I used to always increase the weight in my lifts. The problem is that muscles react fast, but tendons and ligaments don’t. So, inevitably one day I’d realize I’d done some damage and then I’d have an injury and have to recover.
Gradually, over time, I’ve learned to dial this urge back. What’s the point of lifting more weight if you’re just increasing the risk of injury? Besides that, how strong do you need to be?
And that’s really the question that I think about. You don’t need to be that strong and it doesn’t take that much to get there. If you want to get past this basic level of strength, it takes more time and effort. At this phase of my life, it doesn’t make any sense. Maybe I’ll change my mind later, but then again, I remember Steve Maxwell telling me he never meets older dudes say that they wished they lifted more weight when they were younger—but he frequently hears the opposite.
So, in terms of progress, the idea is to get good—really good—at a few basic exercises. Deadlifts, pistols, squats, pull ups, chin ups, dips, swings, rows, and so on. Get to a particular level of performance in these exercises and then just hover around that level, occasionally changing a focus from pistols to front squats or going from chin ups to just focusing on rows.
Figure out where you feel good. Where you feel really strong and don’t feel compelled to go beyond it. And here’s a tip. Hand and ab strength is the best. Since I’ve started doing thick bar deadlifts, my overall strength feels much greater. I can easily hold my 30 pound daughter and hang one hand from a tree branch and I can easily carry a ton of groceries, open a jar, or just hang onto anything.
Anyway, the idea is to find the level of strength that’s super useful for life and not feel overly tempted to go beyond it. The corollary to this is that for every single exercise I mentioned above, the idea is to master the exercise. It’s easy to pile on weight and be doing the movement poorly. It’s much better to master the movement and use a respectable weight. Not only will you still get plenty strong, you’ll learn to tune into your body—which is really the point of physical culture, a heightened level of awareness, use, and appreciation of your body.