The Benefits of Intuitive Lifting

Josh Williams

Strength and Conditioning

My alarm goes off. I look at my phone and see that it is 5:30 am. I just went to bed five hours earlier because I was stuck in a Netflix binge-watching session.

 

As I get out of bed, I notice my back feels tight. I lethargically walk over to the coffee pot in hopes that the caffeine will be what I need to get me going for my morning workout.

 

 

I pull into the gym parking lot at quarter to 7 am. I have no motivation or energy for a workout, and as mentioned before, my back is not feeling right, and the only reason I am even going to the gym is that I know it's good for me.

 

Have you ever been in this situation when you show up for a workout and you aren't feeling it?

 

We hope that every time we show up to lift we will be feeling physically and mentally ready to wrestle a grizzly bear and be able to bend steel bars with our fists. But how often does that happen?

 

The Mind-Body Disconnect

It seems like our mind and body are often not in tune. You show up mentally ready but your knee has been nagging at you for the past few days and it’s leg day. Or maybe you are feeling great physically, but your head is some place else.

 

What do you do in this situation? Give up and go home and hope tomorrow is better?

 

Maybe.

 

What if the program has you doing three sets but you feel amazing? Is it ok to do four or five sets?

 

Possibly.

 

This is where intuitive lifting comes into play.

 

 

Intuitive lifting helps you optimize the 80% of the time you feel OK, helps you pull back 10% of the time when you show up not be feeling it, and takes advantage of the 10% of the time you feel terrific.

 

What Is Intuitive Lifting?

At its core, intuitive lifting is listening to what your body is telling you at the present moment and making adjustments to get the most out of your body in its current state.

 

It takes into account sleep, stress, nutrition, and how your body is feeling with movement.

 

The following components should always be evaluated prior to training:

 

  • Sleep: How was your sleep quality the night before? How much sleep did you get (more or less than 8 hours)?
  • Stress: How anxious do you feel? Do you feel recovered? Motivation level? Is your resting heart rate higher than usual?
  • Nutrition: Are you hydrated? Have you had vegetables at each meal? Eating protein at each meal?
  • Your Body: Are you stiff or feel restricted? If yes, where? Is there discomfort in a specific movement? If yes, does warming up help?

 

Not feeling great in one of these areas is not a cause for concern or a reason for you not to workout, but if you see there are more negatives than positives showing up, then that is something to make a note of.

 

The 3 Rules Of Intuitive Lifting

  1. Have A Plan: Intuitive lifting doesn't mean you do what you enjoy every day. You need to follow a workout plan that is designed for your goals and capabilities. Doing what you like doesn't push you to the level you need to achieve your goal.
  2. Assess How You Feel: When assessing sleep, stress, nutrition, and movement try not to be subjective. Recognize if you are making a decision based on how your body feels versus where you are emotionally. Most of the time our bodies can do more, but we emotionally feel we can't. There are times when your emotional side is correct, so you do need to listen to it from time to time.
  3. Make Tweaks Not Overhauls: With the information you gather from your self-assessment you should make tweaks to the program, not overhauls.

 

Example: As you are warming up for your deadlift your back doesn't feel right.

 

A tweak would be trying squats that day or turning your deadlift day into a focus on form and working at loads below 50% of your one rep max.

 

An overhaul would be to throw the program out and turn it into an "I do whatever I want” workout.

 

The Intuitive Warm Up

One of the many reasons to warm up is to give yourself an idea of how your body is feeling that day. As you go through your warm up you might notice your shoulder is feeling a little cranky or as you are doing squats your hips are feeling a little tight.

 

Sometimes all it will take is doing a little extra warming up of that area and you can go on with your normal workout.

 

But that is not always the rule.

 

What do you do?

 

You find what feels good.

 

For the shoulder, you might have a barbell overhead press but you find that for today dumbbells feel better because they offer a better range of motion. Or maybe having more stability with a bench feels better, so you try a dumbbell incline bench press.

 

In the case of the squat, you might find going to a box feels better because it adds more stability. Or you could try single leg movements like split squats and lunges.

 

When things aren't feeling right play around to see if you can find an alternative that does.

 

Beware the Bad Night's Sleep

Sleep and nutrition are the cornerstones of recovery. If you are not getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep consistently, you will be limiting yourself on the results you could be getting.

 

Intuitive Lifting

 

If you are trying to workout on four hours of sleep you would be better off taking a 20 minute nap than working out.

 

For the day you don't feel rested because of a bad night’s sleep, cut your workout sets in half. For example:

 

Planned:

  • Squat 4x6
  • Chin Ups 4x6
  • Bench 4x6
  • Reverse Lunge 3x8

 

Adjusted:

  • Squat 2x6
  • Chin Ups 2x6
  • Bench 2x6
  • Reverse Lunge 2x8

 

Working Out When You Feel 110%

For the day you are feeling out of this world, you should take advantage for these days are few and far between. For example:

 

Planned:

  • Squat 4x6
  • Chin Ups 4x6
  • Bench 4x6
  • Reverse Lunge 3x8

 

Adjusted:

  • Squat 4-6x6
  • Chin Ups 4-5x6
  • Bench 4-6x6
  • Reverse Lunge 3-4x8

 

Keep the working weight the same. If you are feeling good, meaning the bar speed is staying the same throughout the movement and form is maintained, do a few more sets until you feel either the bar speed drop or your form starts to regress. This method will allow you to get in a few more working sets on the days you are feeling good.

 

The Takeaway

About 80% of the time you will be able to run your normal workout, but sometimes life doesn't go as planned and you feel off. You need to know it is OK to tweak your plan. The body is ever-changing and a program that was made weeks or months ago needs to be able to change with you, as well.

 

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