When I was a kid I loved trick-or-treating around the neighborhood for Halloween. In fact, I’d say it was probably my favorite holiday. Getting dressed up in an awesome costume (I had a killer gangster costume complete with a burned-cork mustache) was great, but obviously coming home with a pillow case full of candy was even better. That heavy pillow case was filled with fun size candy bars, Sixlets, chalky Smarties, the occasional full size candy bar from a really awesome house and every once in a while the dreaded Chinese finger trap.
I don’t know what kind of horrible person thinks it’s acceptable to hand out Chinese finger traps at Halloween, but maybe they don’t understand that “trick or treat” is not open for negotiation or interpretation. It means: “Hand over the candy.”
In any case, it happened almost every year. I remember the first time I stuck my fingers in it and tried to pull them apart which resulted in sort of a bemused “I see what you did there.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that no matter how hard I pulled, my fingers were not coming out. On the other hand (no pun intended) if I just gently pushed my fingers together, I could easily escape from the snare.
Making easy progress in the gym is the exact same thing.
You can push harder and harder only to find yourself more and more stuck. Results do not come about from effort, and in fact more effort almost always results in more unintended consequences like pain and injury.
When you find yourself pushing harder to make progress, stop. Take a step back. Then find a direction you can easily move in and go in that direction. Before you know it you can make progress in BOTH directions – the one you were originally trying to move in and the new direction you chose. With your fingers free, you can move in any direction.
If this is all too abstract for you, here are some examples:
Your deadlift max is stuck and no matter how many times you pull heavy you can’t seem to budge your best ever 1 rep max.
Try working on a different variation of a deadlift rather than hammering the same one. If you’ve always been a conventional puller, test out sumo and increase your level of strength there. Then when you return to conventional you’ll find that you’re stronger than before.
Your pull-up max number of reps won’t budge. You keep getting stronger at weighted pull-ups, but you can still only to X number of bodyweight reps.
Go the opposite direction. Use a band to de-load so that you can do more reps. At first you might find that you’re doing the SAME number of reps as bodyweight. Given a few workouts, you’ll be able to do more and more reps with the advantage of the de-load. When you go back to test full bodyweight, you’ll find you can do more reps than before.
You keep hammering at away a conditioning test, oh say like a kettlebell snatch test, and yet try as you might you never improve your rep count in the time limit.
Forget the conditioning test for a minute. Get stronger. Strong fixes a lot of things, especially when it’s a question of completing a quantity of movement in a certain amount of time. Improve your deadlift, your overhead press, your lunge, or any other quality of your movement.
Next time you get stuck on something, before you push harder think of the Chinese finger trap. How could you make it easy to get unstuck?