The Science of making progress through… Screwing Up

This is something near and dear to my heart…

I know it seems a little silly to think about, the whole fact that f*cking up something can make you improve. But hear me out.

turkish get-ups with a group class

As with all good things, we’ll start this off with a tale of two people who want to get in shape (and take drastically different routes to get there).

We’ll start with person “A” (we’ll call this personal Allison).

Allison has been thinking about getting in shape for a while now. She’s never really lost her freshman 15 from college, and seems to have picked up a few more since then that no amount of dieting or spin classes can get rid of.

She heard about this gym down the road that offers “kick ass” workouts that will leave you sweating and exhausted with a ton of variety to eliminate boredom.

They preach training hard every day, always doing the most you can and all kinds of cool sounding things like that.

Allison decides to try the gym out, signs up for a year membership and decides she’s going to be all in on this one, it’s her last ditch effort to get rid of this stubborn weight that has been plaguing her for years.

After a few months, she feels great, and looks better too. Some of the weight has come off, and that cool “whole 30” (or whatever diet) seems to really be working for her.

Her joints might ache, and the calluses that ripped open on her hands and constant sore back are just the price to pay for looking good, right?

After a while longer, she suffers her first shoulder injury from a workout that was designed to push her to the max of what she could do, her trainer kept on her yelling “you got this” and other cheerleader type of things you should hear from your trainers.

But she can’t shake this nagging injury.

Her trainer tells her not to worry about going to the doctor because they went to the perform better summit and learned how to fix this problem.

But it’s still there.

She keeps at her workouts, drops down in weights for her workout, and can’t seem to keep off the weight she lost like she did before. Maybe another round of her miracle diet will fix it…

After a while, with a few pounds gained back, an excruciatingly sore shoulder, constant back problems and a host of other small injuries(along with lots of small bouts of sickness and trouble sleeping), Allison gets frustrated and quits.

She’ll later find out she had overtrained by pushing herself too hard for so many months. Her body never got a chance to recover with her focus being so much on the “fun” training, pushing herself to new limits every day. Her body was rebelling from the lack of recovery and overuse by messing with her sleep cycles and that “little injury” she had was a torn rotator cuf… ouch.

Now lets meet person “B”(we’ll call her Barbara).

Barbara also decided to get into weight training like Allison, because she heard it was a great way to not only lose body fat, but also to learn to enjoy life more.

Barbara too struggled with weight, and between all the diets, running programs, and cardio at home workout DVD’s, she didn’t ever seem to get the results promised by the ads.

So she decided to get a trainer.

Upon some google searching, Barbara found a trainer who had been using these kettlebell things for about a decade to help his students get into amazing shape and help them live a more fulfilling life.

After a few sessions, Barbara noticed that there wasn’t a ton of variety in the workouts from week to week. Maybe the number of repetitions, sets, or weights changed slightly, but never anything too drastic overall.

After a few weeks, the program for the classes changed. New workouts were added to the board and it seemed that again for a few weeks there wouldn’t be too much variety.

This was okay since she now knew what to expect when she came to classes and got a feel for how her body reacted to the different weights on the lifts she was performing as opposed to constantly varying the workouts and never knowing where your “5 rep max” truly is.

After 6 months, Barbara felt stuck with some of her lifts. She’d been making great progress so far, lost about 10 pounds on the scale and somehow magically more inches from her waist than she thought would come with the 10 pounds…

But her focus, as her trainer advised her, had shifted to getting stronger, moving better, and trying to make consistent steady progress.

Instead of training to failure nonstop, the reasonable pace she was pushing herself at seemed… almost too easy, so she decided to go for it(once again) and upgrade her arsenal to going heavier on everything.

Noticing this, her trainer walked over and gave her a small piece of advice before she moved up in the lifts.

If you fail, fail like a professional.

“Fail like a professional?” Barbara was confused on what this meant. After all, isn’t failing rather unprofessional?

He explained further, “if you don’t get the lift, instead of just losing all the tension you’ve built up, letting the weight come crashing down(in this case), and almost dropping it to the floor… just simply stop at the sticking point and under control, bring the weight back to the starting position, and that’s all you have for that day. Try again next time and see if you’ve made progress”

It somehow made sense to Barbara, so she gave it a shot. She made the attempt, and the weight didn’t quite go up, she pulled it back down under control and set it down on the floor just like she’d picked it up. She didn’t feel super frustrated, just understood that today wasn’t her day.

The point of these two tales… be like Barbara.

I know it seems counter intuitive, but most people push too hard too often for too long and their body burns out to the tune of injuries, metabolic disorders, and frustration.

By “failing like a professional” your body learns how to do the movement just as if you got through the entire range of motion.

The sticking point Barbara found was the changeover between two sets of muscles doing the work. The first set stopped moving the joint and the other was starting. The sticking point therefore is a lack of strength at that changeover and can be trained to be stronger with isometric holds.(see video below)

You can also train through this by literally just working the portion of the movement you’re no good at… in my own personal example, this was the pull-up.

I would literally do the bottom half for 5 reps then rest, pausing at the “top” of the movement(1/2 of the pull-up), then go back and do the top half of the movement, pausing at the “bottom” of the movement. By doing lots of brief 1 second pauses at the 1/2 way point of the pull-up where I was stuck, I eventually trained out the sticking point.

I’ve used this method with everyone I train when they get close to that “maxish” effort during a session, and never have them do anything that compromises the integrity of the movement. After all, HOW you do the movement is more important than anything else (amount of weight, reps, anything….)

This has skyrocketed my student’s success in their training and drastically reduced the amount of injuries from previous trainers they’ve had overall. In fact, a lot of them have somehow magically “rehabbed” old injuries… strange(maybe they were never hurt and just moving poorly… 🤔)

So, the science behind this(and yes, there is something to back this up) is that we’re never training failure, not really. But rather, teaching the body to do what the body does, become one magnificent machine by learning proper mechanics and focusing on technique over everything.

Stay Strong My Friends.
~Justin