Sometimes lacking something leads to new insights. I began lifting weights in 1965 and I have had the best facilities one can imagine. I have also trained in rougher situations.
World class gyms that cater to sports performance often get pushed out of business by the box gyms. Like Thom Plummer says, “If all the gym does is rent treadmills, the customer is going to look for the lowest price.” Olympic lifting platforms, Kettlebells and sleds don’t attract a lot of wealthy clients.
So, every few years, I find myself back in my garage with limited resources. Oddly, it is also the time I make my best progress. You can mimic the best lesson I have learned in any gym or situation in the world.
With limited equipment, you have limited load. And, this has one great hidden value: with this “fixed” weight, you can explore the great strength training tradition of strength first, then power, and then hypertrophy (bodybuilding). Today, most trainees skip steps one and two. The results of skipping these steps is obvious: you might train in the gym three days a week, but no one can tell!
I grew up with something called “fixed weights.” There was a rack at most gyms with barbells in assorted sizes usually from about 15 pounds up to 150 or so. When Kettlebells were first rediscovered 15 years ago, there were very few sizes. With limited options, you have to master a weight before you move on.
With your limited selection at home, you might take a few weeks to press the Ted Williams Sear’s Barbell that weighed 110 pounds. Without additional weight, you would practice for a few days to add additional strength.
That’s pretty simple, but that is also how we build strength. We slowly add reps to a load. With only one choice of load, we can’t scurry off and find new toys.
As you add reps, you slowly build power, the quality that carries over into most sports. As you sneak those reps over eight and up to twelve to fifteen, hypertrophy (the increase of lean body mass) will be your reward.
Some of my best training happened when I moved and only had one 28 kilo Kettlebell to train with for a KB cert. I needed to do 100 snatches with a lighter bell (the 24), but I had what I had. Like I trained in my garage with my brothers during LBJ’s presidency, I just locked down and began getting my reps in.
Although this example is for the KB snatch, I discovered that this principle of finding a single weight and striving over time to up the reps works across all goals. Pick some exercises that are big, global moves:
Military (Overhead) Press
The Squat Family
Deadlift and deadlift variations
The Pull Up (the load might just be you!)
The barbell curl
That last exercise, the curl, is often done for lots of repetitions to build a “Pump.” For some lifters, that is like putting a new paint job on a car without an engine or wheels. In college, we had a football player who could strict curl 225 pounds. Trust me, he had “guns.”
So, find a weight that really tests your limits and take your time to build your reps with that test weight. For many of us, it might be the natural numbers like a 200 pound bench press or “two big plates,” 225.
True, adding load…more plates, more weights…has great value. But, I think we have forgotten this wonderful gem of adding reps to fixed weights.