Maximizing Strength: Why Going Through the Motions Isn’t Enough

Going Through the Motions Makes You Weak

About six months ago, I was getting extremely frustrated with how slowly my lifts were increasing, and I felt I was missing out on a great opportunity to maximize my strength gains. I spent time doing some research and closely examining my training, and discovered one critical mistake I’d been making my entire lifting career (short as it may be).

I would get stronger, but it was always a struggle – I’d get used to a weight, add some pounds to the bar, then grind out reps until that weight felt light. I never got under the bar and felt like I was going to dominate the weight; it was always an uphill battle, fighting to push or pull whatever heavy force was resisting me.

I finally discovered a new method that helped tremendously, and I figured it was time to write this and share my methods with you all..

Here was my problem – I didn’t approach every set like it was my maximum set, and give it 100%, even though I’ve heard that’s the thing to do. Maybe you’ve heard this before, maybe you haven’t, but more often than not I see people making the exact same mistake I did. It looks something like this.

Someone is trying to work up to their final set on the bench press, 5 reps at 275lbs. Typically this person will unrack the bar, do 10-15 reps to get warmed up, bump the weight up to 135, do a few casual reps, 225, more reps, then finally get the weight to 275. At this point, it’s serious. They take a break, grab some water, then out comes the chalk, wrist wraps, earbuds, spotter, the whole nine yards. The person gets under the bar, grinds out five reps while turning redder than Elmo and grunting and screaming, then get up and walk away.
Don’t do this.

I see 90% of people in my gym do this on various lifts, and I used to train this way too. This is absolutely the wrong way to train for maximum strength.

The trick is to give 100% for every single rep you do. It doesn’t matter if it’s 135lbs, 65lbs, or 405lbs – attack that bar and move it with everything you have in you. Benching? Explode that bar off your chest as fast as you can. Squatting? Don’t strain and moan under the bar the whole way up, or casually go through the motions on light squats – get to full depth, and explode up out of there as fast as possible. You get the point.Why it Works

Why It Works

Here’s the geeky part, where I try to explain on a fairly basic level why this helps. If you stop reading now you’ll get the main idea, but keep reading to learn why. According to a cool little rule called the all-or-none principle, your muscle fibers either fire at 100%, or 0%. There is no middle ground.


It’s easy to think that when benching an empty bar, you tone it down to only 10% force, where maxing out requires 100%, but that’s not the case. With a light weight and sub-maximal effort, every muscle fiber involved fires at 100%, but you just don’t recruit every muscle fiber available. A light bench as describe above (casual, slow, not super focused) might recruit 50% of available fibers, but they all work at 100%, where as a max-effort, explosive bench recruits 100% of available fibers, all working at 100%.
Say your training program calls for five sets of three, ramping up the weight with each set. By saving your max effort for the last two sets like most people do, the first three are only recruiting a portion of your available muscle, and shouldn’t count. Essentially you are wasting sixty percent of your workout (since only two of the five sets actually train your muscles to produce maximal force).

Giving 100% on every set however, means your muscles get trained 100% of the workout, which is what you want to do! Trust me, this makes all the difference in the world, and by the time those heavy sets come, you’ll be fired up and ready to dominate them.
It doesn’t matter if the weight feels super light, you are still exerting maximum force, and training the speed and explosiveness of the lift. I have been doing this for months, and seen my lifts jump up much faster. Heavier weights aren’t as intimidating, the bar moves faster, and overall I feel much stronger.


NOTE: This is not necessarily intended for bodybuilders where the primary concern is hypertrophy and time under tension is a factor – this is just a tip for maximum strength. Can it make your muscles grow? Sure. But it’s not necessarily designed for bodybuilders, who often use slow reps to extend their time under tension, hoping to stimulate the muscle into growth.

photo credit: CelebMuscle via photopin cc