Its a cold, dreary Tuesday night. After a grueling day of work, back aching and with tired eyes, you slowly walk into the brightly-lit gym. After sharing a brief hello with the front desk associate, you jam your ear buds in place, blast DragonForce, and get “in the zone” for your workout of the day.
First exercise: chest press. After a relaxing warm up set, you stack the barbell with iron-clad plates and mentally prepare to pump out 8 reps. One! Two! Three! Four! Fiveeee…. Sieeeexxx…. Sasasasaseeeveeennnnn!…And now, the moment of truth, the last rep…. Eigh… Eigh… Eigh… AHHH! You place the barbell just above your chest on the lower rack, not quite completing the last rep.
Again, on the same grey Tuesday night, the same exact time, at the same gym, lifter #2 strolls in, greets the front desk associate with a smile, and prepares for a few sets of chest press. After a warm-up set, he begins lifting. One! Two! Three! Four! Fiveeee…. Siiiiiix… Sasasasaseeeveeennnnn!
After completing the seventh rep, he returns the weight to the rack, and gives-in to the physical and mental strain of lifting the barbell, although his muscles may be fully capable of generating enough force for one more rep.
Discussions on the Two Scenarios
The first scenario is frustrating, yes, but, this individual gave it their best shot to complete that last rep. They recruited every muscle fiber possible, used every ounce of their mental stamina, but the ability of their muscles to generate enough force to lift the weight just was not enough. So, the lifter put the barbell in a lower position on the rack to prevent an injury from occurring.
In the second scenario, the lifter simply gave up without even trying. So long as there is a spotter or a safe place to place the barbell if the last rep could not be completed, there should be no reason that it is not attempted. The only thing that comes in between a lifter and completing the last rep is her/his attitude.
At the very least, if the lifter is experienced and understands that one more rep is just not going to happen, then he can very, very slowly lower the barbell down as low as is safely possible, maximizing muscle recruitment with the eccentric contraction.
Psychological Benefits of Attempting the Last Rep
The psychology of a lifter in the weight room may directly equate to her/his psychology in other areas of life. When lifting in the weight room, one can build the mental stamina for other areas of life. Imagine that if every time you went into the weight room, say 3 times a week, and for 4 exercises at 3 sets each, you put yourself as close as possible to maximum muscular fatigue. During this week, you have 36 opportunities to try something extremely strenuous, and either push through and conquer the challenge or succumb and quit. In this case, you know what to expect, and are able to perform this challenge in a safe, comfortable environment. Say 30 of those 36 attempts, you overcame extreme muscular fatigue, when your mind telling you to stop immediately, and simply put the weight up and had a huge smile on your face after. Week after week, you continue to add more weight, get stronger, feel better, and gain more confidence. After some time, this success in the weight room will pour over to other areas in your life. Reports at work may seem easier to accomplish; you may find relationship issues can be easily overcome with patience, persistence, and a willingness to stick it through.
Attempting the last rep whole-heartedly is a sure-fire way to gain confidence and build physical and mental strength. At times, one will need to respect the weight, the limitations of their ability, and with patience and persistence, attempt the lift again on the next set or the next day. In time, the muscles will adapt, and even more weight (more challenges) can be added and overcome, again with a positive attitude, proper technique, patience, and persistence. In this controlled, safe environment, one can help build confidence in other areas of life.
Try it for yourself! Let me know how it goes 🙂