An interesting oxymoronic truth in training is this: in order to succeed, you must fail. (In some exercises, such as the inverted row, in order to increase the intensity, you actually lower the bar, as opposed to raising it.) Without taking muscles to failure, development is retarded. The idea that one must explore failure limits in order find success seems counterintuitive, especially to some of my clients who are professionally geared toward success. Such clients are often tempted to quit at the end of the last effort at which perceived success is achieved. This tendency to stop before reaching failure is a natural tendency to prevent embarrassment. This tendency results from a series of false assumptions requiring what I like to call a little adjustment in perspective.
M. Scott Peck, M.D. said: “The process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one.” (The Road Less Traveled 1978) We often avoid things that are painful or activities at which we believe we’ll likely fail. I know more than a few gentlemen who ‘don’t like to dance’ because they believe they aren’t good dancers, and so avoid dancing. Dr. Peck goes on to state: ‘…let us inculcate in ourselves and in our children…the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved (in the solving of problems).” This counsel intended toward emotional and spiritual health is equally applicable to physical health.
The first of the “Four Noble Truths” Buddha taught is: “Life is suffering.” I never tell my clients “No pain, no gain!” (and, I’m not going to start saying it now), however one might easily see how such a catch phrase developed. The truth is, growth is painful. The trials and afflictions of life can be nearly emotionally debilitating at times. The death of a loved one, divorce, a wayward child…these are emotionally draining and can make us wonder if we can, or want to go on. We often realize, after the difficulty has passed, that we’ve become emotionally stronger for the trial. In the same way, physical growth comes at a price. A small example: a client of mine texted that his legs felt so weak the day after our workout, that he had a hard time catching himself when he jumped down from his tractor, because he had ‘jelly legs.’ He knows that’s a good sign. It means he worked hard and his legs will be stronger by the next time we’re scheduled to work legs.
When you’ve taken your skeletal muscles safely to failure, you’re on your way to success! There are rules for safely failing, and the rules need to be respected at all times. Control your body. Control your efforts and push to the limit of controlled failure. If you don’t know how to do that, get yourself a good trainer to teach you how. Adjust your perspective a bit, if needed. Adjust it to include the following positive attitudes: It feels good to sweat. It feels good to work. It feels good to explore the limits. It feels good to discover boundaries and to nudge them. It’s never embarrassing to fail during the struggle. It means you’ve given your best effort to the last moment and didn’t quit until your last ounce of strength was spent! It means the next time around, you’ll be stronger than you were today. Failure is necessary to success. You cannot have one without the other.
Sally Windham is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor in Blanco, TX. Please send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org