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The Missing Piece of the Puzzle That Stops You Making Gains

Let’s get things straight…


“You do not get big lifting weights. You get big recovering from lifting weights”


Steve Hall


This is one of my favourite quotes. It is so simple, so true, and so often ignored that I feel it is important to keep reminding people of this fact.


The muscle building equation can be simplified to this:


Stimulus + Recovery = Adaptation


Now assuming your training is decent and provides an appropriate stimulus the rest of your gains (adaptations) are dependent on recovery.


So, you need to train enough that you don’t exceed your capacity to recover. Likewise, if you can improve your recovery you can make better/faster adaptations. Alternatively, you can handle more training stress. Assuming you intelligently program things the addition of more training stress would equate to more gains (so long as you stay within your recovery capacity).


Improving fatigue management/recovery means you can shift the curve of your gains up and to the right.

As I have said repeatedly, the two most powerful recovery tools at your disposal are:


  1. Sleep
  2. Nutrition


If you focus on these consistently you will be rewarded.


Managing your stress is another key element to fatigue management. Read THIS article for some key stress management tips.


When you have sleep, diet, and stress management dialled in then you are primed to make great progress in the gym. This leads me onto what you do in the gym. This too can have a huge impact on fatigue management.


Intelligent Program Design = Fatigue Management


Training to build muscle is fatiguing in nature. Intelligently, planning your training means you can manage this fatigue from session to session to allow you to keep progressing. If, however, every time you set foot in the gym you go full #beastmode, train to annihilate a muscle, and half kill yourself then, fatigue will accumulate very quickly. Too quickly! Your body won’t be able to recover and adapt. You’ll have dug a hole too big to get back out of.


The goal of your training is not simply to recover. It is to adapt!


Burying yourself in the gym might feel like the right thing to do. It might have a cathartic quality to it but, it will limit your results if you do it every time. Even with sleep, diet, and stress under control there is only so hard you can push before you break.


This is not an excuse to take it easy in the gym!


Most people need to train harder to see results.


In fact, this article probably only applies to 5% (or less) of gym goers. People who have the ability to train insanely hard. If you are a stimulus junkie. If you get a sick kind of pleasure with torturing yourself in the gym. If you enjoy leg day…this article is for you.


Imagine the hardest session you’ve ever done. Recall how you felt during that session. Picture the sweaty, broken, mess you were in at the end of the session. Sprawled out on the floor gasping for air or curled up in the foetal position? Your muscles burnt, waves of nausea washing over you, being completely wiped out, and it taking an eternity for you to drag yourself out of the gym to head home.


Fun times!


If we rank that as a 10/10 effort I’d suggest you rarely hit a 10/10 to make the best gains possible. Instead you probably want to hit an 8/10 most of the time. Then when the time calls and progress dictates it, dip in to the 9-10/10 range. Go there occasionally, but don’t make it your default setting.


If you hang out in the 8/10 range on average then, you know you are providing a challenge to the muscles. A stimulus to grow and, better yet, a stimulus you can recover from. With recovery comes adaptation. Adaptation can be taken as progress in this context. Progress in the weights you lifted, the number of reps you did, the overall number of sets you can do. Long story short, it means bigger and stronger muscles.


The benefits of regularly hitting an 8/10 training session are:


  • It provides a growth signal
  • Sessions take 45-70 mins and you are able to carry on with your day after a quick shower and a bite to eat
  • You can train frequently
  • You reduce injury risk
  • You do not generate a bunch of anxiety about how hard every visit to the gym is


Hitting 10/10 usually plays out as follows:


  • It provides a growth signal
  • Sessions take 70-120 mins and it takes you 20 mins just to gather yourself enough to get in the shower. Getting dressed happens in slow motion. Eating a meal…forget it you still feel sick! All told, it’s about an hour after the session before you feel vaguely human
  • You canNOT train frequently – recovery takes a few more days and the debilitating DOMS you get mean that training 3-4 x week is the maximum that is vaguely sustainable (even that is pushing it!)
  • You INCREASE injury risk
  • You generate a SHIT-TON of anxiety about how hard every visit to the gym is


Does this sound familiar to you? If it does, congratulations, you’re probably the sort of crazy bastard who can do a 10/10 effort. You are also the sort of person who probably needs a reminder that not every session should be a 10/10.


Training balls to the wall every session is a false economy. It takes more than it gives and limits the overall training you can handle. Less overall training = less gains.


Recovery strategies can only take you so far!


If you are a 10/10 kind of trainer then, ensure your sleep, nutrition, and stress management are all dialled in. This will create a greater tolerance for training. Imagine that your ability to train hard is a cup. By getting sleep, nutrition, and stress under control that cup can be bigger. Perhaps it goes from being a regular sized glass to a pint glass. That’s a significant increase in size! It will not expand to the size of a swimming pool though! If won’t even grow to be a gallon jug size.


If you keep pushing 10/10 training sessions your cup (however large it is) will eventually overflow. You will not be able to handle the training you are trying to pour in. At this point you need to manage your fatigue from the training perspective.


Plan your training intelligently. Make it more challenging over time and allow for incremental progress. Make 8/10 the default setting and structure times to push to a 9-10/10 when appropriate. Do not try to ride 10/10 long-term. There is no long-term for 99.99% of you following this strategy.


To conclude I’ll give you another of my favourite training related quotes…


“Smart training is hard training, but hard training is not necessarily smart!”


Want some help building a smart training plan? Go here

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