Here’s one of my chest workouts, captured on video by Ligia recently. I warmed up with standing cable flyes, followed by the workout, which consisted of incline dumbbell presses, dips, machine chest presses, lying cable flies and incline dumbbell flyes.
I talked about each exercise in various detail, giving advice gleaned from my experience. At the end of the video, I extended an invitation for bodybuilding-related questions. I’ve got about nine years of intensive experience in the gym, on both animal and vegan diets, and I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t along the way. If you’ve got some questions, I may have the answers.
Want to see me work out at the gym? Ligia filmed me during a recent workout, the first after taking a 1-month break due to travel and business. It was a whole body workout where I warmed up on the roman chair, then did the clean & press, pull-ups and stiff-legged deadlifts.
In-between the sets, I also talked about form and gym etiquette.
I’ve mentioned this before, but for the benefit of those just tuning into my website, I am a raw foodist, which means I eat mostly uncooked vegan foods, and that’s also how I obtain the protein for building muscle.
I began working out regularly again last fall, in the month of September. I was sidelined for a couple of months due to an ankle injury and my current goals are to: (1) add significant muscle mass and (2) prove that I can do it on raw food, without animal protein.
I wrote the articles after working out seriously and regularly for over 7 years (at the time), so the insights I laid down in them were solid. As good as they were, I was to discover another great insight about exercise, which was to affect me years down the road. It relates to both topics (exercise goals and the resolve to keep them).
It’s about the principle of weightlifting known as “Training to Failure“. You can watch the video or you can read the script (with some slight modifications) below.
I started doing this while in college, as I tried a lot of things in order to grow. I would train to failure on all sets (other than warm-ups) or just the last sets of my workouts, depending on my stamina and my drive on a given day.
Training to failure yielded results, no question about that. Pushing yourself to the limit often helps you discover new limits, beyond what you thought was possible. Coupled with good nutrition, plenty of rest and a proper, serious workout schedule, training to failure will yield results.
In part, it was responsible for my impressive gains in muscle mass and strength. Here’s what I looked like in September of 1994. There’s no way to get around it: I was a pencil-neck. I’d done a lot of swimming in high school and while it’d made me taller, it didn’t add any bulk at all to my body.
In September of 1994, just starting college.
And then here’s what I looked like in May of 1998.
In May of 1998, after a workout.
Big difference, right? That was an increase in weight from 135 lbs. to 195 lbs. and strength gains that went through the roof. I should clarify that I did not take steroids to look like that. I worked out to my limit and beyond, every workout, ate a lot and rested a lot (when I didn’t pull all-nighters to study for exams).
So, training to failure is a good thing, right? Not so fast.
As a practice, it’s a wonderful thing. You’re pushing yourself to the limit. Great! As a name, it’s bad.
Why? Because it’s insidious. The term “Failure Training” or “Exhaustion Training” crawls into your brain and slowly but surely, it begins to affect your attitude toward going to the gym and lifting weights. It takes years, but it’ll happen.
Unless you’re aware of what I’m telling you here, you won’t know why, but workouts and weightlifting will start to become boring to you. You’ll find yourself saying, “What’s the point? I’m lifting these weights up and down, it’s the same movements all the time, I repeat them till I can’t do any more, then I rest for a while and start over again. This is useless, there’s not future in it.”
I’m here to tell you that’s not you talking. You’re doing your part. You’re going to the gym, you’re lifting the weights, you’re eating right, resting, staying informed; you keep at it, but you’re discouraged.
What’s going on is that you’ve got faulty programming in your mind. You’ve gotten so used to the “failure training” that all training has become a failure for you. That’s how your mind now thinks of exercise, and you’re in a terrible situation.
Whoever called it “Training to Failure” made an unfortunate decision. Thankfully, we can fix it, but it’s going to take a bit of effort.
First, let’s start referring to it as “Expansion Training” or “Growth Training“. Make up your own name for it if you want, but it’s got to be something positive, something that encourages you to go on and is a good thing for your mind to recall. It’s got to help you visualize the results you want.
Think about it. Does “Failure Training” help you visualize big muscles or more strength? Not likely. But does “Growth Training” help you see more, bigger muscles? How about “Expansion Training”? Does that help you visualize breaking limits, expanding what you thought was possible?
There’s nothing wrong with the practice of training to exhaustion or to failure. It’s a wonderful thing. We just have to change the way we refer to it, and once we do that, a lot less people who are currently using the technique will get discouraged long-term.
I am currently in the process of trying to change my own thinking on it, after finding out the hard way why I lost the drive to work out years ago. This very thing was one of the reasons.
You may not think simple words can have that sort of power, but when you combine them with effort, pain, visualization and time, those insidious words can have an awful effect. That’s why a positive name change is so important, and it should have been at the top of the list when this technique was invented (or named).
Every time the term “Exhaustion Training” or “Failure Training” comes to your mind, replace it with “Expansion Training” or “Growth Training”. Every time you employ the technique and you push your body to the limit, visualize the positive: your muscles are growing, your body is getting bigger and stronger (or leaner if you want to lose weight). Don’t think about the micro-tears, don’t think about the pain, the exhaustion, and most certainly don’t think about failure. Think about how much you’re improving and how you’re keeping your body in shape, and how good it’s going to look. See yourself leaner, muscular, stronger — all around better.
That’s the way you should approach every “Expansion Training” set and for that matter, every workout, and you’ll be amazed at the results!
I learned these things the hard way. Maybe you won’t have to.
It may come naturally to you after a morning workout. You take a shower, then you’ll want to shave, since your hair’s been softened by the hot water. Don’t do it! There’s still plenty of blood right under your skin, thanks to the workout, and your hand muscles, having just lifted heavy weights, will inadvertently exert too much pressure on the skin. These two things will translate into cuts, cuts and more cuts… unless your face is tougher than treated leather.
Don’t eat right away.
Allow your body to relax a bit, for at least 30-60 minutes. You may be tempted to drink a shake, or dig into a steak, wanting to get some proteins and carbs into your body, but it’s not a good idea. You’ve just lifted heavy things or done some strenuous cardio, and your body is still racing. It needs time to relax and get back to normal before you can eat and digest food properly.
Don’t go outside in cold weather.
Sure, you may think you’re tough, because you’ve just bested yourself at the deadlift, leg press or bench press, but if you’ve broken out in sweat, and then you go outside in your workout clothes, or right after a shower, thinking you’ll be just fine for a few minutes, you may discover pneumonia couldn’t care less about your fitness level. Dry yourself thoroughly, get dressed properly, and then head outside.