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Should We Really Fetishize ‘The Basics’?

In the world of forward thinking & go, go, GO, it’s so easy to get vacuumed up into the endless tsunami of wanting more yesterday.

Your car isn’t new enough, your girlfriend isn’t hot enough, you’re not big enough, strong enough and you don’t make enough money.

And if you could just somehow squat more, deadlift more, do more pull ups and train harder, all the above problems will evaporate. You’ll get more respect which will get you the promotion to solve the money issue. Solving the money issue will get you hotter women as your status will have risen and of course, better cars will readily available because of all the extra #paper.

While this never satisfied mindset is great for growth and there have been many rags to riches stories made from stubbornly applying this mindset, it’s also quite harmful to long term progress in many facets – but particularly when it comes to lifting, training & gaining muscle/strength.

Before the prominence of the internet, a never satisfied mindset led people to read books nobody else was reading in their town. It led people to venture out further instead of falling into a traditional life, following in the footsteps of the parents. Although now with everyone’s ‘lives’ available on display at our fingertips 24/7, it can leave you feeling like you’re never doing enough, working hard enough or getting where you should be….

As they say, comparison is the thief of joy.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy - Black and White Watercolor Art Print |  Inspirational words, Life quotes, Quotes white

And in regards to training, comparison is the thief of progress too.

We see heroes and gurus on Instagram making linear progress even at a seriously advanced level – think 5kg each week on an already 160kg weighted dip, and then we look down at the plates hanging off our belt and the two 25kg plates seem almost laughable.

So we rush to add as much weight as they’re adding. We compromise technique either knowingly or unknowingly in the process, which leads to burnout, plateaus and worse still, a dreaded injury.

And if we weren’t comparing ourselves to these hero-gurus, we would be pleased with our progress; we wouldn’t know any different. Anyone in the real know, knows as well these heroes are enhanced (i.e. taking steroids) anyway, as nobody at that stage in the game makes big jumps in progress linearly. Some of these dudes are even in calorie deficits yet still seeing these weekly 5/10 kg strength gains!

For as long as I can remember I’ve chased progressive overload as much as possible, to the point that any session I didn’t achieve it would feel like a failure. Although come 2022, each time I’ve felt ready to progress I’ve deliberately regressed one level below where I just was.

For example, with my reverse Nordic curls I went back from the floor to using one yoga block under my back. I was tired of feeling like I was hunching my way up (flexing through the abs & closing the hips). With my handstand push ups I went back to paused pike push ups because I was fed up of feeling like I couldn’t keep enough shoulder lean and protraction.

The front lever row is yet another example too: while I can row the bar to my hips in an ‘L’ shape and do 10 or more tucked front lever rows on rings, the range varies quite a bit and I was never really getting enough time in the part in the range where I was personally weak; the top. The solution was the arc row – a foot assisted version where you pull the hands down to the hips and aim to touch them each rep.

Left: Full ROM ‘L’ Front Lever Row (high intensity), Right: ‘Arc’ Ring Row (lower intensity)

Needless to say, this version allowed more control, more reps and a better feeling overall. And as obvious as this all is, our attachment to levels we think we must always train at are simply ego driven. Ultimately, nobody cares as much as you think and there’s a good reason many well known coaches push the conservative progression approach so much.

The classic example is Christopher Sommer of Gymnastics Bodies. While some say his approach is laughably slow in some cases (building up to 5×60 secs on tucked static holds before progressing), I really think there’s something in the idea of notching back a level and building the work capacity.

Christopher Sommer

You’re just so much less likely to develop bad habits that take time to iron out and more importantly, not hurt yourself by landing in snap city aka the land of the injured, impatient trainee.

It’s hard because paused ring rows don’t get 10% of the likes & views that a full ROM front lever row gets on the gram, and hence we feel we need to rival it in some form, which is nearly always with some progression we can just about do when the sun and mercury transit each other. Then we think that’s our working level but it really isn’t. Like the powerlifters always say: base your maxes off a daily max, not an all time max.

I read that years ago and didn’t get it. I guess being weaker and inexperienced at the time, I was never going to. After all this time though, I think it’s finally sinking in.

And lastly, as I reread this draft I noticed this could come across as a campaign for a deload or a period of coasting, idling and letting the foot off the gas. Don’t get it twisted, this is a campaign for going back ONE progression on a movement, not putting your feet up and using the pink dumbbells. In the weights world this is as simple as unloading 5-10% off the bar.

In the calisthenics/bodyweight world this could be any of the following and much much more:

  • Muscle ups > very lightly banded muscle ups
  • Ring dips > foot assisted ring dips
  • Straddle planche/front lever/back lever > advanced one leg straddle planche/front lever/back lever
  • Freestanding handstand work > higher volume wall assisted handstand work
  • Counterweighted one arm pull/chin ups > higher volume lighter progressions such as finger assisted mixed grip one arm pull/chin ups

Again, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of examples but the point itself is the key takeaway: going back just one mere progression and boosting performance there for a short while, will boost you forward again in due course when you come back to the harder version you were spinning your wheels with.

I can’t give you exact formulas and progression points as that’s getting into the realms of online coaching but just applying the principles from this post and being slightly more patient, and consistent by extension, will keep you safer, healthier and save so much time long term.

Another straight talking dose of reality for you! The truth sets you free, always. No gimmicks, no bullshit, just time tested methods.

Keep on trucking.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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