Last summer, after a couple of years of getting into fitness and messing around with weights, I decided to start taking my lifting a bit more seriously and grow some decent muscle. Having been recommended by a few of my well-clued-up boys about what to do (shoutout Jonny and Chris – go check them out on Instagram), I spent around 6 months strength training on a 5×5 program.
What is 5×5?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, 5×5 is a strength training method whereby you choose compound lifts (exercises that employ several muscles as opposed to one, as in an isolation lift) in which you want to increase your strength, and you perform 5 sets of 5 reps of these exercises, with the goal of increasing the weight every time you come back to an exercise. For example, you might squat 60kg for 5×5 one week. The next week you would aim for 62.5kg or 65kg, and steadily increase this over time. You then pair these strength training exercises with some other lifts of higher reps and lighter weight.
I kept this program and style of training up for a long time, frequently training with a lot of volume and spending around two hours in the gym per session. I was working extremely hard, I got a lot stronger, and I saw huge progress.
So I quit.
I had a wake-up call.
The goal of increasing the weight in a 5×5 program makes it very easy to overdo it. Having previously trained for a long time using much lighter weights, I suddenly, over the course of only a few weeks, was demanding far more from my body than I ever had before. I got way too ahead of myself. Strength training does that to you. You quickly become so caught up and focused on how much weight you can pick up and put back down that you forget to be functional, to be flexible and to be fit.
And so, having jumped up to a 95kg deadlift from around 60kg in a very short time, one day, on my 3rd set of 5×5, something twinged in my back. I ploughed through my workout like any serious #fitspo would (joking, don’t do this) and continued to train just as hard for months afterwards, the whole time putting a huge amount of stress on a very fragile and irritated part of my body. This was last August. It’s now June and I’m still having problems with it.
Eventually, only 9 months later, having been advised by friends and physiotherapists, I’ve decided to calm it down. I’ve taken my training down a notch (or 5), I’ve reduced the frequency with which I train, and I’m just taking it all a little bit easier on my body.
What’s the matter, aren’t you tough?
Here’s the thing. I love the gym. I adore the feeling I get when I walk in ready to hit my workout. I love the buzz I get when I’m halfway through my set or when I finish and I’m shaking and feeling so alive. I’m guessing you’re here because you do too. And because I love it so much, I don’t ever want to stop. The goal is to do this forever, not to make all my progress in a year. But in my strength training I got lost, which I think a lot of us do.
I know you want to come out of the gym every session having achieved something new or having smashed your last PR, but that’s not how it should be. You’re not an Olympic lifter. You don’t have a team of professionals supporting you, coaching you, guiding you on nutrition and rest and training. It’s okay if you don’t break a record every time. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody, not even yourself. You do have to train responsibly and safely, and aim for slow, gentle progress.
Because, at the end of the day, you will reach a plateau. No matter how strong you get, you’ll eventually hit a limit where you can’t lift heavier: where you are physically unable to add a couple of kilos to your lift every week, because you’ve reached your genetic potential. And so, if you hit this plateau when you’re in your early twenties – what happens next? When you’ve peaked? What do you plan to do for the rest of your life? Or when you’ve messed up your back because you went too heavy trying to beat a PR?
Puts it into perspective, doesn’t it?
I’m not saying don’t strength train. 5×5 is a fantastic program for those who want to progress in their lifts.
There’s no rush.
Take it easy.
Take it slow.
If you love the gym and you love working out, you can do this forever. If you mess up your knees or your back because you got too caught up chasing numbers that you went too heavy too soon, your gym life will be short-lived.
Maybe it will take you a couple more weeks to beat your PR.
Maybe you will have a few sessions where you leave the gym thinking “damn, I really think I could have hit that weight today.”
Do it next time.
Better to walk away feeling hungry for more, than to eat so much you feel sick.
Better to work up slowly to beating your last PR, than to do too much too soon and hurt yourself (take it from me, crippled lil bon.)
Whether it’s an ego thing or a pride thing, whether it’s out of stubbornness or determination, just drop it. You’ll get there if you take it slowly. You might not if you rush it. And it’s not worth injuring yourself for the sake of an “awesome gym sesh.”
Slow and steady wins the race, and you have so much time until the finish line.
Take it easy lovelies,
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Injured yourself too? Read my blog on “How To Stay In Shape When You Can’t Train” – simple steps to prevent you from losing your hard-earned progress.