5 steps to get past that last rep

Your training limits are purely mental. This is how to break your limits, says Fitness First trainer Martin Henry.

What if someone told you, after your last rep on your third set of bench presses, that you weren’t “done”, that you’d barely even started? Or, after your fourth round of an exhausting circuit, that you had it in you to complete another six rounds?

You’d think they were crazy, and probably ignore them. Yet, chances are you still have a lot left in your tank. Finding this remaining energy is the secret to exceeding your limits. The US Navy SEALs have a famous 40% rule — when you think you’ve reached your limit, not only do you have more in the tank, you are in fact only 40% of the way to your max.

Of course, we aren’t all Navy SEAL trained, but we can all tap into more of our own hidden potential and get the other 60% working for us.

One quick word of caution before you begin smashing your goals: these tips are here to help you bust through plateaus and make your mind and body work for you, so you can train harder than ever before for maximum results. They’re not a suggestion to attempt to go bigger and better when your body isn’t ready for it. Listen to your body, use your mental strength and don’t forget to think before you lift.

1. Get rid of self-limiting beliefs

Just because it’s the last 10m of a 2000m row or the 10th rep of your fourth set of squats doesn’t mean you’re done. Are you in pain? Sure. Feeling tired? Of course. But to hit your true limits, you first need to revise your view of what you’re capable of.

You’ve probably heard of feats of hysterical or superhuman strength — reported cases of mums lifting cars off children, or people fighting off bears in the wild. Not so extreme but certainly more relatable is the young guy I overheard in the gym telling his friends how he smashed his PB by three reps because he was training beside someone he wanted to impress. The point to all this is that you need to know that your current limits are most likely self-imposed, and are by no means your true limits.

2. Get a trainer, or a training partner

A good trainer will help you discover things in yourself that you didn’t think you had. There’s a reason that champions have coaches. Even if you can only afford it for a short time, find a trainer and bust through to a new level of confidence and performance.

You can also try this with a friend: after doing a proper warm up, choose your exercise — it can be anything but let’s go with a bench press. Pick a weight that you know you can do about 12-15 reps with, and then do it. Then rest and do some more, then repeat till you’ve done 100 reps. You’ll end up doing just one rep at a time and you’ll take big rests, but you’ll have done double, triple or even quadruple the amount that you’ve ever done before.

3. One step, one rep at a time

Training like this is hard, but there are ways to make it easier. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” You must concentrate and focus on every rep you go into the 60% zone. Only the rep you’re working on exists, not the one before it and not the one after. This is critical: if you think about all the reps you have to do, you’ll stop before you start.

4. Lift faster

Setting goals to make big lifts can dramatically improve your performance in the gym. Trainer Adam McCubbin points to a  lesser known secret: that if you want to lift more, focus on lifting the weight fast.

For example, in a squat or bench press, lower in a controlled manner and focus on the feeling of tension building in your body. “When you hit the end range of the move, release that tension all at once and try to move your body as fast as you can back to the top of the lift,” says McCubbin.

Remember, it’s the intention of lifting as fast as you can — when there’s a heavy weight on your back, you won’t be moving quick! The intention will help give you extra performance and the ability to lift more.

When trying this yourself, you must try to master your technique before attempting for speed, McCubbin says.

5. Master your mind

Whether you think you can or can’t do something, either way you’ll be right. You’re capable of more than you ever thought possible, and improvement comes from digging deep. Find out what’s stopping you — fear, pain or confidence — and challenge it. Often it’s enough to simply question the thoughts you’re having, and realise that that’s all they are: thoughts.