Pain is Pleasure: Forced Reps.


"The last three or four reps is what makes muscle grow.

This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens. Pain is pleasure.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

The most effective way to build muscle when weight training is to do what’s called ‘forced reps’, or a few more repetitions of a given exercise than you could do on your own. For example, if you are performing bench press and you can do 10 reps (barely making the last one), you have someone spot you to do an additional 2 – 4 reps where your training partner is lifting some of the weight for you. It is here where your muscles in effect say to themselves, ‘…well you haven’t asked us to do that before, if that is what you are demanding of us we’ll have to grow so that next time we can lift that extra weight.’ Of course the opposite is true, when you chose not to do forced reps, there is an unsaid pact between you and your muscles which essentially reads, ‘…I’m only going to ask of you what you can already do…so don’t worry about growing, you’re fine as is….’

While the concept of forced reps in resistance training is indeed a real one, it could be thought of as a metaphor for life. When you get out of your comfort zone, when you do that extra bit of effort, that is where the real growth takes place. Here are some areas of life where you might benefit from a few forced reps. You will be amazed how an extra 5 minutes here, a comment there, can lead to meaningful growth and profound happiness:

  • Read 15 more minutes a day. Substitute this for TV, magazines, surfing the web or Facebook. Find a subject you are interested in – history, a political figure, spirituality….This small amount of incremental time (before bed is a good time and will help you get a better night’s sleep) will lead to mental growth. Soon your mind will easily be able to handle what previously may have been a struggle. Growth.

  • Say hello to someone you normally would not interact with. The server at Starbucks. The UPS guy. Someone you see regularly around town. A guy approached me in the gym about a year ago and asked me a question. The ‘old’ me would have blown him off, maybe even pretended not to hear him (headphones can be effective that way). Instead I engaged him. Today I consider him a friend and a great training partner. He happens to be about half my age and keeps me feeling young and motivated in the gym! Growth.

  • Learn a new skill. I had never touched a chess board before my daughter expressed an interest in learning the game. In order to help her out (which lasted about 3 months – she’s far more advanced than I am now) I decided to learn the game as well. It was fun, I can now engage in an interesting activity with others I couldn’t previously, not to mention all the studies which link challenging mental activity with reduced likelihood of getting various mental diseases like Alzheimer’s. It’s never too late to learn a new language, to take up a new card game…to grow.

  • Enter an athletic event out of your comfort zone. Never done a running race before? Try a 10K. There are myriad events out there for novices in a given sport – or groups to help you learn a new activity like tennis or kite surfing. Not only will you likely improve your fitness, but you will also invariably meet other interesting people and expand your network as you reduce your waistline and keep your spirit youthful.

  • Volunteer. This is a great way to give back to others, gain an appreciation for what you have, and to grow emotionally.

There are endless ways to engage in ‘forced reps’ in various aspects of life. The benefits are priceless. None other than Dr. Scott Peck, author of the seminal work The Road Less Travelled, essentially defined love as the process of growing (spiritually and otherwise), which entails the act of extending oneself. The important point is this: it does not take some dramatic life change in order to grow. A couple forced reps, done repeatedly and consistently, can lead to meaningful and positive changes over time.

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