It’s a Tuesday night and the clock on the living room wall hits midnight. Sarah Connor is stressed to her eyeballs. She’s spent the evening at a friend’s party mostly worrying about getting home because she has to be back at the office by 7am, and it’s a 30 minute drive home. Sleep is not something Sarah is happy to sacrifice. She’s itching to bolt home as fast as possible.
She tells quick goodbyes and throws her tired body into her Q7 Audi, starts the car and reverses to the street. She shifts to ‘D’. With lead heavy petrol running through her veins Sarah rockets towards the night sky kissed highway.
Interlude. At this point you probably assume that I’ll write about Sarah speeding her way through the night like a true gearhead, driving off a cliff, severely injuring herself and killing a large colony of nearly extinct special birds nesting half way between the cliff and the ground? No. Too morbid for today.
Fifteen minutes into her raging drive home, beacons of blue flash from the darkness in her rearview mirror. Highway’s finest in uniform request her attention. Sarah’s been doing 105km per hour on an 80km zone. Licence, registrations and the time to call a tow truck.
Suspension of licence for 3 months, fines enough to make a deposit on a nuclear missile in Russia. Luckily she hadn’t been drinking. Still, good luck trying to sleep now.
Like Sarah, when we limit our focus on to the end goal we tend to ignore that the fastest (and let’s face it, often the sexiest, most marketable) way of getting somewhere is rarely the safest or the most sustainable. Strength training is no exception.
The unsexy, idiot proof strength training
Even the name echoes Minnesota more than California: constant resistance strength training.
People who thrive on this tend to be the ones who treat the gym as practice. As a means to an end. They find their excitement in life from outside of the training sessions. Let’s face it, this is how it should be instead of being the gym warrior who lives to lift.
I am really working hard here to not go on a tangent on a topic I’ve repeated ad nauseam… To keep this article somewhat short, check here for more on what ad nauseum here could look like.
Factors making constant resistance strength training safer
Muscles adapt faster to the strength training compared to connective tissue. That means ligaments, tendons and all the other fancily named areas of the body. They can’t keep up with the strength gains the muscles are reaping.
So if you keep lifting heavier weights by progressing too fast the rest of the body isn’t necessarily ready for it. Constant resistance strength training method uses this to your advantage by forcing you to wait until you really are ready to progress.
Here’s how I use it with my clients
Choose a weight you can do for a given amount of reps. This really depends on the exercise. You wouldn’t want to do a one repetition max lift on a say, I don’t know, ½ kneeling cable chop. I’ll give you two examples here, both lower and higher rep exercises. The principles stay the same, regardless of the exercise.
Constant strength training using trapbar
Warm up to a weight you can do for 6 reps. Weight should be challenging, but all the reps should be doable without grinding at any point.
First warm up set 60kg x5 reps
Second warm up set 80kg x5 reps
Worksets 100kg x 6 reps x 2 sets
Now for the next however many workouts do that same thing until it starts to feel easier, even easy. Then add 5-10kg to the bar and start all over again. That’s it.
Constant strength training using ½ kneeling cable chop
Here’s an exercise better suited to a higher repetition 8+ training. No need to warm up the same way we did on trapbar. But as always, get a general warm up done before the training part of your workout.
Worksets 12.5kg x 8 reps x 2-3 sets
Once easy-ish add weight. Little jumps in here are more feasible versus 5-10kg.
Listen to your body
Some days the weight feels tough. Do fewer sets, train to train another day. Sometimes it feels lighter, add a set. But don’t do too much. There’s a point, a fine line of diminishing returns. Again, train to train another day.
Because you don’t have strict target numbers to hit each workout, you’ll never feel behind. You never have to force it. And this is great news for us who have kids, busy work, are tending a nut farm, and other stuff that often impairs our sleep and training.
Basically, don’t force the training if you’ve spent the night roaming the nut farm.
This sounds just about as boring as shoveling lost thoughts of the poets past
Well, it depends what you want out of your training time. If you’re anything like my typical readers you want sustainable results to thrive in the activities you love. So, no, we don’t think that’s boring. If you love simplicity, no, definitely not boring. And results are never boring.
You could also go about things without any structure and just do whatever smokes your goat that day. Fun? Yep, but not necessarily super progressive for strength gains. Unless you’re an absolute beginner.
But if you want to feel like a kid in a pawn toy shop each time you get changed for your workout clothes, yes you’ll probably find this boring. I’d make a case that you should find excitement from joining the local circus, not from from the gym.
This also sounds like it takes a long time to see results
What’s long? Longer than other training methods where you follow pre-established percentages to lift a certain amount of weight each day? Or where you work up to a heavy lift for four weeks, deload, and start again?
Yes. But I argue constant resistance strength training is more sustainable and you’re less likely to burn out and injure yourself. Also, you don’t have to be a slave to the numbers or turn each training session into a maths class.
How about linear progression where you keep adding reps or weight each training session? Yes, this will take longer. But same caveats from above apply. Besides, unless you’re a true beginner there’s only so long you can keep progressing linearly.
What did we learn today?
Pick a weight you can do for 8 reps (or 6, or 9, or 10, 11, or 12…) without grinding the weight. Keep repeating that for however many workouts it takes to make the weight feel easier, even easy. Then add more weight and start again. The jumps in weight don’t need to be humangus.
Constant resistance strength training method requires patience. You have to be in it for the long game. Which means this works well for you and me. We are past the age of ego driven gym fanaticism.
Your progress will be more sustainable and your strength gains deeply rooted and solidified. You’ll spend a long time getting strong on a weight before progressing. Solidified. Great word. One more time, solidified.
This method seems to work especially well for those who are in somewhat tune with their body, can listen to what it’s whispering to them, and don’t give two shits about what anyone else thinks about their lifting.
For the next three months Sarah embraced car pooling
She was able to get her co-worker Brian to pick her up each morning. Now, Brian was all about smart driving. He left ample time for the commute each morning.
Brian woke up earlier when he predicted the traffic would be bad (rain, roadworks…) And on the rare occasion when things didn’t go his way on the road, Brian was content at being late, “as my grandma used to say, some nasty shit you just can’t control.” Something for Sarah to meditate on.
Besides paying her fines, Sarah spent three months forking out for Ubers to get her kid to and from school, karate practice, football skill training and piano lessons. All by the same teacher.