progress [ˈprəʊgrɛs]

1. movement forward, esp. towards a place or objective

2. satisfactory development, growth, or advance

3. advance towards completion, maturity, or perfection

In the first year or two of training, you’ll make amazing gains. I remember a few years ago, going from front squatting basically zero, to front squatting 115 and being insanely excited.

Fast forward a couple of years and A LOT of squats later-and I haven’t gotten past 160. I used to beat myself up for it, trying to figure out why I sucked so badly at front squats. I had it programmed in my mind that if I wasn’t moving more weight, I wasn’t progressing.

My training age is so much higher now, which means that gains don’t come on rapidly, and are harder to see and feel. I might only put 15 pounds on my squat in the course of a year, and that’s being generous. But rather than fall into the “I’m not making any progress” trap, it’s crucial that we began to change our progress paradigm.

The thesaurus sites the following words as synonyms for progress: Development, advancement, growth, gain, and improvement.

If you’re training intelligently and consistently, chances are you’ve experienced these things on some level-even if you haven’t put more weight on your squat (or dead lift, or press, etc). Because here’s the thing: Better is not “more”, better is better.

I got to thinking about this when I realized that although I was still squatting 125×5, 145×3, or 160×1, for example, I was doing it better. I may not have added load, but I added efficiency. Heavy squats felt easier, and smoother. Valgus of the knees was basically non-existent. Form and technique were sharper. The feeling I had after a set of squats was one of exhilaration-not fatigue.

Isn’t this progress? Isn’t moving the same load more, yet more efficiently, a substantial form of progress and improvement? Because if you move a lot of weight extremely sloppily, and set a “PR,” is it still progress?

We can PR with sloppy turkish get ups, ugly squats, not-so-strict overhead presses, and hitching dead lifts. But is this really progress? Is it for the sake of the numbers rather than the sake of movement?

I have found that when I stopped trying so hard to progress, I progressed immensely. True, the only way to get stronger and more powerful is to progressively place a demand on the body. But does that have to mean “more” or “heavier”? Not necessarily.

Simply moving more efficiently, performing the same lift, but doing so with relative ease-this is progress. I’m still doing get ups with a 28kg kettlebell, just like I was 5 months ago. But now when I do it, it’s smooth, it’s solid. I pick it up and know that without question, I will complete it without fear of losing it. I’m not in a hurry to move up to the 32kg, in an effort to set a “PR”. I’m not ready.

Should you strive to get stronger, faster, BETTER? Absolutely. But chances are that stressing out about setting personal records is not the most efficient way to get there.

Practice. Train. Groove good movement patterns, and challenge yourself consistently and intelligently. If you do that, progress will become an inevitable outcome.

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