Pace yourself for quality, continual gains while working out

Elvis Elvis

Working out is like a firealarm drill. Remember those times in school, say during an exam or a particularly boring lecture? It was your saving grace when the fire alarm went off and you could enjoy the freedom of not being in class! The same is true of working out at the gym.

When we stimulate the body to grow (through the use of proper nutrition and resistance training), it’s like a fire drill. It frees us from the humdrum of HOMEOSTASIS, or the tendency for the body to keep its lazy ass in the same state (instead of growing like you want it to!). However…

Remember what happened when you had a fire drill almost every day because some dumbass with nothing to do decided to pull ‘em like nobody’s business? You lost all excitement. It became routine. In fact, if there actually was a fire in the school and your life was at stake, you just took your bloody time because you didn’t know any different!

Once again, the same is true with working out. We get so overworked enough as it is in this information-overloaded world. Stress levels are at an all-time high. Suicide rates are through the roof compared to decades past. Obesity is a continent-wide epidemic. People have these “fires” in their life and don’t even know it, some burning to the point where, if they don’t wake up soon IT WILL KILL THEM!

So like a fire drill, your aims at improving your fitness and health need to be paced at a level where you don’t tax your body beyond its limitations, dulling its senses to a point of apathy and inactivity – ie. “homeostasis”. (yes we do have limitations…*sorry for those of you who think you’re Superman*) But the good news is we can push ourselves and further these limitations over time. This is where we can make the best gains! But only with thoughtful and controlled training…

Now, there are a couple types of people who will read this. The first group will be excited to hear that there’s something they can do, while working out, to achieve greater gains (whether you’re 50 pounds over weight, or you want to GAIN 50 lbs over the course of a couple years, these same principles apply). You are the types of people who, given the right attitudes and determination, WILL succeed. One of my favourite quotes goes “You’re already a success…it just hasn’t shown up yet.” So when you hear the words “thoughtful and controlled training…” don’t fret! You’re already on the right track and these adjustments to your routine will be minimal and *well* worth the effort. Keep givin’ it hard when you’re working out and it’ll pay off!

On the other hand, there are those of you who will read this looking for some sort of magic “cure” for the hard-gainer disease. You’ll want the “easy way out” and I’ll be honest to say I’m not sorry to disappoint you because THERE IS NO EASY WAY OUT WHEN WORKING OUT!. If this is offensive, then by all means, feel free to find another source of information to pacify and soothe your self-imposed pity trips on why you can’t make any gains… you are only limited to what you limit yourself to. Excellent outcomes are most certainly not the result of lackluster effort and performance. To be good, you only have to start a journey and get better as you go along.

“And now that we have the entire class paying attention…”

So like we said, remember back to the days of fire drills in school. For those of you who never had fire drills, for the sake of this article let’s just pretend that you went to a school that DID have them.

Pace yourself for quality, continual gains while working out

Our body’s response to working out is very similar to our example. Every time we pull something crazy and nuts during our workouts, (eg. a load of supersets, low weight-super slow, going heavier than normal, 10 x 10′s), it’s like those mischevious little hands get on the alarm lever and yank on it. The body stops itself and says “Whoa…what the HECK was that??” By adding these “shock techniques” to our routines, we begin to surprise the body’s response systems. All of a sudden, it has to cope with a stimulus it’s never encountered before.

Why is this good?

Well, think back to our example. Let’s say you walk out of English 101 to find a hallway of lockers turned into a hellish movie scene. What’s your first reaction?

If you’re smart and you can think with even marginal intelligence, you’ll run the other way and tell others to do the same!

Maybe for some this is a typical, day-to-day scene in your life. However, for most of you reading right now, this is highly unlikely to be the case. And because this is such a “new stimulus”, you react with intense and split-second responses (ie. Get the heck away!).

In terms of our body’s natural responses to a shocking stimulus, the reaction will be the same when we apply these principles when working out in the gym.

Think back to when you started working out. No matter what exercise you did, no matter what weight, or what routine you were on, chances are you made some pretty good gains for the first little while. As we parallel this train of thought with our fire drill/inferno example, we can see how it makes sense:

*Working out, up until recently, has been a foreign concept…

*Not only this, but while working out, you’ve never used heavy weights, slow reps, etc…

These are the alarms and flames that send our body into response. And the Number 1 Most Wanted Response is…


But herein is a word of caution…

Because of our body’s natural ability to adapt to stimuli, we need to be thoughtful in how we add these ingredients of “shock” to our routine.

Why is it that most everybody will run from a fire or take off when an alarm is sounded? Because they are not adapted and conditioned to the situation.

And yet, think about fire fighters. What is it with these brave and (sometimes) crazy individuals that allows them to do the opposite and run INTO a blazing inferno, risking their lives to save others? Because they have become conditioned to the situation. It’s become a “routine” thing for them (pun totally intended).

Just like a fire fighter (or that bored student with the fire drills), our bodies adapt at an amazing rate! Just take a look at all the people in the gym who have been doing the same routine, day in, day out. Same weights. Same exercises. They might even pick their spandex at the same time of day when working out! And take a look at the results that they have from this type of routine. Chances are, the gains are slim to none…IF they’ve maintained the same stimulus on their body for a period of time that is longer than the time is has taken for their body to adapt to the stimulus.

In light of this, you need to make sure that you PACE YOURSELF. Just as our bodies adapt to produce muscle gains and growth, these gains can just as well stagnate if we allow the body to fall into a state of homeostasis (See the basic definition at top of article). Again, homeostasis is:

homeostasis / n. / (also “homoeostasis”) the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, esp. as maintained by physiological processes (*homeostatic / adj. / modern Latin, from Greek “homoios” ‘like’)

This isn’t so much of a warning to keep changing things up in your routine, as it is to focus on how often you introduce these techniques. But what I’ve found over the years of personally working out in the gym continually and conversing with people who have both hardcore and easy going aspirations, is that when you try to add too much “shock factor” to a routine, these growth-stimulating techniques lose their effectiveness over time.

I can’t stress this enough, that you need to pace yourself in how you add these techniques to a routine. In fact, I’ll say it a few more times just for emphasis:



There we go.

The important thing to keep in mind when you’re reading this (or ANY other information on body building routines) is that what works for someone else may or may not work for you, to varying degrees. As well, another bit of wisdom to remember is the old adage…

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

I know there will always be people out there who have to put their two-bits in, no matter what the topic. If you don’t agree, read something else or start your own website!

Now, on to my justification for the need to pace yourself with regards to introducing new techniques…

We know the body is lazy.

We know the body adapts (quite quickly).

Because of this, wouldn’t it make the most sense to plan how you implement any hardcore strategy to your routine? I mean, think about it. If you continually did the same thing over and over again (just like pulling those fire alarms), your body would just get used to it. This is true with both those new to, as well as those already far down, the road of body building.

If you’re using an advanced in routine while working out and are already finding that certain shock-exercises aren’t working as well, you know what I’m talking about. In terms of reversing this dead-end in your routine, I think the only thing to do is take a really hard look at the basics of all the movements you’re doing, and go back to the simplest ones you haven’t used in ages. As those start to wear off in terms of effectiveness, start re-introducing techniques that shock the body into new growth. (This is, of course, after you’ve exhausted all other factors and variables in your routine for optimum gains). Always remember that the goal is to surprise the heck out of the body (just like a fire drill) so it can adapt and grow.

If you’re more of a beginner, I’m going to tell you one thing that I wish I never did when I started working out. You can go out, read the magazines, read online about all the cool routines to put mass on like crazy. But always remember that the body WILL adapt over time. And if you use these advanced techniques when you’re just starting to work out, here’s your question of the day:

Pop Quiz: Guess how effective these techniques will really be when your routine starts hitting a plateau?

(If you answered “very effective”, you’ve just failed the course with flying colors…)

Save the big guns for last. If you’re just starting to pound the iron, or have been working out for quite some time but without any real seriousness, my opinion would be to stick with just the basics for your routine until the effectiveness of those techniques wears off. Then, and only then would I recommend introducing higher-intensity exercises to your routine. Pacing yourself now as you begin working out, even though it might be frustrating and hard to resist, will pay off in the long run in terms of continual gains.