“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” – Robert Browning


Anyone who’s ever done martial arts has been told to “[hit/kick/strike] through the pad”. This is a useful little visualisation which makes sure your strikes penetrate into your target and don’t decelerate. Applying this same habit to your training can make a world of difference.

So what does this have to do with training?

A close friend of mine is currently training hard to hit 500lbs in the deadlift. He pulls a strong 405lbs. Should he aim for 410lbs, then 415lbs, 420lbs… 495lbs, 500lbs, and inch his way to glory — or should he aim for 450lbs, then power on to 500lbs? I think you can guess what I think. Here’s why:

– Firstly: far too many trainees overcomplicate things. I am a big fan of training smart as well as hard, but setting yourself up to hit eight benchmark weights before 450lbs is simply a waste of time and effort, and will generally distract and discourage the athlete (see next point). If you can lift 405lbs, and you aren’t planning to die in the next few weeks, you can and will deadlift 410lbs- end of story. 450lbs is a different matter.

Why aim for something you can pretty much already do? Have you even achieved anything when you get there? For my friend, 410lbs is his fists sliding on the surface of the pad. 450lbs will make the poor guy holding it fly. What would you rather train for?

– Secondly: far too many trainees limit themselves. A goal is about beating your limits (your real limits- not that you should label them as such!), not ambling around within them. A lifter who doesn’t even register 410 as heavy, since he knows he’ll be lifting it in a few sessions, and doesn’t acknowledge it with any more than “PR” scratched in beside it in his log… will conquer it and go far, far beyond it. The lifter a dozen metres away in the gym who views it as an epic step up from 405 and an amazing achievement, something so far away from where he is now… will struggle to get there, and struggle on after that. Even if this lifter had approached 410 aggressively and pulled it strong… why did he even have to psych up? Why did he even label it as having that importance? It doesn’t. It shouldn’t.

Applying this to your training:

There are two ways to apply this principle to your training:

1) Method One is to eat, live, and sleep for your next goal. My friend in this example is aiming for 450lbs. Every day when he gets up, he will tell himself that soon he will be lifting 450lbs. He will close his eyes and visualise the lift being successfully completed whenever he has a spare moment. He will scrawl “450” on random sheets of paper and end up ruining his bank statements. As 450lbs approaches, he will not be fazed, so sure of his victory as he is. He will approach the bar, lift it like he could do it twice (because he has so long thought he could that he know knows he can), and when he gets up the next day he will dream of 500lbs.

For many people, this will work really well. A few months of focused training with a multitude of effortless PR’s culminates in your dreams coming true. You ride the wave of satisfaction and do it again. Some trainees, however, end up “psyching themselves out” of a lift as it approaches. Wow… 450lbs… How long have I been dreaming of this? Can I do it? The pad this lifter is striking has a metal shaft at the back. For him, we have Method Two:

2) Method Two is simple; just buy a new pad before you break your current one. My friend above would, when he hit 435lbs, completely forget about 450lbs and focus on 485lbs… as he hits 470lbs, he will start to aim for 520lbs. In this way, the trainee will miss out on that sensation of truly having worked to and smashed a goal directly, but he will be amazed at the easy progress he has made in a year – without even setting any PR’s? Oh, wait.

You can either pick one method, or mix them up – a few cycles of Method Two leading to an occasional aggressive max with Method One is very satisfying, and is personally what I prefer. Find whatever works for you.


A goal should be something you can’t do right now. A goal should be something you will have to work for. A goal should be something that will have turned you into a new man or woman by the time you achieve it– whether or not you are aware of it!

A goal is a stepping stone towards another goal, a step up an endless ladder of apparent, previous “limits”… not a shuffle further up a hill with a 3 degree incline. When you hit your next goal, you should need to buy a new pad. It should be at least 50lbs heavier.

Stay strong. Be resourceful.

– Felix

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