Why Slow Gains Are Better

In his blog post, “This is the Greatest Weightlifting Lesson I’ve Learned,” James Clear touts the benefits of slow and steady progress, or gains, over achievement with weightlifting.

As a society, we want to know the end result immediately. We seldom are interested in the journey it takes to get there. We ask a weightlifter about how much weight he can lift rather than the daily training it took for him to reach that goal. We ask marathoners how far they’ve ever run. We see the end results with professional sports teams, but we never consider how they got there. 

Slowly increasing strength and endurance can be difficult to aspire to when we're so used to instant gratification. People who are trying to lose weight are often discouraged when their mirrors or scales do not show immediate results. 

To understand our resistance to slow gains, we must know exactly what that means. Whether running, walking, swimming, biking or weightlifting, slowly building strength and endurance is the ultimate achievement. Let’s say a runner could run one mile without stopping or a weightlifter could lift twenty-five pound weights.

Slowly gaining in either activity is simply adding just a little more at a time to the workout. The runner could add on a tenth of a mile the next week, while the weightlifter could add one pound to his weights. Each athlete could attain this simple goal.

This seems almost ridiculous because either athlete could add more and still succeed at their goal. However, if the athletes continue adding just a small amount more to their workouts week after week, eventually those small amounts will add up to large amounts. After a year, the runner is easily logging six miles and the weightlifter is lifting seventy-five pounds! 

Why is this slow and steady gain beneficial? First, it’s attainable. Adding just a small amount more onto a workout is easy. It does not require much more thought or preparation. Second, this allows the body to adapt to the workouts. Our bodies can adapt to most anything in time.

When we give them less intense workouts, our bodies can recover quicker. This means we are able to get back to our workouts quicker without soreness. Finally, we are less prone to injury when we gradually add to our workouts. 

It may feel counterintuitive in this modern era of instant results, but slow gains are the safest way to increase strength and endurance. It takes a little patience, but, like they say “good things come to those who wait.”