Slow gains: does the tortoise win the race after all?

written by Philip Stefanov  |  MAY 4, 2021

Most of my readers are from the US, so there is a chance you live there, too. It’s fair to assume that you’ve seen the Grand Canyon in person or know of its existence. Maybe you flew over it or took a trip there over the weekend. I haven’t seen it, but I would love to one day. From the photos I’ve seen, it’s magnificent.

This natural wonder is nearly three hundred miles long, up to eighteen miles wide, and reaches a depth of up to a mile. Truly amazing.

Geologists suggest the Colorado River first established its course through the Canyon six million years ago and has been deepening and widening the trench ever since. In all its beauty and magnitude, the Grand Canyon is the result of water flowing along the ground for so long. Not bursting or hacking at the stone and rock, but merely flowing. This reminds me of an old saying, “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”

The good news is, you don’t need millions of years to see results from your persistence. In fact, you need far less time. But you need to embrace the power of slow gains.

We live in a society where instant gratification is the norm. Order an item from Amazon? It’ll be with you in a couple of days. Need some information or entertainment? All it takes are a few mouse clicks or smartphone taps. Crave that new BMW 5-series with the overly-large grill but don’t have the cash for it? No problem, you can lease it today.

We want amazing results, and we want them now. We’ve become impatient, and we frown upon the idea of slow progress. But think about it for a moment:

Start training consistently and pick an exercise you want to improve. Depending on your experience, start adding a pound each week (if you’re more experienced) or two pounds (if you’re a beginner). Simple enough, right? Most people could do that.

But here’s the thing: People don’t have the patience for that. They want to get strong quickly, but in the pursuit of fast gains, most stall and never get anywhere. Or worse, they get injured.

If you were a beginner and started squatting this week, you might only be able to lift 90 pounds for sets of five reps. But if you add two pounds each week, you’ll be squatting 190 pounds within a year. Not bad, right? Start adding a pound each week from then on, and you’ll be increasing your squat by fifty pounds each year. It’s simple enough, right? But how many people do you know add fifty pounds on their squat per year? Not many, I’d say.

Granted, linear programming is not the only way to build strength, and you won’t make progress forever. The point of this email isn’t to praise it or bash other programming tactics.

My idea today is to illustrate the power of minor improvements. They don’t seem like much from week to week but can add up to incredible improvements down the line.

Thank you for your time! Until next week,


P.S. Talk about beauty.


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