be tempted to “cheat” in order to complete the rep and “improve”; but of course, that’s not actually improvement.
Take home message:
Use the knowledge of what you did in your last workout to fuel your intensity and muscle fiber recruitment in today’s workout (but only with flawless form).
And if you don’t improve or actually perform worse? That will happen! We are not in the same physiological state from workout to workout. Sleep, life stress, work stress, and other physical activity have all been shown to play a major role in our performance (specifically, the number of reps we do).
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