“If you limit your choice only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.” – Robert Fritz
Think about this for a moment. Do you set limits for yourself based on your own perception of what is possible? Do you take the safe path, opting to do what you know is possible instead of what is probable? Do you stare down the 100 pound dumbbells with a fire in your eye that screams, “one day I will own you”? I see it all the time – untapped potential.
Just the other night, Luke Albin was performing dumbbell incline presses. He texted me during his workout to share that he had just pressed 80 pound dumbbells for 10 reps. I responded that he should go heavier. His next text was that he pressed 90 pound dumbbells for seven reps. Again, I responded to go heavier and suggested he attempt 100 pound dumbbells for four reps. Luke was unable to complete the lift at 100 pounds, but he tried. Luke was satisfied with his 80 pound accomplishment. At 10 reps I saw much more potential. At 90 pounds he was surprised with himself. Even though the 100 pound lift was not successful, he left a proud man, realizing that he was at a level in his journey where he was able to seriously attempt such a heavy lift.
Had I not jumped in and told Luke to go heavier, how long would he have waited before he attempted the 90 or 100 pound dumbbells? A week? A month? Several months? Luke thanked me for pushing him, and even commented that there was no way he would have even thought about attempting such a lift just a few months ago. I had no idea whether Luke was able to press 100 pound dumbbells, but I wanted him to try. Of course, I did advise Luke to recruit a spotter to ensure a safe lift.
This is not to say that you should run to the gym this second and get underneath a weight that will undoubtedly crush you. It is about reasonably testing your limits without fear of failure. You will never know your true potential if you don’t test your limits. Jason Kaiman once made a comment that he was noticing a lot of people boasting weekly PRs. Jason’s response to the phenomenon was that the lifters were most likely not pushing themselves hard enough from the beginning. It stands to reason, if you are limiting your potential by remaining in your comfort zone, in the event that you try to move forward you will most likely find you are capable of so much more. The ego boost you receive from the new achievement ends up sparking a desire for more, and what happens is you end up succeeding again.
I am frequently approached at the gym and complimented on the weight I am lifting. Keep in mind, at 5 foot 7 inches and 165 pounds, I don’t exactly appear very large. I lift heavy for me, but the actual weight itself in my opinion is nothing incredibly impressive. Either way, what I am saying is that based on appearance, I don’t look as though I can rep 120 pounds dumbbells, but I can.
My current gym only has dumbbells that go to 100. When I use them on the flat bench, I can easily perform 10 reps for several sets. A previous gym had dumbbells that went to 120, a weight I could usually get for four to six reps! Almost every time I get done with my sets, I am approached and complimented. The compliment is usually followed up with some self-defeating remark like “I would never even try that,” or “I doubt I will ever get to your level.” Garbage, I say! I always ask, have you tried? The answer is always no.
Again, I’m not saying get under a ridiculous weight, but don’t set a limit on something you have never tried. I like to keep my rep ranges at six or seven. Like I tell most people, if you can get at least six, try the next weight – you might be surprised. If you can get at least four on the higher weight, keep it, and keep working at that level until you can do six. If you can do eight, the weight is too light, if you can’t do four, the weight is too heavy.
The purpose of going to the gym is not to impress those around you. If you fail a lift, so be it. I am far more impressed with progress and effort than I am with ability. I failed two consecutive attempts to deadlift 425 pounds. I was approached after my second attempt and was paid a generous compliment along the lines of how my attempts had impressed and inspired my onlooker. Like I always tell Luke, it’s not about the number, it is about the effort.