Resistance training is a strange animal. You learn a few things along the way to put it mildly.
With over 25 years of serious weight training experience, and several of those in bodybuilding competitions, I’ve picked up quite a few nuggets of wisdom.
Now, this isn’t to say that I’ve finished my education in the iron game – hardly. But there are several thoughts and principles that I’ve learned during my time that are worth sharing.
A sage I am not, but here are my two cents on how to get the most out of every workout from here forward.
1. Patience isn't only a virtue, it's a necessity
Patience is the one virtue that has been on a fast and steady decline over the years. Quick fixes, overnight results, and empty promises litter the media. With edited photos, bent truths, and emotional testimonials, it’s no wonder we’ve become increasingly frustrated over our own lack of results. If it doesn’t work then more must be better.
Training, dieting, and living a better, healthier life is a marathon not a sprint. Getting the results you desire may take incredible patience. It's a lifestyle, not a temporary process that you can easily switch on and off. Decide from the beginning that getting out of your comfort zone is the new normal and give it time. You are an intelligent, capable human being who possesses all the tools for success. Have patience.
2. Take Baby Steps
Taking giant leaps forward is a great feeling. You literally see progress when big changes happen right before your eyes. Maybe you have a knack for a certain workout program, diet, or other lifestyle change. Maybe it comes easy to you. Or maybe you’re what some call a non-responder. You fight for every inch of ground you're trying to cover. You struggle even with the simplest, most basic parameters set out in a program. Training consistently, dieting properly, and getting the right amount of rest all prove difficult.
Changing all aspects toward a healthier, better you at once is the perfect plan for failure. Giant leaps don’t last. You will run into a wall sooner or later.
The best bet is to take small, deliberate, calculated steps toward your goal. Over time these steps will quickly add up to proverbial miles covered. Instead of attempting shortcuts and hoping to cut corners to get there faster (only to likely fail in the end), take small but significant steps. Plus, they lay a better foundation to build on.
3. Have Some Fun
Even though I say I wouldn’t change anything from my past weight training experiences, there was always room for more fun. Training day-in and day-out is arduous. It’s tough to go through the pain and discipline to get to where you want to go. Many gym-goers I still see to this day are so serious about training and dieting that they are missing out on life.
Life isn’t all barbells and dumbbells. Let go of the seriousness a little and have fun. Not only outside of the gym, but in it too. I’m not saying go to the gym and horse around the entire time, but it should be an enjoyable experience for you. It should give you joy to train hard and strive for results. Don’t be that guy who is always “killing it” with a chip on his shoulder. You don’t want to end up looking back on your youth thinking you should’ve lightened up a little.
4. Never Get Involved with Drugs
I may get some flak for this one, but I stand by this message. Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are quickly becoming a part of society and the norm in organized sports. Every week there is some report on an athlete getting popped on a drug test. Or you hear that so and so at your gym is on something. It’s a common occurrence in this day and age.
If your goal is to add some muscle and lean out, then you really have no use for drugs (PEDs or recreational). You will have a better chance of reaching your goals by practicing discipline, consistency, and believing that your efforts will get you where you want to be. Getting involved in drugs is a messy, complicated, risky move that you are better off leaving alone.
Related: The "No Juice" Advanced Bodybuilding Workout Routine
Some may say that I am ignorant of the “real” benefits of some use since I’ve never dabbled in anything, but I have seen others go from the highest high to the lowest low. It never turned out to be the best decision.
5. Experiment with Everything
Are you an IIFYM disciple? Do you only power lift? Or maybe you’re a cardio junkie. How about bodybuilding – is that the only type of training you’ve ever done? Despite the new options available, many gym-goers still gravitate in one direction or the other. They tend to stick to their guns without ever wavering. They believe their way is the best way even if they're not seeing results.
If you continue training and dieting the same way you always have, then you will always get the same results. In other words, if it’s not working then you need to shift gears.
But beyond that obvious advice, experiment with other methods outside of your comfort zone. Have you been bodybuilding for years? Try some cross training style workouts for a change. Or you could add in some Olympic lifting moves, endurance exercises, or even join in on an obstacle race. The point is to get out of your comfortable little corner and expand your experience. Become a student once again.
6. Have Go-To Programs
As I’ve just mentioned with experimenting above, you will also run into analysis paralysis. You may experience frustration regarding too many programs to choose from and inevitably feel like throwing in the towel. There are more programs, beliefs, and systems available now than ever before all right at your fingertips. Experiment, yes, but too much and you end up giving up.
Related: Paralysis by Analysis - 10 Reasons You're Not Making Progress
If you have any time under your belt when it comes to training, you’ve most likely developed a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Now, this may not be completely clear to you (that’s why it’s important to record your workouts and their outcomes), but you will develop a sense of consistency within your training/dieting.
Have a go-to workout or two at the ready. In times of stress, life changes, or anything unexpected, it’s nice to have something you can lean on in challenging or frustrating times.
7. Nothing beats consistency and discipline
And I mean nothing. You can have the greatest program in the world, the best diet, and the most flexible schedule, but without consistency and discipline you are dead in the water. The lack of either of these two factors will deter your efforts and prevent you from reaching your goals. Yes, these are simple principles, but they are challenging to put into practice.
Just like muscle, discipline and consistency are built little by little over time. Remember, small steps. Build on these principles each and every day. Maybe it starts by getting to the gym twice per week for one hour each day. Or 4 times per week for 30 minutes per day. Whatever the goal, make it small and manageable. Over time your discipline will be strengthened and your consistency will grow.
8. Don't Go Solo
Training alone, in your own little world, does have a few advantages:
- you don't have to wait on anyone to show up,
- you call all the shots and never have to compromise,
- and you may cut down the chatter and have a great workout
But that can get stale over time. You run the risk of staying in your comfort zone and become a recluse when it comes to achieving your goals.
Take on a training partner if you can. You will create a lifetime of experiences and camaraderie. Having someone else there to keep you accountable, raise your intensity when you aren’t up to it, and offer a spot is invaluable. You’ll also expand your training or dieting arsenal by trying new things, bouncing ideas off each other, and developing a sense of community.
9. Be comfortable with change
It’s always been funny to me when things change in a gym setting. Whether it’s equipment moved around or replaced, the average meathead will raise all kinds of ruckus and threaten to leave the gym. People, in general, do not handle change well.
Related: 50 Unwritten Gym Rules that YOU Need to Know!
But if you think about it, anything that you want to change requires being uncomfortable. Studying for a test, training to build muscle, stripping body fat, or learning a new skill all require a change. And that can be severely uncomfortable at times.
Change will happen. That’s life. But how we handle change makes all the difference. I was never the best at handling this. I would rant and rave in my head about how whatever change I was going through was my downfall and I was angry. Even though I never took it out on anyone, I was still doing damage to my own thought process. Open up, tear down your walls, and embrace change. There could be something new to experience.
10. Don't be afraid of taking time off
A few years ago, I underwent chemotherapy for an immune system type cancer. I never had a doubt I wouldn’t make it out alive, but I was curious to see how I would handle being away from the gym for a significant amount of time. I quickly learned that my treatments were a priority. During those 9 months of therapy, I always had it in the back of my mind that I would return to the gym and competition better than before. It was a true test of patience, trust, and fortitude.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to take a significant amount of time away from your familiar surroundings, do not stress. You can always adapt and come back. Whether it’s an illness, injury, or some other setback, believe you can rebuild and come back better than before. Stress, worry, and frustration will only do you in. Stay positive and plan for your return.
Really inspiring article, thank you for sharing!
Brad, without at doubt your article was so 'on time' for me my friend! I was beginning to get discouraged as I just recently celebrated my first year of lifting seriously. While I've made tremendous gains my first year through dedication to being consistent with my training and diet, I started to feel that it just wasn't going 'fast enough' for me. THANK YOU for sharing the wisdom your 25 years of lifting has taught you. It was a definite reboot for me. I am, by the Grace of God in this for the long term/life style. Thanks again for reminding me of exactly what muscle building IS: FOR THE LONG TERM and not gimmicks, quick fixes, etc., Your writing meant so much to me! Merry Christmas to you! Sincerely, May Palmer
Hello. Wow! I am very happy it helped. Yes, you are correct - it's a marathon, not a sprint. Also, take time along your journey to enjoy it - you can't make up time lost because you were too busy weighing brown rice! Ha! Merry Christmas to you too!
Thanks so much!
Hi again, Brad! I even read your article TWICE and in fact will probably post it somewhere in my home gym to remind myself that it is as you say: A MARATHON. They'll be plenty of ups and downs, good training days where you really 'kill it' and training days where being in the gym is the LAST PLACE you want to be after a hard days work. The very best thing I am learning, lifting weights for building muscle are the 'life lessons' which you so eloquently stated in your article. Thanks again for such sage advice. Sincerely, May Palmer
My pleasure, May! : )
What have you learned over your years of experience?
Have a program, do it 100% properly first THEN add fun stuff... but stick to the program still.
Diet AND training is the only way to go.
You CAN train abs everyday...
Don't cry over results... cry that you're not having fun.