Embrace struggle, embrace the suck!
To survive and thrive the organism need be stressed; without struggle, the body withers and dies
The human body was designed to overcome adversity, to struggle and strain, to fight and scrap and to persevere against physical hardship and above all to survive and fight another day. In the year 2018 the physical strain and struggle, the physical hardship that shaped our evolution has been removed from day-to-day human existence. Modern man might have unbelievably high levels of psychological stress, but modern man is no longer busting ass working in an urban factory or tilling fields from dawn to dusk working as a field hand on a rural farm.
In primordial times, while humanity was still evolving, all men were hunter/gatherers, nomadic tribes that moved seasonally, following alongside migrating herds of animals. Everyday existence was struggle. With the introduction of agriculture, a mere 5,000 years ago, men could settle down in one locale and grow food. The food was inferior. The human body was not designed to run on grains and grain products. Not coincidentally, with the widespread consumption of grain products (including beer and wine,) obesity and nutritionally-related heath maladies made their first appearance.
Fast forward to the present day and for the white collar middleclass any physical stress is self-imposed stress related to fitness endeavors. To replicate the intense physical stresses primordial man encountered on an ongoing daily basis, modern man heads to the gym to perform stressful aerobic activity or engage in stressful progressive resistance training with free weights. Unfortunately for modern man, he invariably selects the wrong exercises and imposes insufficient levels of stress.
The gym efforts are insufficiently stressful, insufficiently intense. To be sufficiently stressful, stress levels must equal or exceed momentary capacity. A 70% effort, regardless the mode, method or tool, is insufficient to trigger the adaptive response.
All our fitness efforts are aimed at achieving two fundamental benefits from our fitness efforts: we engage in progressive resistance training to add more lean muscle mass; we engage in aerobic training (and diet) to radically decrease body fat. New muscle begets strength increases; reduced body fat dramatically improves stamina and endurance.
- To trigger hypertrophy, muscle growth, we need a 102% training effort in the weight room. Anything less is insufficient.
- To mobilize and oxidize body fat, we need a 102% effort in our cardio. Anything less is insufficient.
Keep in mind that there are many expressions of 102%. Keep in mind that a 102% effort on a bad day is a whole lot less than a 102% effort on a good day. Capacity is a shifting target. The duty of the trainee is to assault the 100% barrier, regardless if capacity on that day and time is diminished (bad day) or amplified (good day.) Regardless if you are up or down, any workout can be made productive and result producing by bumping up against some expression of “limit.”
In progressive resistance training, a 100% effort is attained when we are unable to perform another rep. If you are bench pressing and push a 150 pound barbell for 8 reps and are unable to push rep 9, you have given 100%. What more could you do? What is a 102% effort? Struggling with all our collective might to add another rep to our current best: that degree of struggle, pushing or pulling past capacity exemplifies the 102% effort. The 102% effort obtainable in every session.
You do not have to attempt a rep that you know you will not make. A man knows when he has nothing left. Do not quit before you reach that point and give all you have – and a little more – you do not have to fail with a rep to know that it is beyond your capacity and you should not attempt it. In effective progressive resistance training, the ‘barely completed’ final rep is the gold standard for gains. Establish exercise benchmarks in all the rep range, then seek to exceed them.
In steady-state cardiovascular training, 100% effort is attained when you power along at just below the oxygen-debt threshold at an even pace for an extended period. Burst cardio protocol is to sprint all out, recover, then sprint again. Regardless the aerobic protocol, sweat is key. The cardio trainee seeks to break a sweat, the more the better. Toxins and waste products are removed by sweating and intense sweat in a fit athlete is the sure sign of organ health and cardio functionality. Have cardio benchmarks, times for modes and distances, then seek to exceed them.
Only by reintroducing 100% + effort into our weight training and cardio training we successfully replicate the stresses experienced by our primordial ancestors. Those that do build a hard, lean, muscular body can retain that body with the onset of age. Strength and stamina retard the aging process – assuming some sort of sensible nutritional game plan is in place and adhered to.
You can undo all the good work in the gym with bad eating. Stuff your face on carbs and drink beer you will end up very strong, very fit and very fat – like a strong, fit, fat 350-pound NFL offensive guard.
Embrace effort and struggle. Avoid any expert, mode or method that says they’ve figured a way to obtain the gains without herculean effort. Without struggle, without stress, without assaulting the barriers of our current limits and capacities, nothing of any transformational consequence can or will occur. How could it? If 70% efforts in the gym provoked gains, we’d be a nation full of perfect physiques. Seek out struggle, that’s where the gains hide.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.