We Don’t Work Hard Enough.



I’ve always been a detail-orientated personal trainer. I enjoy opening the hood/bonnet and learning how the engine works. Note that I am speaking purely figuratively, as this metaphor in no way reflects my ability to “DIY”.


Far from being a naturally athletic specimen, I’ve perhaps been forced in to the weeds to find details that can help me inch closer to my own fitness goals. As a result, I’ve learned the intricacies that help me effectively coach our personal training clients and design the programs of those I coach online.


However, far from exploring details, this article discusses an important study published in 2017. Researchers explore the surface-level essentials of weight training. Effort!


The Evidence

1. Barbose-Netto et al. (2017) took a fairly large group of recreationally trained males (160 in total) who regularly performed a Bench Press as part of their workout. Researchers asked the men how much weight they typically used when performing this exercise for 10 repetitions.


2. After hearing the weight, researchers then whisked the men to their laboratory for testing. They loaded the reported weight on to a Bench Press and pushed the men to perform as many reps as they could.


3. On average, the group of men performed ~16 reps with the weight they typically used for sets of 10 reps. Almost 14% of the men performed over 20 reps with their reported weight!


Are we simply not working hard enough?

As with any self-selecting study, there are questions that need to be asked and assumptions that need to be challenged. However, in the interest of brevity… Even if we err on the side of caution and presume that the men picked a weight they knew they could perform “comfortably” (so not to make silly noises/faces), the results suggest most people could be way off the mark when picking exercise intensity.


Remember, muscles develop when exposed to tension. Whether the weight you use is “very intense” or “reasonably intense”, the number of reps you perform must still take you close to your maximum effort. Working at 50% of your effort (i.e. performing 10 reps with a weight that you can make 20 reps with) will not produce results.

Take-away Points

1. The men in this study were “recreationally trained” but still beginners. Whilst we will always work harder when coached, it’s also safe to assume that beginners have difficultly selecting the appropriate weight.


2. Intensity is key in developing muscle. Intensity is not defined by how much we sweat or how “hard” it feels (all subjective) but by how close we are to our maximum. Short, intense bursts of work stimulate muscle.


3. As a beginner, find a coach or an experienced training partner to both guide and push you during your workouts. It’s too slow to attempt to learn all the details yourself. Ask someone, cut your learning curve and progress faster.


Thank you for reading.

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