Rotten Resolutions

About the Author: Eric Cressey

By Eric Cressey

At the dawn of the New Year, billions of people will engage in conversations about how 2005 will be the year that they’ll turn over new leaves with profound New Year’s resolutions. I’m all for motivation, but quite frankly, I’d rather be a stowaway on one of Richard Simmons’ “It’s Okay for Tubby Bitches to Dance” cruises than be present for another one of these life-changing affirmations.

A New Year’s Note

Before I get to the meat and potatoes, I need to define the scope of this article. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that if you’re reading this magazine, you’re reasonably devoted to your health, appearance, and performance (or at least the first one). With that in mind, if your resolutions consist of “general health” things like “eat nutritious foods” or “get more sleep,” I’d encourage you to take the power cord to your computer and beat yourself senseless with it. Your number one responsibility on this planet should be the one to yourself. If you can’t handle the responsibility of taking care of yourself, how can you possibly expect to be good at taking care of others? We accept all kinds of responsibilities – jobs, children, mortgages, pets, you name it – but often ignore our responsibility to ourselves all the while. Being healthy is something that you should reaffirm with every action you take in every minute of your life; you don’t need to resolve to “try harder” in 2005. You need to quit talking and start acting.

That said, the resolutions to which I’m referring relate specifically to pushing the bar (pun somewhat intended) with your specific training and nutrition goals. Examples include improving lifts, speed, and agility; getting to a certain percentage body fat; and achieving a desired body weight through skeletal muscle hypertrophy.

What’s this guy’s problem?

Good question; I knew you’d ask (although I kind of hoped that you wouldn’t, as it would have saved me a lot of typing). Remember the first time you ever lifted? I sure do; my big brother brought me – a porky little seventh-grader with curly hair and rosy cheeks – to the high school weight room for the first time. Of course, egos predominated, so nobody was squatting or deadlifting; there was no chance that I’d be able to salvage my pride by using the reasonably conditioned legs I had from years of soccer. Instead, they plopped me right on the bench. I proceeded to get pinned under the just the bar (after a good fifteen second fight in which I almost got it past the sticking point, mind you). Now, let’s assume that I had actually known enough to keep lifting then. Chances are that I could have benched the big wheels within a year or so of training; it would seemingly have been a logical New Year’s resolution for me to set. However, when you consider that I probably wasn’t even strong enough to lift the 45-pound plates to load the bar for an attempt at the big wheels, then I’d be setting myself up for a world of failure – not exactly what a kid who already shopped in the “husky” section of Filenes with his mom really needed. On the other hand, if I had broken the “road to junior high bench press glory” down into a bunch of achievable mini-goals, then I would have been much better off.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Newbies are different; experienced lifters can come up with appropriate goals. Oh, really? In light of the following year-end assessments of 2004 resolutions from a thread on our forum, you might want to have humble pie instead of pecan pie this holiday season.

Lifter 1

2004 Resolutions: Squat 700, bench 500, and deadlift 600.

Year-End Self-Assessment: “No, no, and no. I had to straighten out issues with my squat. The good news is that I think I’m getting there. 600 [squat] was a joke at the last meet, and 625 felt very light as well.

I’m not being a bitch here, but if I had a legitimate shirt, I would have hit 500 on the bench. I paused 495 in training a couple of months before my last meet and wound up barely hitting 480 at the meet. So I was 20lbs shy.

I may or may not have had the deadlift in me, but I wound up with 570. I had more at that meet, but I’ll have to save that for next time. Bombing out of the September meet kind of screwed things in general.”

My Take: Aren’t the holidays supposed to be a happy time? Resolutions are even more troublesome for powerlifters, as nobody really competes on December 31. I true year-end lift total isn’t a reality, so it’s a lot more appropriate to go meet by meet and plan in weekly/monthly time frames.

Lifter 2

2004 Resolutions: Snatch grip deadlift 405, front squat 275, and power clean 315. “I think these are achievable. The clean may be pushing it. The others are an increase of maybe 50 pounds, but I have not focused my training on bringing them up before. I plan to focus on back for the rest of 03, which will assist each of those lifts.”

Year-End Self-Assessment: “No for everything. I *might* be able to put up 275 on the front squat right now, but I haven’t tried yet. The deadlift is not close; I’d be doing good to pull 345 snatch grip right now. The power clean was stupid, anyway. Boy, I suck.”

My Take: I don’t want to kick him while he’s down, but talk about setting yourself up for failure. Hell, he didn’t even test most of the lifts. It’s never a good sign when one of your goals is “stupid” by the end of the year. Ouch.

Lifter 3

2004 Resolutions: 300 bench, 350 Squat (ass to grass), 400+ parallel squat, and 500 deadlift. “All in all, I want to get stronger while staying lean. I’m currently just trying to get over 200 (at 195 right now). Ideally, I would love to be 210-220 by beginning of summer, lean out back to single digits BF, and then just focus on putting on the mass again.”

Year-End Self-Assessment: “Bench was close; I got 295 up last March. Squat: I think I was repping with 265 for 5×3 at one point. Deadlift -YEP! Body weight: got up to 210.

I would have easily achieved all my goals if I hadn’t gotten injured.”

My Take: Injuries threw a wrench in his resolutions; just imagine how much easier goal-setting would have been if he’d done it month-by-month. More importantly, he wouldn’t be frustrated now at year’s end. I’d much rather be frustrated about a less than optimal month than I would be for an entire year of shortcomings.

Lifter 4

2004 Resolutions: “Get my weight to 250; currently 225 at 6-4. 350 bench; currently 310 raw. 500 deadlift; currently 415 w/ straps (6mos ago). 400 squat; currently 335 on box squat slightly below parallel.”

Year-End Self-Assessment: “Body weight – Currently 255 but was as high as 272. Bench – Did 340 raw in early spring and haven’t tested since. But all my bench numbers have improved. Deadlift – 530. Squat – Box Squatted 475×1. All in all, a good year. Learned a lot about myself and what I can do if I get my mind right. I’m looking forward to ’05.

My Take: As you can see, this guy blew his goals away – probably by the end of August. It almost makes you wonder how this rapid achievement will impact his future goal-setting experience. It goes without saying that shorter-term goals are easier to approximate, so you won’t over- or undershoot your true capabilities. Plus, gains don’t come linearly; you might see a 30-lb. jump on a particular lift over the course of a session or two just by correcting your form, or a lift might be stalled while you focus on other areas. Monthly goal-setting allows you to accommodate these hills and valleys without getting too “up” or too “down” as you view your long-term goals.

I should also note that there were five posts by people on this thread who have since dropped off the face of the Earth; I can’t imagine that doing so was conducive to fulfilling their resolutions. All this is just the tip of the iceberg; there were dozens more regulars who didn’t report how things turned out for them.

Got a better idea, you schmuck?

Sure I do; I’d never offer constructive criticism without including solution recommendations. Figure out your long-term goal (or estimate it). Where do you want your life to go personally, academically, and professionally? Don’t resolve to do anything with this long-term goal; just hide it in the back of the refrigerator next to that moldy tub of cottage cheese that you keep forgetting to throw out. You’ll consider it every day, but it won’t be a tie that binds you; it can stay in the fridge, get tossed in the garbage, or revised as needed. One year doesn’t mean a damn thing in the grand scheme of things; you need to be thinking longer-term (your big goal) or shorter-term (what you can do right now to get closer to that goal). Let’s say that you’re hunched over your computer screen reading this and you decide that you want to get rid of your nagging shoulder injury. Are you going to wait until January 1 to get started, or are you going to fix your posture now so that your shoulders aren’t rounded and your upper back doesn’t look like that of a 90 year-old osteoporotic woman? If you’re a beanpole and need to pack on some size, are you going to wait until January 1 to start pushing the calories, or are you going to grab your fork and get to work on a steak while you’re reading the rest of this article? If that’s not enough of a foot in the ass, hopefully this appetizing reminder will help:

Now, let’s talk training. Do you really think that you can plan specifically for the entire year in one sitting? If you try to do so, you’ll be ignoring the value of cybernetic periodization, which involved modifying volume and intensity based on how you feel at different points in time. You’ll also be underestimating the value of the knowledge you’ll gain over the course of the year; this knowledge may impact your programming. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll be failing to take into account potential roadblocks such as injuries, personal obligations, and cases of volatile and unpredictable diarrhea (sorry for mentioning that last one, folks; I just needed an intense kicker to top off the paragraph).

What I’d like you to do for the next year is have twelve resolutions – one for each month of training. Your strengths and weaknesses are sure to change over this time period, so it makes more sense to hone in on what you can do in four-week cycles to get closer to your long-term goal. With one week left in each month, I want you to sit down and write out all your glaring weaknesses. They’ll be your priority as you plan for the next month – none of this two-months-in-advance planning. Don’t just say what you want; make several resolutions that relate how you’ll achieve your goals.

I’ll use myself as an example. My long-term training goal is to be an Elite powerlifter; I’ll have to make a Master’s class total first (hopefully at my next full meet – April 2005). I know where I need to be as well as where I stand now, having done a push-pull on December 18th. This competition helped me to better realize where my weaknesses exist, and in combination with what I already knew, I can now plan for the month of January. As I planned in late November, the remaining days in December will be used as a bridge between active recovery and introducing the already-calculated higher volume of my January program. For January, I resolve to:

1. Squat against a crapload of band tension in weeks 1, 2, and 4.

2. Utilize the safety squat bar for all good mornings to keep my shoulders healthy in spite of using this band tension.  Continue to hammer on my lockout on the bench.

3. Do more horizontal pulling .

4. Get into my new bench shirt twice (second and fourth full ROM bench sessions).

5. Continue with my shoulder and scapular stability prehabilitation (related to #3).

6. Devote more work to top-end deadlifting.

7. Do neck harness work once per week.

Chances are that the tasks at hand will be somewhat similar for February, but I won’t put anything in stone until the last week in January. The important thing is that I’m not just saying what I want to achieve; I’m delineating how I plan to going about getting the job done.

Closing thoughts

Summarily, I’m just encouraging you to break your long-term goals into smaller tasks and omit the classic one-year resolution altogether. If you can’t even accomplish short-term tasks specific to your goal, then how can you resolve to get things done over the course of an entire year? If you’re saving up for a vacation, do you expect to “earn” the money in lump sums off of 4-5 winning scratch tickets, or do you bust your butt day-in and day-out at work, accumulating a few bucks with every paycheck to get your closer to your goal? Why go for the whole shebang when you can’t even get part of it right? Have your long-term goals, and then recognize what you can do right now to get to them; stay away from the half-ass in between stuff, leaving New Year’s resolutions to those who won’t even be going to the gym anymore by the end of February.