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e: keith@liveasimplelife.co.uk

How to break through your workout barrier

IMG_3490The brain is a funny thing. Why do I immediately think of a rude joke when someone says something like ‘go down’ or ‘period’? Why, when I pick up a baby, do I immediately have a vision of dropping it? How come even though I was feeling awful on the start line a few years back, I was able to override the negative self talk which I normally faced and run my best 10K ever?

See what I mean? Weird. And my brain has been up to its old good-fer-nuttin tricks again lately, in the form of massively limiting my squats.

A new life schedule
Pre-baby and own-business, I was in a very regular gym routine. Pretty much each lunchtime, I would skip out of the office with a friend, and go and lift heavy things for an hour. Squats, deadlifts, bench pressing, bent-over rows…we focused on the big barbell lifts and made those lunchtimes count.

Then, I’d supplement this with some weekend sprints or outdoor play, as well as plenty of walking. It was a system that really worked for me, and got me to the best body composition I’ve achieved so far. I think the success was down to several things:

First, I very gradually increased the weights each week, so that I was always making progress. I also logged every workout meticulously – if I even managed one more rep on anything it was a success, and better than the week before.

Second, every six weeks or so, I would spend a week just doing whatever workouts I fancied. I had no agenda when I went into the gym or outside, and just really played around. This gave me the mental break I needed from the rigidity of the system.

Lastly, I had a buddy who was just as committed as me. As it was the early stages of my Personal Training career, I used the opportunity to coach my pal as much as possible, and helped him dramatically improve his form on the lifts.

But (and it’s a big but), then Lucas came along. Then I quit my job. Then we started our own business. Then I started a teaching job to help pay the bills. Then I did some Corporate Comms consulting.

And now, all of this time later, I’m still trying hard to establish a routine for training (not there yet…), an effective weekly routine (soooo not there yet…), and manage all of my commitments in a way that enables me to stay on top of everything (don’t even ask).

With my training, the two biggest factors that have impacted my progress have been the lack of time and the lack of sleep. It is just significantly harder to lift heavy things when you’re sleep deprived – perhaps even downright unsafe in certain situations. And, with a new business, contract work and toddler responsibilities, finding the time to spend in the studio is much trickier.

But not impossible.

Last week, I looked through my training logs and had a big realisation. Essentially, I had made no measurable progress on my squat for over six months. The reason? My brain. 

You see, I’d squat 5 reps for 5 sets at 62KG, creep up to 72KG within a few weeks, and then life would happen. Lucas would have several awful nights sleep in a row. I’d take on a little more work to pay the bills and throw our schedule off slightly. We’d make social plans or family plans which would reduce gym time availability. Plus, I’d spend some sessions deadlifting, or keeping up my pullups, or working on some Pilates with Angie. By the time I’d get back to squats, I would convince myself not to push any harder, as I’d had too long a break. “You’re too tired, it’s not worth the risk. There’s been too long a gap, don’t push it…”

So the progress stopped.

Damn you, brain.

Making a breakthrough
Going back through my training logs caused me to really reflect on how I’d been limiting my training. Not only that, but one of my pals (who also happens to be a brilliant Personal Trainer at the new Ab Salute Gym in Chelmsford), Ilse Fullarton, came over to Live Simple HQ to try one-rep max deadlifts. The short story here is that with Ilse’s support I ended lifting much, much more than what I thought I would be capable of, and it made me realise that I hadn’t been lifting heavy enough  at all during my regular deadlifting routine.

Which got me thinking about my squat – if I hadn’t been deadlifting enough, then chances are I hadn’t been squatting enough. Putting this side by side with my realisation that I’d made no progress, and my tendency to make excuses about how I was feeling to keep the weights low, I got a little angry with myself.

So the next time I stepped into my power rack, I took a look in my book at the 62KG that I’d done last time, and just decided “Screw It! I’m going to go for it!”

So I loaded 82KG up.

And guess what?

Yep, I did 5 sets of 5 reps pretty comfortably. The time after that, I did 84.5KG, and did it fairly comfortably. The time after that I did 84.5KG again and felt good. My next scheduled session? 87KG.

The 2015 target
I love the squat for so many reasons. That fact that it’s a very primal move. The fact that you can lift so much weight. The fact that every little bit of your body has to work in unison when you have a huge barbell on your back trying to crush you into the floor.

To realise that I had been squatting way below what I should have been for so long was a little bit soul-destroying for someone who loves lifting as much as I do. But, sometimes life happens, and it takes a long time before you can reflect enough to realise where you’ve been going wrong. The trick is to do something about it.

And so, my new 2015 target is to squat 100KG, 5 sets, 5 reps. I’ve never been anywhere near that weight, and now I know that it’s not my body that’s been holding me back, it’s my brain.

I’ve got some catching up to do…

If you’re interested in Personal Training, drop me a line at keith@liveasimplelife.co.uk. Especially if you’re looking to break through a barrier that’s been holding you back!

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