Over the last few years I’ve struggled with the balance between analyzing and feeling. These are two traits I have, the former is a gift I came into the world with and the latter is something I’ve been developing. I’m all for training and developing the weakest link, as that is usually what holds you back in physical performance, development, and professional endeavors. So I decided to try a feeling approach to one area of my growth to see what result would come of it. Completely unlike me.
About 18 months ago I got back to the gym on a regular basis. My youngest son was just over a year old and we were able to utilize the child watch services at the YMCA. This opened up an opportunity for me to train at least once per week and get some physical balance back. The first 6 months were spotty, I generally showed up and mostly was just doing treadmill and a little weight training to get my muscles back in shape. Results were OK, I was able to regain my past performance like running a few miles easily and enough strength to bench press my own weight again.
After 6 months there this point where you plateau and don’t really gain too much. This is a critical point where you can either grow or lose motivation, both physically and psychologically. I initially thought about constructing a new workout routine, something suggested on bodybuilding.com or along those lines. But one day something felt really good when I was on a machine and finishing a set. I felt like that particular exercise was exactly what my body needed that day and getting me needed growth. This next idea came to me out of nowhere:
“What if I only trained what I felt like my body wanted to train?”
I decided that I wanted to try training in a way that felt good, not seemed good. In the past I was an avid reader of Muscle and Fitness magazine and really learned a lot about form, techniques, different nutrition and many other ‘Weider Principles‘. I had put together many routines and corrected many mistakes from this, but I also plateaued several times over the years.
I gave this approach a shot at first, going to the gym with no structure felt very aimless and I worried if it enough. But giving my body the chance to tell me what it needed and respond to it wound up feeling very good. Sure there were days where I only wanted to do legs or routines where I didn’t do parts that would balance things out. But I did experience a balance in my training. I discovered my body would feel good when I trained antagonistic muscles (triceps vs. biceps, hamstrings vs. quads, etc) and I didn’t have to plan it. The desire was just there.
Best of all, my results were there. I saw my need to increase weight and do that often. I naturally found myself doing exercises that I normally didn’t like doing (I dread Romanian Deadlifts) and best of all I was intrinsically motivated. I didn’t have to push through something I didn’t want to do because of a planned structure, I was going with my flow.
Here are the lessons I learned from training to the feeling rather than training to the routine:
- By training to the feeling I was able to meet the greatest need
- By using feeling I was able to focus my training and get more out of each exercise, not distracted by ‘everything else I needed to fit in’
- I got to my peak performance quicker than I had in the past
- I’m far more motivated by doing what I want to do than what I have to do
After a while I came to a balance with this approach, I would go to the gym with a routine in mind but I’d allow myself the opportunity to feel how my body is doing in a given day. Then I’d allow for a change in plans if I felt I needed it, and forgiving myself very quickly if I didn’t hit those other parts for the day. I knew I’d get back to them.
This change in routine produced great results:
- From start to 18 months I increased my bench press (weight for sets, not one rep max) by 13%
- My leg press weight increased by 28%
- Most of my antagonistic muscles (triceps and biceps in particular) were trained at a weight increase of 26-36%
I’m not training to compete in any sort of event. My motivation is to continue to grow stronger and be healthy. The interesting thing is I did eventually hit my next plateau and had to learn a new skill to break through that. I’ll share that secret in the updated post. But for now I can share that training to the feeling is worth a try, especially if a jolt is needed in your training routine.