Steady Progress: The Best Path to Success

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We have no tolerance.  The demand for instant gratification has made us perpetually impatient.
 
Just the other day, I was working on a few things online.  I was editing a video.  Writing a few emails.  Changing some things on the website.  And it wasn’t hard stuff.  It was actually stuff I really enjoy doing. 
 
But I was fuming.  You could’ve seen smoke comin’ out my ears.  And at one point, I wanted to throw my computer across the room and smash it into smithereens. 
 
Why? My darn Internet connection was freakin’ slow.
 
Now, the Internet was still working, I was still getting things done.  But holy moly, I had to wait seconds each time I clicked my mouse before my computer took action.
 
And if Internet speed was a person, I’d be going to jail for murder. Because I couldn’t handle having to wait.
 
And I know I’m not the only one this has happened to.  We live in a world of instant results.
 
Want to watch a new movie?  Stream it in seconds.
Don’t want to wait for a taxi? Just schedule a pickup through your phone.
Need a pizza?  Get it delivered in 10 minutes.
Heck, you can even order a t-shirt and guarantee it’s delivery from across the country in less than a day.
 
We need instant results.  And we hate waiting.
 
And this perpetual impatience carries over into everything we do. Even our workouts.  
   
We want to be slim TODAY!
We want to be stronger TODAY!
We want that ideal body NOW! 
   
For some reason, we think that if we workout and can still walk to the car without our legs wobbling, we didn’t do good enough.  Because we need to feel some kind of instant result – and that immediate tiredness sure seems like it’s stepping us in the right direction for fat loss or muscle building.
 
Man lying on the floor exhausted from the workout.But I’m calling BS.  In order to get to your fitness goals, you don’t need to instantly feel like your lungs have been punctured, your muscles have been ripped to shreds and your legs are so shaky you might as well crawl out the door.
Killing yourself each and every workout doesn’t mean you’re getting anywhere faster or better.
 
In fact, those every day leave you on the ground in the fetal position workouts are actually moving you backward. 
 
But we keep doing them.  We keep hungering for these kill me workouts because we have our perceptions all wrong.  We’re searching for instant results rather than working for what we really should be working for: PROGRESS. 
 
Steady progress.
 
I know what you’re thinking: don’t give me that crap about the turtle and the hare. But let me give you a little reality check.  In the case of fitness, steady progress, heck even slow progress, is much better than no progress.
 
If you keep killing yourself in search of instant results, you’re going to end up in a mighty bad place – out of the gym trying to nurse yourself back to health. 
   
Man holding his ankle as if it were injured
When you constantly push your body to it’s limits, over and over and over again, you cause serious damage to your muscles and you keep your nerves constantly firing. That damage stops you from seeing muscle growth and the constantly firing nerves stop reacting to any other physical changes.  That means no progress. 
 
Imagine walking into the UFC cage today for a fight. No preparation. No training. No clue what you’re supposed to be doing.  How do you think you’re going to be walking out of there?
 
Not well, I’m guessing.  Maybe not even walking at all.
 
Oh and go ahead and get back in the cage tomorrow for another fight. 
 
Constantly pushing the limits of your body is the exact same thing. You aren’t preparing them for the beating coming their way.  And you aren’t giving them time to recover before the next fight.  
 
Max effort training shreds your muscles.  And in order for your muscles to come out on the other side stronger and still healthy, you have to prepare and repair
 
And that means building up to your max effort and then coming back down.  

That means choosing steady progress over the instant perceptions of results.

Choosing long-term success over short-sighted workouts.

And choosing lifelong physical health and function over being broken, achy and beat up because of the constant beat down workouts.  

Steady progress keeps you moving forward. Always. But it’s not sexy. 
 
Those constant butt kickings? They do seem sexy. You feel powerful and impressive. But those really leave you worse for the wear. And keep you hurt, inflamed, and in pain.  Which keeps you out of the gym and moving backward in your training. 
  
Man pressing dumbbells with his mouth open to show he is working hardNow yes, there are absolutely times and places for the max effort, kill me now, workouts.  But only after you’ve prepped for those fights. Then after they happen, recover.  So that you can do them again in the future. 
 
Some people get frustrated with the idea of steady progress, because they think that means easy. 
 
Systemized progress doesn’t mean easy.
Preparation doesn’t mean laid back.
And recovery certainly doesn’t mean lazy.  
 
Steady and systemized progress is hard work every step of the way.  It’s just about keeping that hard work controlled and slowly increasing. 
 
At The Underground Lab, we design our training system around the scientific need for systemized progress.  For long-term fitness instead of injuries.  The SPE System is all about preparing and repairing while still making progress. And we break down our prepare and repair components into 4 weeks.  We take time to build ourselves up, then we go balls out, then we recover.  Simple.   SPE System showing increasing progress
WEEK 1:  Lessgo!
This is the first week of the cycle and is aimed at total preparation.  We optimize your neural pathways to get ready for more intense training in the coming weeks.  But just because we say “prepare” doesn’t mean it’s gonna be easy.  
 
One way we keep ourselves preparing is through a controlled work to rest ratio.  We work for a shorter amount of time and rest for longer in this week.  Think something like 20 seconds of work and 40 seconds of rest. 
 
Now, I promise you can get an intense burn in just 20 seconds of work if you know how to push yourself.  But that longer rest gives you plenty of time for some instant recovery to prepare for the next set of work.  Those short work times are still building your muscles and shedding fat, getting you ready for more intense training next week.  But those longer rest times are keeping you energized and recovering so you can continue to work at high intensities for every single set. 
 
Just because you can still walk to your car after training this week doesn’t mean you aren’t pushing your body. 
 
WEEK 2: Sheesh, that was tough! 
This week should be hard.  We’re already prepped and now ready for putting in some down and dirty work.  This week upped the intensity, the volume, and maybe the frequency.   The ratio this week might be closer to 30 seconds of work to 30 seconds of rest. 
 
Remember how hard those 20 seconds were last week? Well tack on 10 more.  You should feel a serious burn!  And your effort should be intense enough that those 30 seconds of rest definitely don’t seem long enough. 
 
WEEK 3: I. Might. Be. Dying. 
This week is about maximum effort.  Balls to the wall for higher intensities, durations, frequencies or volumes.  If you love the “kill me” workouts, then this week is your goldmine.  You can take that same high intensity training from week 1 or 2 and extend your work ratio for even longer bouts of work with really short rest times.   You’ll barely be able to hold on during the work and barley able to catch your breath during the rest. 
 
 
Unlike the prepare stage, we don’t give your muscles time for immediate recovery.  We keep pushing you upward and onward.   We tear your muscles apart so we can get big growth next week. 
 
WEEK 4: Ahhh finally, recovery!
Then we hit active recovery.  You went balls out for an entire week and you should be craving a little slower pace.  You need this.  Your muscles and your body need this.  You have tattered your muscle fibers and it’s time to let those babies heal and grow.  But really, this week is so important because it gives your nervous system time to relax.  If you keep your nerves firing at high speeds constantly, they become less responsive to any changes. This brings your nervous system back to optimal function to keep you progressing.

Woman with her back on a foam roller and arms up in the air
 But active recovery doesn’t mean lay on the couch all day.  Workouts are lighter, but still designed to push you in different ways.  We might focus more on body weight training, mobility, yoga, or any other form of recovery. But you’re still moving, recovering, and progressing. 
 
Then we repeat the cycle. 
 
But here’s how we get better.  How we get stronger, faster, and more powerful. 
 
Because we prepped our bodies in weeks 1 and 2, when we finally hit week 3, we can truly give a max effort! And because we recover in week 4, we let our muscles heal and grow from the week long beating they just took.  That means they get stronger and you get faster and more powerful. Progress.
 
So when the next cycle starts, and week 1 comes rolling around – we’re already stronger than we were at the last go-around.  We can start at a higher intensity for this cycle.  Maybe this week 1 looks a little more like our effort from last cycle’s week 2.  Because we’re already a bit better.
 
We prepped, we pushed, and we recovered. Then we see progress.  Every single cycle we see progress.  And every single cycle we stay healthy and injury free. 
 
So instead of trying to increase your deadlift by 50 pounds tomorrow and ending up with a broken back and lifelong pain, we shoot for steady progress. 

Woman DeadliftingMaybe each cycle, we increase the weight by just 5 pounds.  It seems like an easy enough increase.  But over the course of 12 cycles, we already added a 60 pound increase.  Without injury.  And without killing ourselves in the process. 
 
And just imagine that steady increase in every area of your training: becoming stronger, faster, and more powerful, cycle after cycle. Steady progress will get you huge results.  And it will keep you injury free. It’s not easy.  It’s just controlled.
 
And if you don’t live near us to try out our system, you can create your own based on the same principals. 
 
1. PREPARE: you need to gradually warm your body up, make sure you’re familiar with the techniques and exercises and get comfortable with your workouts. If you’re a newbie, then you don’t need to push too hard. It’s more about learning movement patterns and building skill.  But for more advanced athletes, you can increase your intensity in a controlled way.
   
2. BUILD: after you’ve perfected technique and warmed your body, you start increasing your training. This could be through increased intensity, frequencies, volumes or times depending on your fitness goals.  It’s more challenging than the prepare stage and it starts pushing you forward.
   
3. EXERT: This is when the real effort comes in. When your workouts challenge you and start to tear down your muscle fibers (so they can repair in the next stage). These workouts should feel tough.
   
4. RECOVER: This is where the magic happens. Growth, change and progress happen when you recover. When your muscles, nerves and body have time to relax, heal and normalize. Then it’s time to repeat.
 
We know that it’s so tempting to want things fast and challenging and to feel results instantly. But when it comes to fitness, we’re trusting science more than our society’s perception of success.   And science tells us to keep things steady. We want you to hit your long term goals. And we want you to get there with a body that feels younger than you really are – not one that snap, crackles and pops every step of the way.
 
So rather than hard, hard, hard, hurt –
We want growth, growth, growth… forever.
 
Always moving.
Always progressing.
And always healthy.
You just have to trust in the system.

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