Why do some people hit big PRs and get jacked while others languish and quit? Sure, it might just come down to perseverance, but there are also five things that successful lifters do to keep them progressing. Are you doing them?
1 – Big strong guys finish programs and learn from the results.
There's an old saying that goes something like this: "You never lose. You either win or you learn." The same can be said about training programs and diets. Don't think of a plan as being unsuccessful, just think of it as a learning experience. That's what successful lifters do.
Here's the rub. At some point, you're going to actually have to finish a training program or diet to understand what it does for you. Even if it ends up being a counterproductive process, you'll learn from it and grow, at least eventually. This experience is an invaluable commodity in training and nutrition. It's what shows you what works best for YOU.
You can cite study after study on the internet, but if you've never implemented a training technique, program, or eating plan long enough to know how it effects you then you can't speak from experience about how well it works or doesn't work. Period.
Some double-blind hazmat suit vortex study done in a controlled environment where people can't make a phone call for six weeks while only eating broccoli and apples is not real life. Real life has a human element to it, and that means different methods are going to work for different people at different times. This is why a "broscience" method that goes completely against science often ends up working very well, despite what some study says.
Your own "n=1" results matter. But you'll never see results unless you see the process through. Finish the training program. Finish the damn diet. Shut up and learn something.
I once spent a summer doing a program that had me training three times a day. It was based on Bulgarian Olympic training methods, and yeah, I had no business doing it. But I stuck it out. By the end, I was beat to shit, had made zero progress, and had even regressed in some areas. But what I did gain was experience.
Lesson: No one has gotten any better at lifting weights by arguing on the internet. Sure, do your research, but don't forget to get under the bar and experience things. Experiment with diets. Follow through, learn, and apply that knowledge to your future programs and nutrition plans. In the long run, you'll be bigger, leaner, and stronger than the guys that just throw studies at each other online.
2 – They don't fix what isn't broken.
Have you ever had this thought? "I'm doing X program with great results. Hmm, maybe I should switch over to Y program and try it out."
Think about that for a minute. You're already getting good results, but you want to try something else... to see if you get good results? That makes no sense. How about you just stick to what's working and just make a minor change when progress comes to a halt?
Program-hopping is out of control these days. Why? Often it's an issue of emulation. People see some really jacked guy and of course they ask what his routine is. They say there are no secrets in lifting, but there are. Here's one of them: Copying some other guy's training program will not make you look like him. Don't change the program that's already working for you because you get a bad case of penis envy.
Most strong guys have something in common – they have great intuition about what works for them, and they'll use that as the foundation guiding their training for years and years on end. Six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates changed his routine a total of three times from the time he started bodybuilding. Three times. He found what worked for him and milked it for all it was worth until he was forced to make changes.
Lesson: Don't program-hop if what you're doing is working. Find a set of very sound principles that work for you, then spend years building around them. That foundation is the wellspring from which you can draw in order to keep progressing.
3 – They prioritize for maximum results.
The best way to get average results is to try and do everything at once. Successful lifters and athletes prioritize. They understand the concept of the "long game" under the bar.
Ask unsuccessful lifters about their goals. The list is longer than the menu at The Cheesecake Factory. "Well, I want to get rid of fat around X area. I also want to bench X amount and add X inches to my arms, and get huge all over, and do a show, and then a powerlifting meet..." Six months later nothing has changed for these guys. No progress was made. No goals were achieved. They aren't any bigger, stronger, or leaner.
Do this instead: Pick one goal and focus all of your energy on achieving it in a realistic timeframe. If you're trying to get shredded, then don't bitch when you see some strength drops here and there. Are you trying to increase your bench press or get beach lean? Pick one. If you want to add a few inches to your arms, understand you'll still need to gain overall mass but you can prioritize arm training for a while. After all, you never see guys weighing 150 pounds with 20-inch pipes.
Lesson: Stop trying to ride lots of horses with one ass. Do what the big guys do: Settle on one thing and go after that with everything you've got until it's achieved.
4 – They make small adjustments to blast through plateaus.
When a plateau sets in (and it always does), most people freak out and start a complete overhaul of their training or diet without getting to the bottom of the issue: the body's adaptation to what was thrown at it. That's what the body does. It adapts to stress and even dietary practices. You have to give it a reason to move past that set point. But don't go nuts!
Fat loss plateau? Reduce carbs or fats by a small margin for a week or two and measure progress. Don't overhaul your entire diet if it worked for weeks or even months on end.
Training plateau? Deload for a few days if you feel drained. If you've done several workouts without progress, don't overhaul it. Make minor changes to create something new for the body to adapt to. It can be as simple as changing the rep range, moving foot or hand or bar position, or adding in a new intensity technique. From there, you'll be able to gauge how well this addition worked for you. If it doesn't work, make another small change.
Lesson: Don't panic when you hit a strength, size, or leanness plateau. Make small adjustments to smart, proven programs rather than starting over from square one with something else.
5 – They eat more quality foods than crap.
The diet debate has gotten out of hand. Why? Because a lot of people want reassurance that they can eat shit food all the time: "Please, someone give me a scientific-sounding reason to stuff my face with junk food!"
This is a huge problem among noobs who would "do anything to lose fat..." except avoid garbage. They fall for the idea that there's no difference in eating healthy and eating garbage, so long as the garbage somehow fits into their macronutrient or calorie plan.
But this isn't even an IIFYM vs. clean eating vs. paleo vs. Zone vs. keto vs. McDonald's debate. This is just a very early chapter in the book of common sense: most of your meals should come from quality food. Even if you're a strength athlete and not terribly concerned about having 10% body fat, eating quality foods most of the time will help you perform better than eating poor quality foods. Duh... except many floundering gym-goers seem to have forgotten this.
Food selection matters. From micronutrients and digestion issues to hormonal and inflammatory responses to food, your choices matter. Experienced, successful lifters figure this out. Long-term health is important to them. And that's why they win the long game while others waste years counting the macros in their Twinkies.
Lesson: Adhere to the 90% rule. Make 90% of your meals consist of nutrient-dense foods, then have your cake and eat it too. Just don't eat it on a daily basis.