Looking back at my 21-year lifting career, I can tell you that most of my nagging pain, injuries, and setbacks were due to one simple thing – failing to ease into things. Having read plenty of bodybuilding magazines and books growing up, I mistakenly thought that I had to shock my body in order to see good results, whatever that means. Though I still make this mistake from time to time, just as any serious lifter does due to overzealousness, I’m guilty of it much less frequently than in years and decades past. Please let this quote sink in:

“Strength training is a marathon, not a sprint”

The lifter who lives to train another week sees better progress than the lifter who is constantly riddled with setbacks. Here is some very simple, but oft ignored advice:

  • When you switch to a different routine, ease into things
  • When you learn a new exercise, ease into things
  • When you start implementing cardio, ease into things
  • When you start implementing HIIT, ease into things
  • When you’re returning from a break from training, ease into things
  • When you come back from an injury, ease into things
  • When you start implementing plyos, ease into things
  • When you start implementing sprints, ease into things
  • When you start implementing a new training method, ease into things
  • When you purchase a new piece of equipment, ease into things
  • When you start training at a new facility, ease into things
  • When you start playing a new sport, ease into things
  • When you’re all excited about a new goal you set, still ease into things
  • When you go on a diet, ease into things
  • When you don’t quite feel right, ease into things

tbdl

When you want to set a PR, make sure you’re prepared.

When you have a contest, race, or competition, make sure you’re prepared.

You don’t need to go from A to Z in one day. Your body will positively adapt by going from A to B, B to C, C to D, …Y to Z.

There’s nothing wrong with going at 50% one session, 60% the next, 70% the next, 80% the next, 90% the next, and finally 100% the next.

There’s nothing wrong with stopping short of failure, leaving plates on the floor, or leaving some fuel in the tank.

There’s nothing wrong with just doing one set of an exercise.

There’s nothing wrong with jogging one lap one session, two laps the next, three laps the next, and four laps thereafter.

There’s nothing wrong with sticking to just bodyweight for a couple of sessions before adding load.

There’s rarely a need to “shock the body” and do things radically different.

Taking a moderate approach and seeing how your body responds is always wise in S&C. 

Gradual improvement is the name of the iron game.

The human body is capable of astounding achievements and incredible feats of strength and athleticism, but in order to display these feats, the body must hold up over time. Build the body up gradually and reap the rewards later in life.

kettlebell-swing

6 Comments

  • Tony says:

    Bret,

    Timely post. I just bought your book strong curves to train my wife. Yesterday, on her second day, she seems to have tweeked her knee from doing step ups. Even though I used a low bench and just her body weight to get her started, it was too much.

    I have been utterly surprised by how little she can do as she has never trained much in her life. She had always been a skinny shapely girl but after two kids and 34 years her body has changed. She is determined to reverse the course.

    Does she need to be able to do a certain amount of squats or a certain amount of weight used on squats before moving on to step ups?

  • Great article.

    A buddy of mine was halfway through a deadlift workout with me. He had never pulled more than 455 but decided he wanted to hit a 45 lb PR with no steps in the middle.

    I was worried he was going to get himself hurt pretty bad, rounded back and slow pull. Eventually got stuck trying to hitch.

    Luckily, after a failed attempt he was uninjured, but still too close for my comfort.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  • Polina says:

    Hi bret,
    I just finished to read Strong Curves and I am doing the advanced program, weeks 1-4. It is the first time in a few years that I actually enjoy training . I feel so good to go to the gym knowing I have only 5 exercises to perform and not 8-9 like I used to.
    It’s deffintly much better to keep things simple and not to overcomplicate it.
    I always thought the more is the better, but now I understand that better is better.
    Now I can focuse on putting all my effort into each exersice without thinking:( when I am gonna finsh it) I actually enjoy the prosess .
    Although the supersetting between a1-a2 is pretty hard.
    I have one questiong regarding the frequency of the workouts in the advanced program. i prefer to train 5 days a week, you wrote that it;s optimal to perfom A twicw a week and B C once a week. What workout should I do for the day 5? B or c? Does it matter?

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    Absolutely magnificent. Possibly the hardest thing I’ve had to grasp, harder than understanding biomechanics, etc.

    I am 46, and making gains that I couldn’t make in my 20s b/c I just do what you said…ease into it. I’ve always trained hard, but now I’m training smart.

    And if it’s even possible, it just makes me love training now more than ever. It helps that I don’t walk around (or more accurately, crawl around) injured all the time.

    Bret Contreras, elder statesman!

  • Michael T. says:

    Bret! This post is one of the most encouraging pieces I have ever read!

    My background in training began as a teen in the late 1980s bodybuilding era, where the emphasis was about LOOKING a certain way, which was mostly chest and arms as large as possible, and those of us more committed would throw in squats, deads, etc. to try to bring our chicken legs up to match our water retained upper bodies. Ha!

    Well, as you can tell by my tone, my goals have changed. Now, older and more secure, I no longer care about looking tough and muscular, but I want to actually BE fit and athletic. In fact, I feel a sort of pity when I see someone’s traps too large for their frame or a buff guy stand up slowly because his body is slow and sore and can only more fast in a weightlifting pattern.

    However, in all of my supposed enlightenment and wisdom, I too am often guilty of being too eager to build my glutes and core and restore an athletic build versus a wanna be bodybuilding physique. I look at the guys who have biked, ran, played soccer, etc. for years, and I immediately want their results in a way. Well, as your article stated, this is a marathon and its slow. We really have to love our bodies and performance each step along the way. I’m learning to train hard and often and then try to forget about my body once I’m dressed and out the door.

    Anyway, thanks for the joint saving and more interesting person producing advice!

    Michael

  • matt says:

    This is a timely article for me ’cause I don’t know if I’m easing myself into hip thrusts slow enough. Bret, maybe you have some insight as to whether I’m using too much weight?

    I’ve been doing them for a month now, progressing up to 165lbs barbell hip thrusts, 3×10. I have no problems moving the weight, in fact the exercise seems kinda easy, but I am getting some tightness in my lower back.

    So I don’t know if that indicates that I need to drop the weight because I’m using my back rather than my glutes, or if feeling it in the lower back some is to be expected. To be clear, no pain, just tightness and the feeling that the low back is being worked.

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