Musings Personal Training

Incremental Improvements

fendygaze / DeviantArt

The role of incremental improvements is vastly under-appreciated by most people. I’ve had a few situations in my training recently where the benefit of repeating small things leads to a bigger advancement, almost unexpectedly. I’d also say the same applies to life and work activities too.

Another benefit of incremental improvements is that they can be achieved with less initial work, even though over time the amount of effort may be the same or more. But over that time progressive progress is likely, which will motivate you to continue.

Trying to lose 5kg in a week is pretty ridiculous for most people. Likewise going into a gym with no training and attempting to deadlift twice your bodyweight is pretty unlikely to end well. But for some reason we have come to expect these sort of jumps. Social media doesn’t always help either. Seeing progress pictures or personal bests, that in reality may have taken years to achieve, portrayed as quick wins make us think we should be able to do the same.

I’m not suggesting that you start reworking your whole life by hacking habits right left and centre. That’s just as daft as looking for massive changes in a short space of time. But for things you want to work towards, consider looking for ways in which to make smaller changes.

For example, I wanted to improve my bodyweight exercise skills and work my abs some more. Partly because of reading Convict Conditioning, and partly because these skills carry over to all sorts of other activities. Instead of trying to add in these exercises as well as all my other training, which would likely lead to failure due to time and energy limits, I adapted the ab exercises I do each week. I started out by adding captains chair knee raises to the end of my gym sessions. I did these three times a week for many weeks. Then one day, after they had felt easier for a few sessions, I tried a leg raise. And found I could do it! I then updated my training plan to include both exercises. More recently I’ve moved to doing hanging knee and leg raises. These are harder because it requires extra effort to stabilise the core while moving the legs, but of course also works the grip and shoulders. I’ve dropped the rep range down now, and I’m working on making sure I get good form before upping the reps. But had I tried, from the outset, to do a hanging leg raise I would almost certainly have failed to do even one well-controlled rep. I would then have been disheartened and likely given up.

Reset your expectations! Work on making small changes or working towards small improvements. See yourself succeed at those. Be motivated to continue! This is the key to one day going “oh wow, I can do this now!” 🙂


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