If you had to guess: What do you think is the most important variable of an "optimized" workout plan?
Would you guess to constantly switch up your plan so it keeps your body “guessing”?
It’s a valid suggestion, but it’s incorrect because too much variation is not always a good thing. If you’re doing something different every week, you have no idea if you're actually making progress. So, guess again.
Getting stronger over time?
It’s a really good guess because volume (sets x reps x weight used) is the main driver of gaining muscle, so doing more is definitely necessary. But it’s not #1.
The #1 most important variable when it comes to an “optimized” plan:
Safety and sustainability.
If you get hurt, you can’t lift.
Just like diet, you can have the fanciest and most scientific plan in the world, but if you can’t sustain it, it’s not the best. At least not for long.
And if you know anything about gaining muscle and losing fat, it takes a looong time of consistent, hard work to make solid progress. Therefore, injury prevention should be your #1 focus when following a workout plan.
/Side-Bar: If you don’t currently have any type of plan or if you’re simply not satisfied with what you’re doing: I’ve created a FREE 30-Day Manual called Ultimate Physique Development that provides a 4-Week Training Plan, Nutrition Resource, & Supplement Guide. Just click the button below, tell me where to send it, and it’ll arrive in a crisp PDF file in about 60 seconds.
Okay, so now you may be wondering how in the hell are you supposed to make sure you’re going to stay injury-free?
There’s no right answer because making a risk-less (just made that word up) training plan would be impossible.
Besides like, "don’t lift", but ya know, fuck that.
BUT there are ways to drastically reduce your chance of injury.
Including all those ways could be an entire blog post itself, so for this article I’m just going to focus on the mindset side of things because I believe that’s one of the most controllable variables to long-term success.
Specifically, the 3 gym mindsets that I have used in order to go almost 8 years of consistent lifting, 5+ times per week, without any major injuries.
The Big Three Gym Mindsets
Most people will do whatever they can to force a good workout:
Blare hardcore music
Increase caffeine content
Hype themselves up by smashing their head into the bar
While this can work in the short-term, this isn’t something you can sustain.
If you know anything about physiology, you understand the body doesn’t care what you want, it cares about what it wants.
Meaning pushing harder and doing more won’t work forever, no matter how bad you want it to. The body will start to fatigue, screw up your sleep, make your mood worse, make you weaker, and if you ignore all of these signs -- you’ll get hurt.
The body makes you stop being an idiot by responding with an injury.
This is why it’s important to have some days/weeks where you go harder than others.
If you’ve ever heard of “periodization”, this is the purpose for that. It is the art and science of designing a long-term training program to maximize safety and effectiveness.
It’s the difference between training with intent to elicit a response ... and just exercising. Both are okay, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably pretty serious about improving your body and therefore fall in the former category.
Once you begin to understand it’s sometimes necessary to take 1 step back in order to take 2 steps forward, you will realize having all 3 of these mindsets are crucial to long-term progress in the gym.
That being said, let’s dive into mindset #1.
Mindset #1 - Check The Boxes
This is my least favorite mindset.
It’s my least favorite because it means that I’m either hungover, really tired, really sore, highly unmotivated, or all of the above.
These are the days where I literally lay in bed trying to conjure up some type of rationalization for why I shouldn’t go to the gym that day.
Sometimes, I give in and just don’t go.
But most of the time, I end up dragging myself out of bed and start getting ready for the gym anyway.
The hardest part is getting out of bed. If I can get outta bed, I know I’m going to go because momentum begins to take over.
I put on my shorts, put on my shirt, maybe turn on a motivational video, and then start to mix up a pre-workout.
Once the pre-workout is made, it’s done. The rest of the habits just fall in place and, lez be real, I’m not gonna waste that pre-workout.
Then I’ll grab my gym bag and trudge on out to my car. I’ll try turning on some good music to see how well it works for my motivation. Sometimes (rarely), it’ll work and I’ll start to get in a better mood about the gym, but not often.
This is the important part:
Instead of just trying to push harder and force myself into a “hardcore” mindset (which we’ll talk about soon), I just acknowledge this workout is not going to be one where I set PR’s and have an amazing session. And that is okay because it will help me recover to have a harder session later in the week.
I just go in the gym and “check the boxes” of what I’m supposed to get through that day.
I’ll usually throw on a podcast or YouTube video that keeps my mind somewhat stimulated. I’ve found this method works better than trying to blare music because in this mindset, loud music generally just makes me annoyed (if this happens to you, please leave a comment because I’m interested).
I’ll make sure I’m lifting with proper form and pushing myself to about a 5-6.5/10 effort for the day.
If you used this mindset correctly, you’ll leave the gym feeling more refreshed than when you went in.
In a typical week, this mindset is necessary for about 15% of my workouts. So, maybe like 1-2 workouts a week on average.
Remember, these types of workouts are just as important as the super hardcore mindset (#3) workouts because they allow fatigue to lower some and set you up for a better workout later on. Sacrifice this “shitty” workout in order to have more “amazing” workouts in the future.
Mindset #2 - “Let’s Eat."
I first heard this term, “Let’s eat”, from one of my favorite powerlifters in the game right now - LS McClain.
If you know who LS is, you’ll know that this dude has an absolute blast lifting weights. Even when he’s up on the world-stage platform about to lift for a world record, you’ll find him smiling and acting like a goofball. He is the inspiration behind this mindset.
This is the mindset that is necessary for the majority of your lifting career.
This is the mindset where one of your favorite artists just dropped a new album and you’re bumping some new music on the way to the gym, sippin’ some pre-workout, pumped about the workout you’re about to get in.
This is the mindset where you just got a new training program and you’re jolly and enthusiastic about going in and doing the work you’re supposed to do.
This is the mindset where you haven’t been able to lift because you’ve been away on vacation and you’re just itching to get back in the lab and make some magic happen.
And as you lift, you feel the blood rushing through your muscles, stretching your skin out due to the massive pump.
The weights are just flying up. Maybe making a few PR’s.
Maybe you’re training with a few friends and you’re all pushing each other, talkin’ shit, and having a good ole’ time competing.
Maybe the gym lighting is just right and, HOT DAMN; YOU GOT YOUR FAVORITE WORKOUT CLOTHES ON AND YOU’RE LOOKIN’ FINE AS HELL.
It’s just pure jubilation to be lifting weights during this mindset.
It’s this mindset and these type of workouts that keep you going back to the gym.
It’s what causes you to be slightly obsessed with the gym in the first place.
You can see and feel the progression.
And progression is addicting.
This is the “sweet-spot” you want to aim for.
In this mindset, you’re probably around a 7-9/10 on the effort scale.
It’s the most sustainable mindset and usually accounts for 75% of my total workouts for the week (maybe 2-4 workouts). This is the “meat-and-potatoes” of my entire workout experience.
Which brings me to the last and final mindset.
The mindset that should be used with caution and only be used when appropriate…
Mindset #3 - The Void
Some of you may read about this mindset and think “this is what I do when I lift”.
For the majority of you, you probably don’t, to be blunt.
You like to think you lift hard, but you’re probably only around a 7.5 - 8.5/10 when it comes to effort.
But that’s okay, because it takes serious time and effort to reach this state. I used to think I worked hard too, until I saw people who actually worked hard (go back and watch first vid).
To make it more clear, here are a few signs you AREN’T in “The Void”:
If you’re texting or scrolling social media between sets, you aren’t in the void.
If you aren’t shaking BEFORE you lift the weight, you aren’t in the void.
If you aren’t afraid of the weight you’re about to attempt, you’re not in the void.
“The Void” was coined by the powerlifting legend, Dave Tate; founder of an amazing company called EliteFTS.
He talks about The Void being an experience that is extremely hard to define, but it consists of the period during one of your hardest sets of the entire workout.
When you know the set is about to hurt.
When you can’t even describe how the set went after completing it because you blackout from the sheer effort being produced.
When reality itself begins to blur and the people around you become non-existent.
There is no stress from work.
There is no worrying about your abs.
There is no nagging spouse or loved ones.
It is only you and the weights.
Followed by a feeling of pure bliss from being in a zen-like energy state of controlled rage.
It is a feeling that can only be described accurately by those who have put in thousands of hours under the bar.
My friend and pro bodybuilder/powerlifter, Ryan Doris, similarly defines it as “Going Dere”.
One thing is for sure, no matter how you define it: when you feel it, you will know.
And once you reach it, you will understand why you can’t possibly do this for every set or every workout. Trying to go balls-to-the-wall every single workout, no matter your current state, is something only fools and beginners do.
There are times to destroy everything in sight and try to lift until your eyes bleed.
And there are times to pull back on the reigns to set you up properly in the future.
The key to using this mindset effectively is by not trying to force it.
The Void is earned.
It may come after a hard break-up, or after you get fired from a job, or when you’re just motivated as fuck to surpass a goal you’ve set for yourself after years of training.
It will make up the remaining 10% of your training and is, obviously, around a 10/10 effort.
But no matter when the actual “Void” comes, understanding that consistently pushing out of your comfort zone is absolutely necessary to get an amazing physique.
And since you’re still here reading, you probably don’t just want an okay physique.
So, make sure you actually do something about it.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Let’s recall what we learned:
Mindset #1 - “Check The Boxes”
Used about 15% of the time and is just as important as any other mindset because it allows fatigue to drop and could prevent injuries. You get in, do your work, and get out.
Mindset #2 - “Let’s Eat”
The most popular mindset that you should have around 75% of the time. This is one that is sustainable and brings you the most happiness while at the gym. A solid lifting sesh.
Mindset #3 - “The Void”
This is maximum effort and should scare you a little. It should be used with caution around 10% of the time and only used when appropriate due to the higher risk of injury and causing the most amount of fatigue.
When you only use one of these mindsets, you risk not getting the most out of your training plan and can also set yourself up for an unnecessary injury that will knock you outta commission for weeks or even months.
But having the arsenal of all three to choose from -- you can train in a much smarter way that not only provides you better results, but it prevents you from burning out and reduces injury.
And that, my friend, is a recipe for long-term success.
Wait! Grab your free gift before you go.
Thank you so much for reading. If you've been looking for something new: I’ve created a FREE 30-Day Manual called Ultimate Physique Development that provides a 4-Week Training Plan, Nutrition Resource, & Supplement Guide. Just click the button below, tell me where to send it, and it’ll arrive in a crisp PDF file in about 60 seconds.
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