NYR 1901: “Workout More.” The StrongLifts 5×5 Incident, SMART Goals.

The reason I decided to kick things off with “Workout More” is simple: fitness is on a lot of people’s minds right now, myself included. With the start of a new year (and summer a safe distance away) I have no problem making lofty fitness goals heading into January. And that’s what happened last year.

The StrongLifts 5×5 Incident

This time last year I was starting a workout program called StrongLifts 5×5. It promised simplicity, short workouts, and big results by focusing on basic lifts: bench, squats, and deadlifts. The idea is that you start small, really small, to the point where you might feel silly for the first few weeks. You focus on form, and just steadily increase the weight, five pounds each time.

I really enjoyed this at first. It felt a little weird doing squats with the tiny 2.5 pound plates in week 1, but watching the weight go up was fun and pretty soon it felt like I was pushing myself. Also, there’s an app that goes along with the program, which allowed me to easily track my progress. After a few weeks, I had a pretty satisfying little graph to look at. As you can see in the following screenshot, everything was going great until late February:

Here’s what happened.

It had been over a week since my last workout. The app has a feature where, if you go too long between workouts, it recommends that you “deload”.  This means instead of increasing your weight by the normal five pounds, you decrease the weight from your last workout by 10%. The idea is that, rather than push yourself too hard and risk injury, you take a step back and work your way back up.

I chose to ignore the deload feature. And now I was staring at the squat rack, having barely gotten through my warm up reps, and wondering if it was a good idea to try to lift this much weight. And I was taking my time – I was supposed to be resting for only two minutes, and seven had already gone by. When I noticed another guy waiting on the rack, I finally got my shoulders under the bar, lifted, and stumbled backward into the starting position.

As I went down I suddenly felt a tight pinch in my lower back. I tried to get back up; the bar didn’t move and the pain got worse. Pain is something you come to expect at the gym. But if you add doubt to the mix, that’s when panic sets in. It’s one thing to think to yourself, “this hurts.” It’s very different to think, “this hurts, and something’s wrong.”

By whole body tensed and I hoisted the bar upwards, so fast that I lost my balance. I tumbled forward, falling into the rack where (thankfully) the pins caught the bar. I slowly ducked out from under it, wincing, and looked around.

The only guy who seemed to have witnessed what happened was the guy waiting to use the rack. I started to unload the bar and he said he’d take care of it, rolling his eyes as I limped away. What had felt like a life or death drama was over in less than ten seconds.

And, as it turns out, so was my NYR. I basically stopped going to the gym after that. My second daughter was born in April, and I didn’t really go back to the gym regularly until October when I came up with the idea for this blog.

So why did I quit? The problem, I’ve decided, wasn’t with the StrongLifts 5×5 program. It was with my NYR. “Workout More” is not a great goal – it’s barely a goal at all.

SMART Goals

There’s an acronym that’s often used for goal setting: “SMART” Goals. The idea is that a good goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound. Saying I wanted to workout more in 2018 barely satisfied any of these.

With a little tinkering, I could have addressed most of the other criteria pretty quickly. I could have said, “Ok, my goal is to be able to lift X number of pounds by the end of the year.” That takes care of Specific, Measurable, Achievable (possibly), and Time Bound. But I still would have been missing one important thing: Relevance.

That’s the reason I gave up so easily. That morning when I decided to quit, I wasn’t saying to myself “I don’t think I can do this.” I was asking myself, “why am I even doing this?”

Why am I working out? What do I really want? Longevity? To feel better? To compete? To have more energy? To set a good example for others? Self actualization? To socialize?

Nope. After digging deep and giving this a lot of thought, I decided that my fitness goals are mostly motivated by one, simple idea:

I want to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

So that’s the plan for 2019. However, just like my goal in 2018, this one needs some tinkering. Next week, I’ll explain the process I went through to turn this idea into something a little more actionable. Because looking like Brad Pitt in 2019 won’t be easy… especially if you spent all of 2018 looking like David Wells.

2 thoughts on “NYR 1901: “Workout More.” The StrongLifts 5×5 Incident, SMART Goals.

  1. Really like the SMART concept. I started my physical transformation in January of last year and have fallen back in love with physical activity.

    I think some other important things to keep in mind is realizing that the Gym isn’t the only place to be active. The key is to be active! Walk, swim, run, get a fitness app for home use, do yoga…etc

    Part of my goal was to work out 4 times x week and I crushed it in 2019. Due to lower back issues (from not enough stretching…) I’m taking a T.O. for a bit.

    What other items help you stay on track during your goal progression to measure it effectively?

    Like

    1. Totally agree – biggest things for me so far to stay on track have been 1) tracking workouts (google sheets) and 2) external accountability (starting a blog and telling a bunch of people I’m going to do this haha). Good luck with your recovery.

      Like

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