Strength training seems counterintuitive, particularly to beginners. The goal, over time, is to lift more weight. That’s how you get stronger. However, you can’t lift too much weight or you risk injury and burnout.
Indeed, strength training is a constant balancing act. That’s a shame, because it’s so much fun to lift heavier weights. Think about how many things in life give you such quick feedback, whether positive or negative?
When you go up in weight, even if it’s only 2.5 pounds, you know you’ve gotten stronger. You know for certain that you’ve made progress. There’s actually a chemical reaction that produces a feeling of accomplishment in your brain when you make progress.
Such instant feedback is awesome when you’re making progress, but can be a real shot to the ego if you find yourself plateauing or slipping backwards. Unfortunately, progress isn’t always linear when you’re lifting weights. That’s when some people resort to “ego lifting.”
While it’s a slang term in the fitness community, “ego lifting” refers to a very tangible problem: cheating to get that sense of progress. In sports, when you cheat, you rob victory from your opponent. In fitness, when you cheat, you end up hurting your own progress.
Ego lifting is bad for two reasons: it increases risk of injury and ingrains bad habits. Often, it comes in the form of sacrificing technique for an increase in weights or reps. Poor technique leads to more injuries and can actually make it harder to get stronger.
When you use proper technique, muscles are working the way they’re meant to. The correct muscles are doing their job. Sometimes, ego lifters will cheat by using a muscle that’s not supposed to be involved. For example, using your legs in a shoulder press to try to push the weight up.
Injuries and poor technique can derail your progress even longer. If you’re stuck or even feel like you’re slipping backwards, stay patient. Don’t force progress in the gym. Instead, go back to the basics. Ask your coach to check your form, or find ways to get more sleep. Perhaps your diet has gone astray and needs to be fixed.
Experienced exercisers know that progress isn’t linear, and it’s more about enjoying the journey than forcing progress in every workout. If you stick to a solid training plan and healthy lifestyle, progress will come naturally