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How Many Sets and Reps Are You Getting In

Colin Stuckert

“From the bodybuilding days on, I learned that everything is reps and mileage. The more miles you ski, the better a skier you become; the more reps you do, the better your body.” 

-Arnold Schwarzenegger, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story

Did you know that Arnold used to train 4 to 5 hours a day, six days a week? He would do 2 to 3 workouts split up throughout his day.

His concept of “shocking the muscle” was to always do something different to keep it guessing and would often entail what’s known as a “drop set” in which he would start out at his heaviest weight for reps then immediately drop down to a lower weight to do reps and so on until even the lights weight felt heavy. 

He said his arms would often feel so painful to even hold at his sides so that the only way he could make them feel better was to rest them by placing them on a table or equipment.

I just started reading the Arnold biography, “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story,” and it’s freaking fantastic.

It’s made me realize a few things about my own training that I’ve fallen victim to as of late. First, I’ve been doing too much squatting, deadlifting, pressing and benching. Sure, these should always be a staple in any intelligent training program, but I feel that I have plateaued from these exercises after doing them consistently for the last 10 years. So  I’m looking for ways to mix things up; add an include to the bench, squat wider, deadlift on a set of plates, etc.

The second thing I’ve realized is, I’ve had a fear of overtraining for sometime now that has been built into over the past couple years after getting sick multiple times after intense training sessions back-to-back. I have since found out that my old apartment had a mold problem—as well as major allergens in the carpet—which contributed greatly to my getting sick. Because I was getting sick, I started to pay attention to my body a bit too much. Instead of doing more volume, I would stop short of what I was able to physically do. This, obviously, hindered my results.

As I’m reading about Arnold and his insane training routine, I think to myself: “Dude, stop being a pussy willow.” And so, the next night, I get in the gym and go nuts. And it was great. I did drop sets, fast sets, slow sets, and I did them all with intensity and a lack of worry about whether I’d be overtraining or not. I’m glad I did because the next day I was only slightly more sore than I normally am but felt as if I got a much better workout than normally.

There’s another thing about this I want to say… it’s this: read freaking biographies!

I’ve been absorbing so many lately and I’ve never felt such immediate, life-changing effect in my life from other forms of reading. Biographies are so powerful in that they change how you think immediately. You learn things about yourself that allow you to change your behavior and see where you may have been stuck in your ways. 

I think this is because biographies are stories and we learn best from stories. Humans are hardwired to remember—and learn from—stories.

This is why I believe one of the most powerful ways to become a better person is to read stories about people you admire. You never know what nuggets of wisdom you’ll pick up. And like my example above, you never know what lessons you need reminding of.

The moral of today’s piece is this:

  1. Do more sets and reps
  2. Read biographies and stories