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  • Writer's pictureRichard Thomson

How much do you lift, bro?

Beautiful Cartman

How much do you lift? How heavy can you bench press? Or deadlift? Or squat? I. Really. Could. Not. Care. Less.

Except that I could. But it's important we tease out two separate concepts here.

One is about measuring progressive overload, which is a really, really good idea if we're doing gym work. "What's progressive overload?" I hear you ask. Oh. Actually. None of you asked. Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. The joy of not having a live audience. At its simplest the idea is that if in January you're lifting 15kg for 3 sets of 12 squats and in November you're lifting 15kg for 3 sets of 12 squats then you're probably wasting your time. Unless, you know, you were in a coma for six months. Or you had a massive accident. Or if between January and November you went to the gym zero times. (In which case that's actually pretty great your weights haven't dropped off. High fives all round.)

But if you're going regularly, or even semi-regularly, I really recommend you take a note of your numbers. Your numbers for the same exercise will vary depending on how many you do of something. Don't believe me? Just try lifting your absolute maximum once, then try doing 3 sets of 12 of that. Oh no. Don't. You'll definitely break yourself. But subject to that caveat - and a caveat for those of you doing consistent, serious weight work and thinking about deload (more on that in the future) - your numbers should be going up most of the time. They will plateau from time to time, and you'll find some exercises easier to build numbers on than others, and eventually you will hit a limit at which point you probably can't get any stronger without adding more food (if you want to fit in with us super-cool people at the gym call it "fuel") and therefore weight (which may or may not be what you want).

But your numbers really, really should be going up. If you are working out at least twice a week, you should expect that every time you go there will be gains. They may be tiny. With those 15kg squats, next time you go, try the 17.5kg bar, or the 20kg bar. Maybe you manage all 3 sets of 12 with that weight, and next time you pick up the 25. Or maybe you don't. Maybe you manage the 20kg for 2 reps, and you do the other 10 with the 15. And then set 2 you manage one rep with the 20 and 11 with the 15, and set 3 you just do the 15. That's great. I'm happy. It's all about incremental gains. In the same way that if you are losing weight the first half stone (3.17515kg for those of you born after 1990...I'm so down with the kids...) may fly off but then it all slows down, likewise if you're new to weightlifting at all, or new to a certain exercise or muscle group, the weight increase will at first be more rapid and then it slows. But it can still happen. You just have to work harder for a smaller return. Frustrating? Maybe. But that 6-pack isn't going to magic itself there.

(Note for those of you in the Les Mills fan-club: if you're doing BodyPump, they may go up verrrrry slowly. BodyPump is essentially one set of 300 reps of each exercise so charging up through the weights is achievable, but it's a much slower process.)

Which brings me, very scrappily to the other concept I promised I'd tease out at the start. I knew you were paying attention. I knew you'd be sad if I didn't come back to it. Sometimes I hear a client's goal is "I want to be able to deadlift 100kg" or "I want to be able to squat 100kg" (a goal they've not infrequently been encouraged into by a trainer). This is the point at which I think someone's real goals have become detached from the process. Lifting certain weights in certain ways certain amounts is the PROCESS by which we achieve SOMETHING ELSE. Unless you're competing, the amount you lift should not be the goal in and of itself. Why? Because you may not safely be able to lift that weight at your weight. Or because of your back. Or your knees. Or your pelvic floor. Want to look ripped? Be a size X? Have that 6 pack/flat stomach/flatter stomach/just less of a beer belly. Lifting huge weights may be part of that process. But it's process. Not goal.

So the moral of today's story is keep a note of your numbers. Type it in your phone. Go old-school and write it on a bit of paper. And little by little, safely, safely, let's get those numbers up.

How else are you going to be a beefcake?

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