Home Blog Weight Training Programs: Don’t Major in the Minutia

Weight Training Programs: Don’t Major in the Minutia

Written on October 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm, by Eric Cressey

Last night, I was on my laptop searching for an old weight training program I’d written up a while back, and I accidentally stumbled upon some written goals of mine from back in 2003.  Based on the “Created on” date in Microsoft Excel, I had written them up in the spring of my senior year of college.

On one hand, I was proud of myself for – at age 22 – knowing enough to write down the goals that I wanted to achieve.  On the other hand, I have to laugh about just how out-of-whack my priorities were.

You see, I’d listed loads of strength, body weight, and body fat percentage goals first and foremost.  In fact, there were 41 rows worth of performance and physique goals; hard to believe that ladies weren’t lining up to date this Type A stallion, huh?  Can you say neurotic?  I was like this guy, but with better eyesight and a decent deadlift.

That’s just self-deprecating humor, though.  What was actually really sad was how distorted my perception of reality really was, as rows 42-46 consisted of the following:

42. Resolve shoulder pain.
43. Get rid of lower back tightness.
44. Get accepted to graduate school.
45. Get a graduate assistantship in research or coaching.
46. Have 3-4 articles published.

At the time, I was coming off a lower back “tweak” while deadlifting, but more problematic was my right shoulder, which hurt so much that it kept me up at night and negatively affected not only my training, but my everyday life.  It was an old tennis injury from high school that just kept getting worse and worse.

Likewise, I hadn’t gotten word on whether or not I’d been accepted to graduate school, so I was up in the air on whether I needed to start looking for jobs for after graduation, or whether I’d end up moving south to enroll at the University of Connecticut.

Finally, I’d just had my first article published, and there was some momentum in place on which I could build a successful writing career.

In other words, I was in pain, unsure about where I’d be living in two months, potentially without a job, and all but ignoring a potentially career-changing opportunity – yet I managed to list 41 performance and physique goals more important than any of these concerns.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was clearly buried under all the bullshit I had convinced myself was important.  They made signs like this for guys like me.

Maybe it was the acceptance phone call from my future advisor at the UCONN; the experience of moving to a new area and being out on my own; interaction with a lot of highly-motivated, career-oriented people and successful athletes; the natural maturation process; or a combination of all these factors, but I got my act together that fall and figured out my priorities.  That fall, I read everything I could get my hands on to get rid of the pain in my shoulder (canceled an impending surgery) and lower back.  I put in 70 hour weeks among classes, volunteering in the varsity weight rooms and human performance lab, and personal training and bartending on the side.  I published my first article at T-Nation and in Men’s Fitness.  In short, I grew the hell up and stopped losing sleep over whether I’d remembered to take my forearm circumference measurements on the third Tuesday of the month.

Some folks might think that this shift in my priorities interfered with my training progress, but in reality, the opposite was true.  In that first year of graduate school, I put over 100 pounds on both my squat and deadlift and 40 pounds on my bench press – and did so pain-free, which made training even more enjoyable.  I learned a ton about the importance of training environment as I lifted around athletes and other coaches in the varsity weight rooms, and even caught the powerlifting bug, competing for the first time in June of 2004.  I even won a few trophies absurdly large trophies that wildly overstated my accomplishments.

In short, when I stopped majoring in the minutia and clearly defined the priorities that were important to me – being pain-free, enjoying training, and seeing it as a means of becoming better in a profession that I loved – a world of opportunities opened up for me.  And, surprisingly, some of the “old” priority goals were easier to attain because I didn’t force them or put as much pressure on myself.

That was almost a decade years ago, and I’ve had to make similar reevaluations of my priorities since that time, from opening a business, to proposing to my wife, to buying a house, to getting a puppy, to hiring employees, to working with charities.  There are some priorities that will always remain for me, though; strength and conditioning has to be fun, and it has to improve my quality of life, not take away from it. These are values that are reflected in the weight training programs that I write, too.

To that end, how have your priorities changed over your training career?  And, how have these changes impacted your progress in the gym?

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  • Good read!

    1. Less “max effort work” and thinking more about the long term training effect.

    2. Less pain and injuries. 🙂

  • Amen Eric!

    Do you know what happened to my training when work and a marriage and a house and kids forced me to gradually (EXACTLY as you said it) grow the hell up?

    I cut the fluff. I didn’t obsess over getting the perfect macronutrient ratio spread over 6 small meals. I invited a few friends along and a couple times per week we picked things up and put them down in my basement. We hop the picnic table and sprint the hill in my back yard. Gradually, my bench went to well over 350, squat and DL over 500, at body weight just under 200.

    Oh gosh how much time and effort I wasted over about 10 years, holding on to the minutia with such a tight grip.

  • R Smith

    In the last two years I’ve come to believe there is an inverse relationship between worrying about the minutia and success.

    The more I worried about exactitude regarding macro-nutrient ratios, body fat percentage and overall weight, the weaker I got. The more I’ve committed to making training meaningful and fun while focusing on movement quality and overall health, the stronger I’ve gotten and better I’ve looked and felt.


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