I’ve mentioned on this blog countless times that a lot of what happens when you walk into the gym is not mental, but rather psychological. It’s all a game of numbers and how your mind interprets them.
For example, my workout this morning was triple sets (three exercises done in succession followed by a break). I do six sets of 15 reps per exercise.
You might think that the first set is the easiest and the last the hardest. After all, that would be reasonable given the physical demand on your body. It’s not really the case though. At least, not for me.
Set one: the ‘oh-this-might-actually-be-hard’ set. You feel fresh going into it but your muscles don’t really know what to expect and you quickly realize that things will not be as fun as you had originally expected.
Set two: the ‘I-can-do-this’ set. Now your muscles are warmed up after the first set and you know what to expect so the second set is often one of the easier ones. You’re getting into the swing of it now and feeling pretty strong.
Set three: the ‘this-is-getting-hard’ set, also known as the ‘am-I-really-only-half-way?’ set. Mentally, the third set is my most challenging. At this point it’s starting to get physically tasking, your muscles are getting tired and, even though you know you have to push past the discomfort, it’s damn HARD. At the same time you’re doing the mental math and realizing that after this set there’s still three more JUST LIKE IT still to come.
Set four: the ‘only-two-more-after-this’ set. The third set is out of the way and now the finish line is within view. You’re tired but you have a sudden motivation to power through and get the job done.
Set five: the ‘am-I-done-yet’ set. You used up way too much motivation on set four, now you’re just exhausted. There’s only one more set after this one though so you might as well just get it done.
Set six: the ‘is-that-all?’ set, otherwise known as the ‘I-could-do-another’ set. The sixth set often times feels very similar to the second set. The boost of adrenaline that comes with knowing that you’re almost done, coupled with the fact that you probably didn’t give it 110% in set five, comes with enough power to destroy the final set – like a boss. This set is usually accompanied by overconfidence, luring you into thinking that you could do a seventh set if you wanted to. You can’t though. Really. Just don’t try it. It’s painful.
Ultimately, the lesson to be learned from the numbers game is that we all feel really uncomfortable at times but it’s about pushing past the mental discomfort to find the spot where you start to feel like you’re in total control. In other words, don’t let set three break you because set six feels awesome.