The Two Types of Pain
I have a theory about training pain. I’m not talking about the pain of getting injured, but the normal discomfort experienced when lifting weights. There are several types of it, and everyone has a different tolerance level for each type. Here are two examples:
This is that acid-fire pain you feel when you do a quad exercise for moderate to high reps, then add some partials to the end of the set when you can’t do another full rep. Colorful language is often heard when burning pain kicks in.
This is that unique type of discomfort felt when you do 1-3 reps of a very heavy weight. It’s a grinding, straining pain that makes your head feel like it’s going to pop off, roll under a nearby treadmill, stop the belt, and send some poor fella flying off.
For many experienced lifters, burning pain is much harder to tolerate than load pain. The latter hurts, but it’s over with in just a few reps. But burning pain? That only comes around when a set is extended over 40 seconds or so. It accumulates and sizzles. It also builds buckets of muscle.
According to my theory (peer-reviewed and published in the March issue of “The Journal of Random Shit Chris Thinks About”) many guys who only use big weights for low reps aren’t really as strength-focused as they say. No, they just really hate the burning pain of hypertrophy-range reps and lifting tempos.
But if you always avoid this type of pain, that means you’re also avoiding several important muscle-building mechanisms, like time under tension (TUT).
Yes, Feel the Burn
The challenge for you is to make every set last for 60-90 seconds, from leg presses to push-ups to your favorite delt exercise. Try it for a week with every major muscle group.
Now, you may be thinking, “Heck, I already do that.” But do you really?
I tried this recently and discovered that my average set for biceps work was 15-20 seconds short of the one-minute mark. When I lightened the weight a bit and slowed down the eccentric tempo (the negative), the burn and pump was much more intense… and that one minute felt like three minutes of torture. Colorful language ensued.
Remember, all sorts of muscle-building magic happens after about a minute of TUT, assuming you’re using adequate weight: not light weight, but not too heavy either. So set a timer, choose the right load, slow down your tempo a little, add some partials if needed, and see what 60-90 seconds feels like.
Hint: It feels like bodybuilding.