When I think about what creates my gains in strength and fitness, hard work in the gym isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. That might come as a surprise since crushing it with weights is a core component of success (along with a healthy eating lifestyle).
But an equally important factor in consistent gains is the mental work – having a mindset that prevents failure and knowing what works and what doesn’t. In this post I lay out a few truths that keep me on track to building muscle, strength, and a lean, cut body.
No F*cking Excuses
Recently I posted on my wall that it was a beautiful, late-winter day… but that I was still going to the gym. Predictably, a few of my dear friends pointed out that I was nuts. They scolded me to train outside… use a playground… or go for a bike ride or walk/run. Get creative and don’t waste time indoors!
I love my Facebook peeps, but I had to disagree. If a nice day is going to keep you from your weights workout, then you’re letting another excuse get in the way of your goals. This might seem like a rigid position to some, but I didn’t get in the best condition of my life by skipping workouts due to weather.
The excuses will always be there – there’s a family obligation, the house needs cleaning, you didn’t sleep well. But here’s the bottom line: Is your workout non-negotiable or is it the first thing to go? If it’s an “only-if-nothing-else-gets-in-the-way” proposition, then I’m sorry – you won’t achieve that killer body or strength that you want.
I also didn’t get this way by doing bodyweight exercises. I’ve spent a lot of time at playgrounds and know that chin ups, planks, and pushups obviously can be done there. But in order for muscles to grow and strength to increase you need progressive resistance. If I don’t have access to barbells and dumbbells then I’m simply maintaining my current state.
Life happens, as they say. It happens EVERY DAY. Yes, you have to gauge each distraction individually to see if it’s worth missing or modifying your workout. But it’s only when making you’re your workouts becomes a mindset that you’ll get results that come from a long-term commitment. It’s also called consistency.
Holy High Reps!
You see it everywhere: Challenges that require very high repetitions on a single day, sometimes every day – 100 pushups, or 50 burpees, mountain climbers, box jumps, etc. When you take on a challenge like this, ask yourself why you’re doing it: to be a bad ass and say you did it? To burn calories? To become stronger?
Metabolic resistance training can torch calories better than standard weight lifting, and that’s all good. But it shouldn’t consist of the same exercises over and over; they should be varied so that not one pair of joints is being pummeled. If you’re consumed with doing a challenge to build strength or get in shape, think about this: Increases in strength, conditioning, and mass require constant change and progressive resistance, which you’re not getting with any of these challenges.
Plyometrics especially can cause injury in the unconditioned, and doing a high volume can cause injury in anyone. Some experts recommend only doing plyometrics a few times a week due to the stress it causes on the joints.
If you’re doing 50 reps of kettle bell swings every day (or any other strength training exercise), why? Even the 20-25-rep range should be used sparingly and can set you up for overuse injuries. As I discuss here, the number of reps you do affects your results. Do you really need or want hamstrings that can handle a large volume of repetitive work or do you want stronger hamstrings? Which brings me to another truth…
Question the Class
I went to a weight-lifting class at my gym for about a year and a half – the kind where you use barbells, dumbbells, and a step to get a strength-training workout. It was a great way for me to get back in the swing of lifting and held me accountable, since other people knew I was coming.
But after about awhile my elbow and knee started to ache and I had to actually decrease the resistance. The ultra-high repetitions done in the class weren’t increasing my strength or mass, but they were causing overuse injuries.
If going to classes makes you happy and doesn’t affect you adversely, then by all means do it. But rethink your workout if (1) you’re achy because of doing the same exercise throughout a three-minute song, or (2) you’re not able to increase the resistance week after week. Chances are your gains are going to plateau pretty quickly if the reps are always high or the routine doesn’t change frequently. And with high repetitions, it’s almost impossible to increase the resistance appreciably.
These are just a few of my mantras that create success. Feel free to weigh in here or on Facebook and add your own. I love hearing from you.