Friday, 24 January 2014


This is gonna be a short post.  I just wanted to mention something that probably seems almost intuitive in most every field of human endeavour but perhaps get brushed aside as relates to exercise and fitness.  That is, if you want to get good at something, do that something every dayEvery. Single. Day.    
Like I said, this seems almost too simple and obvious.  If a person wants to get good at playing a musical instrument, they practice it every single day.  If you want to be a great painter, you’d better be painting some shit every day.  Wanna be in the NBA?  You’d better be working on your jump shot daily.  Oh and by the way, you still won’t be in the NBA, you pygmy, but at least you’ll have a good jumper. 
As an example, when I was in high school, I played guitar for at least an hour or two each and every day.  It wasn’t out of some grand desire to be a great guitarist.  I just really liked it, so I got in the habit of doing it regularly.  If I walked by the guitar, I would inevitably pick it up and play for a bit.  And I got quite good (not amazing, but pretty decent) in a relatively short amount of time.  These days, I might pick up my guitar once or twice a week.  And you know what…I’m no better than I was back in high school. 
Again, this all seems quite obvious.  But translated into the arena of fitness, the waters get all muddied.  People (myself included) get so focused on training splits, periodization schemes, fear of ‘overtraining’, etc. that it’s very easy to forget this most basic fact.  If you want to get excellent at something…do a lot of that thing.  So much of the dialogue around training and muscle-building talks about the ideal ratio of rest days to work days, the number of times you should train a body part or full body per week…push/pull, training/not-training through soreness, blah, blah, blah
And a lot of this makes sense.  In no way am I advocating that a person can be in the gym squatting 1RMs each and every single day…there’s a logical limit to this.  But one thing’s for sure, if you want to improve your squat, you damn well be doing a lot of squatting - as much as your body’s recovery abilities will allow. 
The best example I’ll use is with chin-ups.  For years I was stuck in the 12-18 sort of range for max number of strict chin-ups (no kipping).  On a good day, I could get into the upper teens but was never able to push past that.  I did all sorts of things…adding weights, longer rests, etc….but nothing gave me any indication that I was likely to push much past that threshold.  During this whole time, however, I was operating under that pervasive bodybuilding dogma that you don’t want to train body parts too often.  I.e., I would at most train pulling exercises like chin-ups maybe twice per week, sometimes only once, thinking that anything more would lead to overtraining. 
However, for the past month or so, I’ve been making sure to do chin-ups every single day.  Not a lot of them.  Just one set to (or almost to) failure.  Every. Single. Day.  I set a reminder in my Outlook calendar.  It prompts me to get up from my desk and go find a bar or overhang nearby (stairwells often work well) and crank out a set.  And you know what….it works.  Today I hammered out 26 straight.  Not an amazing number, but at 240lbs bodyweight it’s not bad either.  I’ve got 30 in my sights now. 
This extra chin-up regimen has no effect on other aspects of my training.  I still do all of my other usual stuff and longer workouts on a more infrequent basis.  I even do weighted chins once a week or so as part of an upper body push/pull workout, as well as ring muscle-ups once or twice a week.  The extra ‘daily’ chins take all of 2-3 minutes – hardly an inconvenience to my day – yet they’ve made all the difference.  The volume is so low that they don’t cause any kind of issues with DOMS or ‘overtraining’.  The only noticeable side effect is being able to do more chin-ups. 
The same thing applies to push-ups.  A while back, I got into a rhythm of finishing every day with a set of push-ups to failure, just before bed.  That led to pretty steadily increasing push-up numbers, getting up to the mid seventies.  And again it took hardly any time and the volume was so low as not to affect other aspects of training.  I’m currently experimenting with sprints.  I’ve traditionally done a ‘long-ish’ sprint workout once every week or so.  The past week, I’ve been doing a quick series of between 5 and 10 roughly 100-yard repeats on my lunch break.  Again, this is not very scientific (I use a parking garage and don’t formally measure the course) and takes virtually no time (maybe 5 minutes, including rest breaks between).  It’s too early to tell if it’s made me faster, and difficult to gauge progress without someone there timing me, but I’m hoping to be able to feel the improvements to my quickness. 
So there you have it.  I feel as if I’m the purveyor of perfectly obvious advice.  Nothing groundbreaking here.  If you wanna get good at something, do it every day.  Now if I can only translate my own advice into my writing, these blog posts are gonna get a whole lot more frequent…and potentially a little bit better too. 


  1. Great post! I had a similar battle with chin ups except my issue was that I couldn't do any. It really pissed me off. I wanted to be Demi Moore in G.I. Jane... or Linda fucking Hamilton in Terminator 2. So when I started out I had to do it every single day. That being said, I've been lifting weights off and on since I was 19 or 20 and have a pretty decent muscle base for a 'woman' (if I can say that without getting burned at the stake by lesbian feminists) but when it came to chin ups I might as well have been born without arms. Starting out I had to train with 'reverse chin ups'. So I'd jump up and start in the chin up position and just try to 'lower myself' very slowly. I don't remember the time frame exactly but it didn't take very long before I could do 'one' chin up, then 'two'... then I think I maxed out at 5 once. All within a month or two. Then I felt I achieved my goal and gave up entirely lol. But every now and then I'll do a couple just to see if I still can, or when I'm drunk and showing off at parties... and I can still usually get two off no problem :) And I did the initially 'chin up' training probably in 2009-10. But yes.. I agree that the everyday idea is the way to go! Now, as far as everyday cleaning the house??? still working on that one ;)

    1. Seeing Linda Hamilton cranking out chin-ups in that prison was one of the formative moments in my adolescence! So awesome. That was my archetype for what a bad-ass woman should be like! It's so rare to see (less so with the advent of crossfit but still rare) and impresses me so much everytime I see a woman doing them. You're in a very elite club. Drunk or not, keep it up!

  2. Awesome... and agree completely.

    I think using habits and daily rituals are a great way to get good at something (by habits and rituals, I don't mean indefinite but just to achieve a goal). Right now I'm trying to do 'Cleans' and I get zero satisfaction from doing them because I want good technique first. So my incorporating cleans into the beginning of every workout (not heavy) I can't help BUT improve my technique. Then... when I'm happy with my technique I'll change it up a little, go heavier and not do it daily.

    Wicked article. I think too many people get caught up with fitting an exercise in at the right time, worry about over-training blah blah blah. It's not that these aren't important... they're just missing the point.

  3. Thanks Alan! Yep, consistency is probably the most overlooked success factor in my opinion (not that I always follow my own advice!). I find that when I've had the most success at achieving a goal, it has been a result of consistent daily efforts, however small they may be. It's so easy to get sucked into all the noise out there about 'new' and 'revolutionary' training ideas, but it's consistency that almost always trumps novelty. There's that awesome Bruce Lee quote: "I don't fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks...I fear the man who has practiced the same kick 10,000 times." Good luck with the Cleans!