It doesn’t matter what the discipline or the hobby that humans engage in their tendency to get lost in the here and now and make decisions that when taken in the context of the larger time frame are harmful and not helpful. As a trainer who has been working in and training in powerlifting for over a decade it can be one of my main blockages when coaching newer athletes or lifters that they don’t necessarily have the intuitive help of experience to help them guide their decisions. This is referred to as the curse of knowledge in psychology
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.
The longer-term goal and what decision is better for achieving it and what the ego-driven person in the here and now wants are normally diametrically opposed. In this article, I am going to use some stories and examples involving myself and some other non-lifting related examples to illustrate my point for some of the major minefields people let their short-sightedness walk them into.
It’s 2008 and the world economy has just taken a massive shit, this is one of the greatest opportunities for those sitting on the sidelines to get into the game of accruing capital. In the moment people panic and make stupid decisions for fear of the 1000 horrible things that eventually didn’t materialise.
Hold up what do you mean the second largest market catalase in the past 100 years was one of the greatest economic opportunities in a Millennial’s lifetime?
Markets are one of the greatest wealth generating tools ever devised by man and one of the shortest bets for economic gains you can ever make. On a long time frame, the stock market makes again year to year and normally outperforms property the typical idea of what people would consider being the safe bet. When you don’t zoom out to take a look at the performance of the stock market over the past 100 years and only look at it between January 2007 to January 2009 you could be forgiven for thinking it a terrible investment and not something you would want to consider. If you are only considering on investing in it for the next 2 years than sure it is a risky investment and you would probably be better off putting your money somewhere else.
Now let’s say you were me in 2008 and had savings in the region of around £9000 GBP and you were to just put it into a stock tracker and not touch it. Let’s do some math based on the FTSE 100 (tracker of the 100 biggest UK companies).
By entering the market at the worst possible time (2007) right before the collapse and realising the -31.3% loss from the recession of 2008 you would still have made a net gain of 24% over that 10-year period. If you timed your entry into the market near the bottom of the crash and put your lump sum in then you would have made a net gain of 73%.
Or option 3 is you are a complete and utter finical liability and spend your money paying back the shit debt you ignored and drinking. In which case you will realise a net loss of minus 100%+.
Now if we take this example and put it into training what are the very basic things you can do in the gym and not really pay too much attention to anything else and realise a compounding return?
- You can make sure you always lift with as good a technique as possible.
- You can make sure you always do more of something than you did last week (volume or weight lifted for example).
- You can make sure you recover as well as you can day to day within reason.
- You can make sure you prioritise the exercises you want to get better at.
If you were to just look at these 4 factors day to day, week to week and not worry about anything else. If you weren’t to invest in a coach, programme, courses, books or whatever else to further yourself. You will probably realise a better return in strength and ability than the vast majority of people
Why is that? Because the vast majority of people get distracted by many many questions. The best exercise selection, the best program, the best system, the best workout. You fucking name it. They worry about what is happening in the immediate or near to immediate time frame and end up missing the wood for the trees. Simply by taking care of the basics and worrying about nothing else you will get a better strength return than the vast majority of lifters.
Chasing the Purple Elephant of gains (Hubris).
From 2002 to about 2012 I lifting like a fucking idiot my technique was shit and I pushed myself as hard as I could every workout. My progress was incredibly sporadic and the amount of time I spent on the sidelines through injury and just generally being put through the meat grinder of shit movement and yolo programming.
260kg x 4 from 2012 (this was a few blocks of training before I actually snapped in two and had to take 7 months out of training)
260kg x 9 from 2016 about 3 years post-injury after having addressed many of my form issues and realising that pushing yourself hard as fuck every session was a really bad idea.
My deadlift form can be described as fucking abysmal from the first video I am going to be using my deadlift for another example in a bit and you will see that the example of form from 2012 is actually a pretty reasonable improvement!
From the period of 2009-2013, my maximum deadlift went from 260-290kg with quite a few side tracks for injury and problems with my back. For example, I was normal for me not to be able to walk for more than 400-500 meters without needing to sit down because my lower back would become stiff, numb and sore and would need to be de-loaded before I could waddle on for another 400-500 meters. I thought this was normal after deadlift, well it’s not fucking normal. I trained my deadlift HARD every session like compromising my form, lifting to close to failure every set and having to lie down breathing from my arse and wanting to be sick from every working set hard. I could only deadlift 1x per week really as a result and it was a fucking psychological event every time. Shouting, smelling salts, slapping, training partners the whole 9 yards. It was fun to be fair but also a lot of fucking effort for very little return.
From the period of 2014-2016, my deadlift PB went from 290kg-310kg with pretty much zero side tracks for injury. I trained deadlift 2 times per week with pretty high volumes (higher than the vast majority of my lifters can manage) and focused on how it was done and didn’t let myself do bad reps unless I was going for a PB of some kind, in which case my form didn’t really break down anyway. No deadlift session was really emotional trauma it was just business as usual really, I didn’t suffer from much back pain and I made similar progress at a higher level of strength. There were still sets and sessions where I needed to dig deep but they were NOWHERE near as common and generally I have been injury free since 2012 with the exception of my shoulder which is a constant bother.
Not being willing to take short-term pain for long-term gain.
There are quite a few times in training when you are best advised to take a step back before you take any steps forward it could be to deal with a grip issue, a form issue, a niggle before it comes to an injury or anything from a laundry list of issues that should be addressed but never get anything other than the later excuse.
I used mixed grip from 2002-2011 pretty much exclusively in my deadlift training because I wanted to have a good grip and lots of experts say it’s what you should do (as an aside the vast fucking majority of problems in people’s training comes from listening to experts). I never changed my grip, right hand over and left hand under just as God and Pavel intended. What happened, I developed one hell of a twist in my deadlift exhibit A a 1 rep max attempt done in 2010
How I can deadlift like that and still have the ability to walk is fucking beyond me. Lesson learned – hook grip, changing the mixed grip you use or training with straps and using mixed grip sparingly to allow you to perform on the platform are the better options than just using the same grip forever and developing a huge movement issue and putting yourself in the firing line for catastrophic injury.
How long does it take to learn how to hook grip or to get over the pain 8-12 weeks say? I don’t have the actual answer this just seems like a realistic ballpark. What is a 2-3 month investment to offset potential issues that will limit your deadlift for 10 or more years? Nothing really in fact in the light of that reality it seems fucking stupid not to make the time investment. Well, I can confirm from experience it was fucking stupid not to take the time to address it.
If you have some issue that you know needs addressed but will take a bit of time or humble pie to address. Put your ego in its fucking box where it belongs and make the investment.
Not looking after the bottom line.
Some of the worst advice you can probably get in strength training is to chase personal bests. This might seem a bit silly to say this but if you zoom out and take it into context then the answer really is obvious.
The hierarchy of important factors for strength gain according to me
Volume Accumulation (skill specific hypertrophy)
The intensity of contraction (motor unit overload)
The velocity of contraction (skill overload)
Any kind of hypertrophy in the muscle (periphery or trickle down adaptation)
Let’s look at two examples of programming and discuss the merits of each and where the seemingly bigger PB is probably by far in a way the worst of the two outcomes.
In example one the person is doing a program such as 5/3/1 and has achieved a rep out set of 8 reps or a massive +5 rep personal best. The example of person two only managed a rep out set of 5 so only a +2 rep personal best. If you were to offer someone a +5 rep personal best or a +2 rep personal best I think we all know which one or programme the person would choose.
If you choose program one then you are going to suffer when it comes to producing an increase in your top end strength because person two has so much more volume, volumes at higher intensities and total work over the week that provided they aren’t going to overtrain they are DEFINITELY going to get stronger and stronger faster than person one who might be hitting some sweet ass PBS.
Lifting a weight for more reps in one set has endurance based adaptations that might not carry over to your one rep max, your form will be nowhere near as good and your total volume of work will be much less. You are basically worse off in all of the 4 factors I have put above for being key to strength gain.
Just worrying about hitting personal best sets without worrying about hitting key performance indicators (KPIs) in training is a sure fire way to not progress as fast or as consistently as those who don’t get bogged down chasing numbers.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and I hope it has challenged some of your current thought patterns or reminded you of some good habits you might have fallen out of.