Thursday, November 20, 2008


With permission of Hardgainer,Vol. 7, No. 2 (September-October 1995)

To obtain maximum results from your training program, you must prioritize your training energy. Many people are simply moving equipment around and not using their energy productively. Simply burning calories will not produce muscular size and strength gains. Before every workout, you must first get your mind in gear to train. Secondly, always use good form. Don’t expect a pat on the back for it; it is a given. Third, apply your focus and perfect form to progression.


The mental aspect of training is more important than any physical element. We have all read how important concentration and focus are to productive training. How many of us, however, have taken the time to really practice and apply it to our workouts consistently? That is one reason why I have no mirrors in my gym. If you train with proper focus, you will be too busy working to look at yourself. Look at yourself later.

If you are truly focused, you attack the equipment with viciousness. I have a sign on the wall that says, “Be here now!” Put everything not related to training out of your mind until the workout is over. The worst things to talk about during training are problems, as this puts you into a negative mental state. Everyone has their share of problems. Successful people have the ability to focus on what they are doing now. The problems will still be there for you to think about when the workout is over.

Training focus should be narrow, internal. I find that it helps to put a mental time limit on a “period of insanity.” For example. if you are doing a set of Trap Bar deadlifts, figure out how much time it will take to perform the set in perfect form (let’s say one minute). You now have a better mental target for your energy. Before doing the set, visualize yourself successfully completing the set in perfect form. Concentrate on going all out for the next minute, as if you have a gun to your head, as if you are on national television or, as I refer to it, as if you have put yourself in a temporarily insane state.

To maximize your physical potential, your mind must be singular of purpose, and focused like a laser beam. If your mind is split, you will never come close to doing your best. Remember this simple phrase: “If your mind is right, the weight feels light!” (If your mind is not right, the weight will be a bitch; but that doesn’t rhyme.)


We could also call this segment “Repology 101” as my friend Dan Riley, conditioning coach of the Washington Redskins, has coined this subject. The proper execution of the repetition is the single most important physical element in productive training. Intensity and progression will not yield maximum results unless they are performed with perfect form. Swinging around heavy weights will not produce results. Your muscles must control the weight without excessive momentum.

Few people use good form. Few people pause at the chest (with no bounce), keep their butt on the bench, and push the weight all the way to lockout when bench pressing. Few people go all the way down without swinging when curling. Good form, once you are past the beginner stage of training and are “potty trained,” should be automatic. Doing a set to muscular failure does not give you the right to get sloppy with your form. You go to failure in perfect form. Any reps done in a sloppy fashion do not count. If one of my clients does a set of 20-rep squats and 5 of them were not to the maximum depth that is safe for that person, he only gets credit for 15 reps.

Lower the weights slowly and under control, and use as full a range of motion as is safe for you. Many trainees routinely cut 3” or so off their range of motion on almost every lift they do, under the pretext of keeping constant tension on the muscles. If you use toner techniques to work your muscles, then the weight is too light. The resistance should be all that you can handle. Using the fullest (but safe for you) range of motion is a classic rule of training, but seems to have been forgotten by many. Do not go getting carried away though and hyperextend or forcefully grind your joints at lockouts. I am talking about regular basic exercises here, not rack training where partial reps are productive and planned.

I think that using focus and good form is a matter of pride. You can spot halfway across the gym people who know what they are doing. It shows in their demeanor. Once you can apply focus and form naturally, you can put all your energy into progression.


As all Hardgainer readers should know, progressive resistance is the key to muscular gains. You should have a rep goal for every set, and when you reach that goal, add weight. Keep detailed records of all your workouts. Nothing should be haphazard. Get some small discs and use them. They are truly “little gems,” as Stuart calls them.

It’s the resistance that tears the muscle fibers and causes the micro trauma that is needed for hypertrophy. If you go fishing and pull in a 100-lb tuna, you need at least a 100-lb-test fishing line, or else it will break. Pulling in that tuna, just once, proves that you have a line that is strong enough. Your muscles are like millions of microscopic fishing lines. When you use progressive resistance, you force your body to repair itself, during recovery, as if you were getting a thicker and stronger line. If you can pull in a heavy tuna, you don’t have to prove that the line can pull in goldfish. When training for strength, you automatically increase your capacity for muscular endurance. But when you train for muscular endurance (toning) you don’t increase your capacity for strength. (Toning is like fishing for goldfish. You can pull goldfish in all day, but the line is still weak and will snap when a bigger fish takes hold.) Your muscles will only grow as thick as needed to cope with the resistance you make them use.

Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he kept swinging the bat and hit 714 home runs. He did not let the strikeouts bother him. He kept swinging. People only remember the home runs. You will have many workouts where you cannot increase your poundages. But you don’t quit. You keep at it. You learn about how to cycle your training intensity. You learn how to avoid going stale. You learn how and when to make changes that sustain motivation and progress.

Striving for progressive resistance over the long haul yields great long-term results. If you are working as hard and intelligently as you can, you will get your share of poundage increases. You may have to adjust your increments from pounds to ounces as the years go by, but keep on striving.
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