Progress Can Be Slow, Patience Wins Out in the End

We humans live in a world where speed is everything. We have Amazon Prime for next day delivery, and chafe when our packages arrive out of that window. We have video streaming services where instead of waiting for a DVD, we can buy a movie and watch it in seconds. We want everything tomorrow, or NOW. And that includes our progress in health, fitness, and life.

Well, I got news for you. Some things can come fast, but a lot of things take a LOT longer than you could ever imagine.

Here’s an example. A few weeks back, I attempted and was successful at my first Turkish Get-Up with the 32kg kettlebell. See them here:

I was pretty stoked! But let me tell you, this lift was *years* in the making. There were lots of hardships, injuries, and struggles along the way. Some of those are documented in my journey to the Strength Matters Kettlebell cert and my path to the RKC.

There was some self-doubt, but I’m not the kind of person to not believe I can accomplish something. If there is anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that nearly anything is possible. You just have to accept what needs to change, and then go do it….notwithstanding the process could take a few hours, or it could take years, or longer.

In the past, a 32kg TGU did seem pretty far out there. I was struggling with pressing the 24kg overhead 5 times, in my preparation for the Strength Matters Kettlebell cert. Putting anything over a 24kg over my head seemed pretty remote.

Still, I got through that cert, and kept training. It was just one stop along the highway to bigger kettlebell feats. The big thing is consistency and never quitting. Just keep walking that road, and knocking down obstacles when they come up. Believe me, obstacles WILL appear. It sucks but it is almost never smooth sailing. And look, many years later, I’m busting out my first 32kg TGU, 8kg over a weight that I was struggling with not too long before.

I did want to call attention to a great roadmap I learned from the StrongFirst folks, in Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Simple and Sinister. It is a technique of increasing weight called step loading. Here is a progression from that book which illustrates the concept:

Source: Kettlebell Simple and Sinister, Revised and Updated, by Pavel Tsatsouline

To summarize, you attain some working weight, which is indicated by weight “S”. Once you have “mastered” this weight (for example, with this kettlebell swing protocol you can perform the set with full power the whole time), then you can begin the process of increasing the weight. Instead of jumping in an aggressive manner by replacing all sets with a new, heavier weight (which is another way of approaching this problem), step loading instead replaces a set at a time. So the greyed out boxes denote the use of the heavier weight, and white boxes denote the return back to your starting weight. Then every 4 weeks, adaptation should have occurred and you can then progress to adding another set with the heavier weight. Repeat again for 4 weeks, then add another set. And so on.

After 5 months, you will have successfully moved your working weight from the original weight to the new, heavier weight.

You might be thinking, “Man, I can only add a set every FOUR weeks?!!? That’s so slow!” And yes it can feel very monotonous, doing the same thing, even if it feels super comfortable, for 4 weeks straight and only then adding another set.

I admit I actually modified it in the earlier stages of adding weight because I didn’t really know what my body could take, and at the lower weights, I could adapt faster. Still, I needed at a minimum 2 weeks at a given set addition before moving upward. Sometimes, I needed more. And when the weight got close to 32kg where I am now, I gave myself adequate time, if not more than 4 weeks to firmly cement my “mastery” of the current weight. I spent a good 6 weeks at the 28kg, doing a full sequence of 5/5 twice a week, before I dared try the 32kg on the second set.

It worked well, as you can see from the videos.

As mentioned previously, there are definitely other ways to progress. However, I have found that the step loading method really allows you to adapt fully, and therefore, safely, to a given set of stimulus before you move to add more. Often, in my younger days, I would continue to try to add weight every workout in a brute force manner to increase strength. However, time and time again, it showed me that this increases risk of injury substantially, attempting to rush the process of adaptation.

Once again, it is patience that wins out in the end. I hit my original stretch goal of 32kg TGUs, and my body was not wrecked in the process. Yeah, it took weeks if not months to get there, but it just goes to show that often times progress will happen but just taking a lot more time and effort than maybe we’d like. You just have to keeping walking on the road, never stop, and it will happen!

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