To say that I’m sore today probably won’t raise any eyebrows. A gym addict that advocates high intensity training and regards the barbell as his best friend will be sore more often than not. Today, however, it’s an especially fascinating case of soreness that inhabits my muscles – more specifically my biceps and triceps.
What‘s fascinating is the following: this soreness is the result of a mere 14 sets distributed over just four different arm exercises (two per muscle group). Furthermore, none of these sets went beyond 5 reps. And the real shocker is the following: all sets were performed with light weights that I could curl, extend and press for high numbers if I was so inclined. Here is the exact routine:
1. Concentrated biceps curl (the seated version, using my leg as support), 3x5. 2. Rocky extensions, 3x5. 3. Biceps-chins, 4x5. 4. Triceps Pushdowns, 4x5.
And that – believe it or not – was all.
This is to be compared with my usual arm routine, which contains 30-45 sets, at least three exercises per muscle groups and a wide variety when it comes to the number of reps per set (usually anything within the range of 5 to 15, depending on exercise, mood, etc).
Hence my use of the word “fascinating” – because, indeed, it should be considered fascinating that the same muscles that are used to performing up to several hundred intense reps per week could be affected to such a degree by a total of only 35 reps – with light weights. To really underline my point it can be mentioned that I’m able to perform sets of biceps curls with a 80 kg (=176 pounds) barbell and on a good day I can perform 20 reps of biceps-chins – in one set.
So what did I do that provoked this reaction in my supposedly toughened muscle tissue? How come my arms ache from a routine that, on paper, looks like a warm-up?
Answer: I performed each rep with maximal concentration, commitment and engagement. And I performed each rep slowly. Very slowly. Slower than you think. At the end of each rep I squeezed the muscle involved as hard as I could and held it. Then I held it some more. Then I lowered it… s… l… o… w… l… y…
If you think this sounds easy, then think again. When I say I performed every single lift with maximal concentration I mean it. I was there – and nowhere else. I was 100% present. I was intent to make every rep count. I wasn´t just getting the numbers down – no, I was trying to envision the very molecules of my muscles and force them, with my mind, to become more engaged than ever before. I pictured them working. I saw through my own skin and looked directly at the working muscles and focused determinedly to make them squeeze harder. I performed these curls and pushdowns as if my life depended on it. I aimed for perfection. I was only thinking in the terms of quality and perfect execution. The dumbbell I used for the concentration curl was a weight I could curl for up to 20 reps per set. Now I curled it 20 reps – in total. The weight I used in the Triceps pushdowns is the same I always use – since it is the maximum weight on the machine in question. Just a week ago I performed 6x12 with that weight. Now I performed 4x5. That’s 20 reps instead of 72 – and still, as I feel the urge to repeat: this was actually enough to give me a good pump and, today, a sore triceps.
This is not only an anecdote from my own life at the gym. I write this in order to put the finger on a few important factors of weight training:
2. You only get good at what you do. You get good at exactly that – and nothing else. This means that in order for you to reach your goals you will have to prioritize – both when it comes to choosing your exercises and when it comes to the way you perform these exercises. Detailed goals lead to detailed results. Make sure to train for the kind of strength that you in fact are aiming for.
3. The possibilities of variations and alternations are infinite. This is one of the many reasons why weight training is the superior form of working out. Read more about this in my article named “9 reasons to lift weights”.
4. The mind is the most important muscle. I know, I know, I don’t mean it literally, I’m fully aware that the mind isn’t really a muscle, but I’m sure you get my drift. Your level of commitment and concentration are absolutely decisive at the gym. There are many important factors that you can experiment with – the choosing of exercises, the composition of your routine, the number of sets and reps, etcetera – but regardless of all those details the most important things will always be your mind, your ability to focus and your levels of commitment and presence.
I’ll end this post with a new photo, taken in Stockholm this weekend.
As usual, don’t hesitate to contact me via Penandbarbell@Gmail.com if you have any feedback, comments or questions.