Have you ever felt like your progress is reaching a horizontal asymptotic curve? You have consistently been training and watching your diet. However, it seems like the progress has not been as easy as it was when you first started. People around you seem to be getting stronger, but you have been lifting the same weight for months. Chris is looking bigger these days, but you aren’t either getting leaner or more muscular. Then you start to think, “How does Chris get big and strong so fast?”
Or if you’ve ever sustained an injury, either in the gym or doing other stuff, and it feels like it’s taking forever to get better. “It’s been so long,” and you asked yourself, “Why am I still feeling this pain?” You have consulted your coach, physical therapist, chiropractor, the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner, and it’s still there. You tried more spiritual/magical stuff such as stretching, foam rolling, and even miracle healing at the church. No improvement. And again, you begin to wonder, “I have done so much, yet, nothing’s happening. What does it take to recover from this injury?”
You feel slightly lost in these situations because progress seems to come to everyone else but you. You start to think about whether your effort will yield any returns and whether will you ever reach your goal.
I have been in this situation before and have helped people who were in this situation. The answer is plain and simple.
But you might not like it!
Thank you for coming to my TED talk! See you again next month. 😂
Joking aside, the real answer is TIME.
To prove this, try doing this. Find the strongest guy in your gym, the guy who looks the biggest, and the fittest-looking person you know, anyone you strive to look/perform like. Ask them, how long have they been at it?
I guarantee you, 95% of the time, that the answer is more than 5 years. You’ll very likely also hear, “More than 10 years”.
Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting a female powerlifter in her 50s. She’s originally from the US and is in Singapore for work. Her name is Laura, and she has been competing in powerlifting since her 20s.
From our short chat, there was one thing that surprised me. Laura said that her numbers have been consistently increasing throughout her 20-25 years of strength training!
If you are curious, there’s a website where you can see her competition results since 2001: https://www.openpowerlifting.org/u/laurastyrlund
Seeing the data readily available on that website, I wondered if I could see the same trend from other lifters who have been powerlifting for a long time. Intuitively, my next move is to search the data from some of the more famous Masters lifters who have competed for a while.
The first one I remembered was David Ricks – https://www.instagram.com/ricks.david/?hl=en
David is a legendary lifter whose competition results have been recorded since 1981. He’s the defending World Champion of Masters 3 (above 60-years old) 93kg category since 2019. Here are his results: https://www.openpowerlifting.org/u/davidricks
Back in the day, equipped powerlifting was the norm. Equipped means that you are allowed to wear special equipment for your squat, bench, and deadlift, such as knee wraps and suits.
Like Laura, David also competed in single-ply equipped powerlifting before he started competing in the now more popular “raw” or classic championship. Since he competed equipped for most of his career, let’s compare his results in the equipped division.
His oldest squat result back in 1981 as a 21 years old, 75kg young man was 240kg. At his peak, he was 52 years old and squatted 352.5kg at a body weight of 89kg. If I tell you that you can still make progress after 31 years of training, doesn’t that sound very encouraging?
My training log
I’m nowhere as experienced or accomplished as Laura and David in my lifting career. In 1981, I was still swimming in my father’s balls. I only started training in 2015 or 2016 (my memory is a bit hazy on the exact date) and in the past 7-8 years of training, there were a few highs and lows of training.
In early 2019, I had my first “big” injury of my training career – I was experiencing sharp pain when squatting and deadliftting. Training progress was non-existent until I got help from Nick D’Agostino, about eight months later. Nine months after the injury, I had a 1 kg deadlift PR. Nine months of zero progress feels terribly long. But then…
Between 2020 to 2022, my overhead press improved by 1kg. Booooo😩
Between November 2022 to April 2023, my overhead press jumped by 7.5kg. Yayyy!😀
Between late 2020 to late 2021, my squat jumped by 17.5kg. Yayyy! 😀
Between 2021 and 2023, my squat improved by 2.5kg. Boooooo😩
In training, there will be “drought periods” whereby you make little to no progress and times whereby you feel like “luck” is on your side and you make huge gains. I’m sure this will be the case for my training for the next 40 years.
Let me attach my list of PRs since 2018. For the past 5 years, my squat has roughly improved by 8kgs, press by 4.7kgs, deadlift by 11kgs, and bench by 6kgs per year. A few years ago, 170kg squat 170kgs and deadlifting 200kgs were a figment of my imagination. Luckily I didn’t give up in 2019 because of the injury or in 2022 after not making any progress in the press for 2 years.
Morale of the story:
Everyone will experience being “stuck” in their training or their injuries at one point in their journey.
If there are things that you can address to solve the problem, solve it! If not, keep going! Get ready for your time to come!
A quote from astronaut Chris Hadfield suddenly popped up in my mind.
“To me, it’s simple: if you’ve got the time, use it to get ready. What else could you possibly have to do that’s more important? Yes, maybe you’ll learn how to do a few things you’ll never wind up actually needing to do, but that’s a much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start.”
― Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
He told a story about how an astronaut’s career involves a lot of waiting for their turn to be sent on a mission and to keep training and preparing despite nothing being guaranteed.
That might also apply to us, whose pursuit is health and strength. We can’t be sure that our ability to deadlift 100kg will come in handy one day, but if we need it 30 years from now to make daily activities easier, then why not?
The last takeaway I can offer is to accept that progress is not linear. (at least after Novice Linear Progression, haha!)
“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.”
― maybe Bill Gates