Two gym goofs killing your gains

By Matt Perryman

The other morning at the gym while people-watching between sets, I watched this slim guy, looked to be in his 20s, sit down at the preacher-curl bench with far too much weight.

He loaded up the EZ bar with a 15 kilo plates on each side. (That’s the 35s for the Americans.)

I thought to myself, I can curl that for maybe 8 good, though hard reps, if I’m standing up. On the preacher bench, which puts your shoulders at an angle by supporting your arms out in front of you — cutting out all the “body English” — I doubt I’d get even one clean rep.

I knew this kid was not about to curl that weight.

Sure enough, as I observed him over the next few minutes, his reps went through a solid 5-degree range of motion, right at the top part where gravity isn’t bothering you much.

He had that weight in his hands and moved it, but he didn’t curl it for even one rep.

I’ve always preached the gospel of adding weight + getting stronger. This principle, progressive overload, is one of the most basic rules of lifting. If you want a muscle to grow larger, give it a reason.

The impulse to load up the bar is entirely defensible. Watch most people at the gym and you’ll find that they never get aggressive enough with the weights they lift. For every bruh loading up the leg press with 10 plates a side and moving it two inches, there’s another kid flapping his arms in the air while he holding dumbbells that present zero challenge.

Thing about the young bucks, a) they care about big arms more than most anything, and b) there’s the “show off” factor. That leads them to load up the bar alright. But weight lifted, alone, is not the game.

I suggest to you that these are equal but opposite sides of a single error.

When lifting a weight, it matters how you do it.

It matters how you get to the point that you can lift it.

The operative word in “getting stronger” is the getting. There’s a process, a sequence to follow, and really it’s down to patience and consistency.

If I gave unsolicited advice in the gym, I’d have told him to knock the weight down from 15s to 5s and work through a full ROM, all the way down and back up. That would stretch out the muscles, put them under maximum tension, build strength around the elbow, and look nowhere near as goofy.

Then spend the next year working up, cruising with the same weight, and when necessary backing off.

All that show-off weight is doing jack, assuming he’s trying to grow and strengthen his bicepticles.

I leave you with two things to chew on here.

1- “Pride goeth before a fall.” Ego and vanity, amplified by online clout-chasing, can lead you into stupid decisions counter to your goals.

2- Lifting weights involves a tremendous degree of skill, focus, concentration, and mind-body awareness.

That second thing is where my own mind and heart is these days. If you’d like my help with these skills and focus in your own training, or anywhere else in your life, click here to begin the journey.

Matt Perryman

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