Okay, I lied in the title – there are no secrets to weight training success. Or maybe that is the secret. One thing’s for sure – it can be really confusing to read about dozens of different training methods, each with their own success stories and in some cases cult-like followers. The reality is there’s no single best weight training program, and success has more to do with how you apply a training program and what you put into it than the number of sets and reps on the page. In fact, if you get too caught up in the details of a program you can end up missing the forest for the trees and make no progress whatsoever. On the flip side, follow the 4 principles I am about to lay out, and you are practically guaranteed to make progress no matter the details or name of the program…
Principle 1: Challenge yourself!
Your body is a wonderfully efficient machine that will adapt to the stresses you place on it. If you want your body to change for the better, you have to ask it to do something more difficult than it’s used to doing. That doesn’t necessarily mean setting personal records every training session, but it does mean that over time you should be doing more, such as lifting heavier weight, doing more reps in a set, training more often, or increasing your overall training volume (total sets x reps x weight). It could also mean making your sessions more difficult by cutting rest periods, dong reps more explosively, or doing the reps more strictly. All good workout routines have an aspect of progression to them, and they will all work as long as you challenge yourself to do more over time and put in the EFFORT to make it happen.
Principle 2: Be Consistent!
Your body doesn’t make major changes overnight. Putting in some effort every once in a while isn’t going to cut it. For maximum results, it’s important not to miss training sessions and more important not to take extended periods off. Typically, the enthusiasm for a new program will start to run out around the six week mark, and many people will quit. That is the make or break time to decide whether to recommit yourself to your goals or to rejoin the couch potato community and slip back into fitness mediocrity. If you’re feeling burned out, there is no shame in backing off the intensity for a week or two (i.e. “deloading”), switching to a fresh program, or possibly even taking a full week off. However, to make significant progress, you have to stick with the game plan and not give up. Slow and steady wins the race. The tortoise beats the hare. Constant dripping hollows out a stone. You get the point.
Principle 3: Recovery!
The recovery period is when your body repairs itself and grows stronger. If you don’t allow this process to occur, at best you won’t progress, and at worst your body will break down and you will injure yourself. Entire books can be written about recovery, but at a minimum you should try to get enough sleep, eat enough quality food and water, keep stress levels down, and allow sufficient time between heavy/hard training sessions. Most of us are not professional athletes, so life is going to prevent us from getting the ideal amount of quality recovery time. Just keep in mind that the better you recover, the faster you will progress and the longer you will avoid a plateau, not to mention you will just plain feel better!
Other things you can do to improve recovery include massage, sauna/hot tub, and additional light training sessions, which all help to get blood flowing through the soft tissues and speed up recovery. In my experience, those extra things do help but are not as important as the ones I listed earlier. So if you’re up late reading this post, turn it off and get to sleep!
Principle 4: Mental Attitude!
Mental attitude is undoubtedly the most underrated success factor. One aspect of the mental game is having a positive attitude and genuine belief that your training program is going to work. With belief and enthusiasm, you’re much more likely to put genuine effort into your training and recovery. Without them, forget it. Second, you have to have the mental discipline to be consistent and get your butt into the gym even on those days when you’re not feeling it. Third, you need to be able to calm your mind and relax when you’re not working out so that you can recovery properly. In other words, the right mindset makes first 3 principles much easier to follow.
Lastly and most importantly with regard to mental attitude is the ability to intensely focus on the task at hand. In bodybuilding, this is sometimes referred to as the mind muscle connection. In weightlifting, it’s the ability to completely block out everything going on around you as you attack a lift. When you achieve this level of focus, training becomes a meditation of sorts. All mental chatter disappears, and concentration is focused solely on the action of the lift. Do that on every rep of every set, and your training will really take off. I’ve had the good fortune to train on occasion around some world class athletes, the two best being Bryan Jacob (Olympian weightlifter) and Sam Byrd (multi world record squatter), and the thing that struck me more than their strength was the incredible laser-like focus that they put into their training. Both of them put more intensity and focus into their warm up lifts with the empty bar than 99% of lifters put into their top work sets. When you have that kind of ability to focus, amazing things are possible.
There you have it, my not-so-secrets to success. Apply them to your training, apply them to your life!