Patience: The hardest thing to exercise in resistance training

Quick progress is probably one of the top priorities of any gym-goer. Even the most seasoned bodybuilders can fall into the trap of wanting fast results. You work hard in the gym, you eat well – and try to include optimal levels of protein in your diet – but no matter how hard you try, you always seem to be one step away from your goal. There is always someone else looking slightly better than you. They put in the same amount of work, use the same weights, and get a couple of sprint interval sessions in each week, but somehow they just look that bit sleeker, that bit leaner.

Even after you tell yourself that muscle growth takes time, fat loss takes time and getting stronger takes time, it’s all too easy to fall into a negative spiral of thinking – to convince yourself that you are making no progress at all.

Time: the one thing – it can seem – standing in the way to achieving the body you want.

Of course, a lot of other factors could explain why Mr and Mrs Flex look better than you; nutrition, the type of workouts they’re doing, supplements, genetics and, in some cases (let’s be honest) steroids. But one key factor could also be the length of time they have been training.

It’s important to bear in mind that the role models you wish to emulate have probably been training for 5/10/15/20 years or more, and over that time have built impressive physiques. This is why it is so important to try and avoid comparing yourself to others, and just monitor your own progress.

Patience, in any sport, is often the hardest thing to exercise when you want to make improvements. It isn’t always a linear path forwards either. Sometimes you have setbacks, sometimes you lose a percentage of the gains you’ve worked hard for, sometimes you suddenly jump forward a couple of paces and surprise yourself with your progress. Patience is the undercurrent to all of these moments; pushing you forwards and giving you the belief that change will happen if you’re following a progressive programme.

So how much lean muscle mass can you really expect to gain and how long should it take you? The answer to this question really depends on a number of factors; how often you train, your nutrition, whether you’re a man or woman, your genetics and hormone levels, and how advanced you are. For instance, someone who has been lifting weights for a number of years, will not make the same gains as a complete beginner.

According to numerous sources, however,  if all elements are on-point, a good average for a natural lifter would be:

  • Average man: Around 1-2 pounds of muscle per month
  • Average woman: Around 1 pound of muscle per month.

Basically, not that much! If you’re gaining weight quicker than that, it is most likely down to fat or water retention, which is to be expected. It’s very hard – some would say impossible – to put on muscle without putting on some fat as well, unless you are a beginner.

My point here is that, no matter how hard you work, you’re not suddenly going to gain huge muscles overnight, or even over months. It’s a long process and one of your hardest workouts will be exercising patience with the process. So get practicing!

My top tips for exercising patience
  1. Track your progress with photos (don’t compare week-to-week,  instead compare month-to-month)
  2. Set yourself realistic short and medium-term goals
  3. Monitor your workouts – it’s easy to lose track of your PBs
  4. Celebrate mini victories, like hitting a new 1RM or even 8RM
  5. “Don’t stop bellliiiieeeving, hold on to that feeeeeeeling….” etc etc

This post was originally published in August 2018 and has been updated.

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