Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate
“Stimulate, don’t annihilate.”
Ah, a paradigm I’ve sprinkled across many articles, but never devoted a piece solely to discussing the training principle that will yield you the most effective training sessions you’ve ever had, and lay the foundation of continual progress for years to come.
But first: evoking the Kaizen principle within your training
For the uninitiated, the Kaizen principle stems from Japanese word “kaizen” which translates directly as “the act of making bad points better.”
Nothing more, and nothing less.
While writing on Kaizen would cover many articles, we’re only going to refer to it in this piece as the core principle from which muscle building and fat loss stems from:
To be clear: improvement does not come from muscular annihilation, and lambasting yourself with weight with the aim of rendering yourself useless the following day.
What matters is that you improve, even if slightly, each time you set foot in the gym. Which is where the art of stimulation steps into the ring.
The lost art of muscle fibre stimulation
The school of thought “stimulate, don’t annihilate,” is quite possibly my favourite training paradigm of all time.
Hammered through my meatheaded skull courtesy of my first mentor in the bodybuilding game, Mike Demeter, the phrase “stimulate, don’t annihilate” has since shaped, and re-shaped how I approach training ever since.
Annihilating yourself to the point where your sessions destroy you for the rest of your day, leaving you physically and mentally exhausted, day in and day out, will only work (and last) for so long before your body cries out in angry protest.
Aiming for total annihilation session after session is a surefire way to injure yourself, take three steps backward, and leave a ton of progress on the table.
When it comes to training for aesthetic purposes, the goal is to stimulate and coax your body into growing muscle tissue or burning fat. When executed correctly, this means pushing yourself hard, but not over the top. Take a step back while ensuring you recover to the best of your abilities, then dive back in back for more.
The video below is a great example of flirting with failure, maintaining sound form, but not chasing muscle tissue destruction.
Which is a mentality few meatheads possess
There’s a preference amongst many meatheads these days to go balls-to-the-wall on every single set, take everything to failure, and beat yourself into the ground every single session. If you’re not sore the next day, why did you even bother? The reasoning behind this plan of attack being that pushing yourself to such limits will yield greater levels of muscle damage, and thus tissue growth.
Alas, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
To further explain why this is misguided, I give you the following quote from a conversation with fellow coach and friend, Ben Johnson.
“When you go out drinking, do you have to get utterly smashed to enjoy yourself? Similarly, hangovers and soreness are a good comparison. If you go out and wake up without a hangover, drinks the night before weren’t any less effective.”
The correct answer to Ben’s somewhat rhetorical questions is no. No, you don’t have to get blackout drunk to enjoy yourself, and often the opposite is the case. When it comes to drinking, there’s a sweet spot between being painfully sober, and erasing 12 hours from your memory. A sweet spot of which has been dubbed by John Romaniello as God Mode.
A night of drinking aside, being in God Mode is exactly what you should be aiming to emulate within your training sessions.
In the gym, being in God Mode means:
A. You’re not wandering aimlessly around the gym, texting between sets, swiping through tinder or updating your flakebook status (akin to being painfully sober at the bar).
B. You’re not in danger of decapitating yourself with each set of bench press, doing triple-drop sets on each set of every exercise, or maxing out on endless sets of (going about 6 shots too many past God Mode).
C. Instead, you’re in the fucking zone. Your session has a purpose, you know exactly how hard to push on each rep, and you’re stimulating tissue growth and fat loss alike (unadulterated God Mode).
Like with these here buttery back squats below.
Hold on one moment
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t ever take sets to failure, as doing so can be (and is) an effective method of creating muscle damage and stimulating growth, but to do so on every exercise will leave gains on the table, causing you to wonder why you’re not getting any bigger or stronger.
While there is value in pushing yourself to failure, seeing what you’re capable of, and testing your limits in the gym. But the time to do so is not in every single session.
Push yourself hard, but don’t hit the wall. Nudge your body towards the response it wants. Pull back and let yourself recover. Rinse and repeat until you’ve hit your goal.
To bring back the drinking analogy: treat your training as you would a fun night out, without ending up puking out the window of your Uber or into your friends lap. Have a drink or two, grab a sip of water, dance to a few songs, take a shot or two, chat up the pretty girl at the bar, have another drink or two, grab a dance with said pretty girl, have a few shots to close out the night, and head home (ideally with aforementioned pretty girl).
As opposed to sitting at the bar all night having a fresh shot of tequila poured for you every 5 minutes.
Wondering what’s next?
Well, here’re a few options:
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