Making Progress

How do you double your capability? You've surely seen this described in economic analysis. But this concept applies to any form of progress measured in terms of percentage based increments. Say you have a desire to run twice as far as you can today, or you'd like to double your savings, or maybe bench press twice as much weight, etc. There is an easy formula to figure out your strategy and milestone goals...

Let's take an example. Say you want to perform a strength-based exercise at twice as much weight, in a year. A standard rule of thumb is that you should only add about 5-7% to the weight you use, and only once you can perform the exercise at the current weight with "ease" (read: in control, with proper form, for all the reps). Another rule of thumb in strength training is to workout twice per week, to provide enough recovery time. Another is to perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps per exercise, to muscle overload (can't do another rep). Another is to take reach rep slowly (exhale during a 2 count up, hold for 1, and inhale during a 4 count back). There is more to it, such as mixing up the type, intensity, speed, etc, to overcome the adaptation effect. But you get the picture.

Okay, given these heuristics, let's see how much weight we'd have to add each month to double our capability. Using the formula below, it works out to just under 6% per month, which falls right into the sweet spot of the "best practice" for strength training. The challenge, of course, is to work hard enough so that you're ready to add 6% at the end of each month. Which means you've built back up to doing 3 sets of 12 reps with perfect form. That might not be feasible unless you are just starting and have started light. But it's a rate you'll want to track if you intend on 2x in a year.

Here are the equations, and a spreadsheet that illustrates the milestones assuming a starting baseline of 100 lbs. This Java Calculator will help you determine your own increment, or number of months, or expected weight gain. http://www.fpsmith.com/calculator.htm

This reminds me of the old tale about the farmer who could lift his 85 lb new born Holstein calf. He figured that if he lifted the calf every morning, that by the time that cow turned one, he'd be lifting over 800 lbs!! Applying the formula above, that works out to be a 21% increment every month. Not recommended, for obvious reasons!

Which also reminds me of the exercise of reseting sales goals every year. Hmmm. :-)

I guess there are natural limits to exponential increases! The key is to set a reasonable (but challenging) goal, understand the milestones needed to check your progress along the way, and "resolve" to do what it takes to get there. And don't be too proud to reset your goals if you realize they were not feasible. Baby steps go a long way when you apply the power of the exponential.

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