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7 things successful exercisers do Fundamental tools to achieve your goals

7 Dinge, die erfolgreiche Trainierende tun Fundamentale Werkzeuge, um Deine Ziele zu erreichen

The 7 fundamental tools

When it comes to getting more muscular and stronger, we've known pretty well for decades what we need to do to do so. Sure, there are occasional advances in training science, recovery methods and nutritional tactics, but most of what we'll ever learn has been known for a long time.

A lack of progress probably has more to do with a lack of knowledge of the basics than a lack of knowledge of any new periodization approaches. What you need is more critical thinking. Here are 7 tools for better decision making regarding the right actions in the gym.

1 - Successful exercisers focus on principles, not methods

The best way to keep your goal in mind and avoid getting distracted by unnecessary details is to focus on the principles and not the methods derived from those principles. Remember that there are many methods but few principles. Fortunately, there are only a few principles that you need to apply.


The stimulus you provide via training must match the adaptations you hope to achieve.

If you are a powerlifter or primarily pursuing strength goals, most of your training should consist of heavy sets with low reps (1 to 5) on exercises such as squats, bench presses and deadlifts, and possibly some additional training with variations of the exercises you want to get stronger on.

If you are an athlete who is more concerned with body development, then you need to focus primarily on training with lower intensity, lower weights and higher reps (8 to 15) on a wide range of exercises. If you are interested in both strength gains and muscle development, then you should alternate between 4 to 6 week phases of these two approaches.

If your training deviates significantly from these parameters, then it is not optimal for your goals.

Progressive overload

The adaptive challenges you place on your body in the form of training sessions must be continuously increased, otherwise your adaptations will come to a standstill. No one ever got muscular or strong by accident. You have to keep pushing yourself. Whenever possible, you should gradually increase weight, reps and/or sets - any of these approaches will work.

If your performance doesn't continue to improve, it's either because you're training too hard or not hard enough. Ask your trainer or training partner which of these scenarios you are likely to be in and then make the appropriate adjustments.

Individual reactions

Keep in mind that human similarities outweigh the differences between individuals. In other words, you should think twice before concluding that you are different from the rest and need an exotic approach to be successful. In all likelihood, this will not be the case - and even if it is, it is not the most logical starting point.

2 - You avoid binary thinking

No training program, method or exercise is definitively "good" or "bad" - just as there is no such thing as good or bad food without looking at the overall nutritional context.

Think of everything as a tool - and the usefulness of that tool depends entirely on the context. For example, if you can perform squats with a super upright body position with a strong knee flexion, then squats are a great tool for you to train the quadriceps. If you can't do this, then hack squats are a better option.

If cable tricep presses do not cause pain, then this exercise is a good tricep building exercise. However, if it does cause pain, then this is not the case. If you want to compete in weightlifting, then snatches and deadlifts are "good" exercises. If you are an MMA fighter looking to build strength and muscle, there are better options. You could continue this list practically indefinitely.

The goal dictates the tool - and it's never the other way around.

3 - You reject novelty

I once attended a seminar by multiple Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. As the crowd waited eagerly to learn his secrets, he began to give this speech:

"Well, on my first exercise, let's say it's squats, I usually start with the empty bar and do maybe 12 to 15 reps. Then I go to 135 pounds for 10 to 12 reps. Then 225 pounds for 8 to 10 reps. Then 315 pounds for another 8 to 10 reps. Then I move to my working weight of 405 pounds, with which I perform 3 to 4 really hard sets of 8 to 10 reps. I then move on to my second exercise."

Needless to say, his remarks were completely devoid of the secrets his audience really wanted. Instead, the man with one of the best physiques of all time left his audience "hanging" by honestly sharing with them what he really did to build his body.

The desire for new information is perhaps the biggest cause of confusion for most exercisers and, consequently, lack of progress. This phenomenon is prevalent in all areas of human endeavor - not just training. This is because the truth is often less interesting than any "secrets".

There are two different phases that people go through. First, there's the inspiration phase, during which you use a new exercise or nutrition program and you have confidence in this new approach because the article you read about it is from an author with a PhD or incredible body development.

And quite frankly, you're also bored with what you've been doing and the thought of something new seems more appealing to you than the same old drudgery. So you draw new energy from this smell of something new, which lasts until you have been doing the new program long enough.

Now you are in the "sweat phase". The new has worn off and you are back in the old rut. The desire for something new and the inability to stick with the same approach long enough to see results is the main reason many exercisers don't achieve anything.

4 - You differentiate between methods and mechanisms

If you have a specific goal, look for others who have been successful in achieving that goal. Next, isolate the behaviors and/or methods that these people have in common, rather than looking at what these people have done differently.

A great example of this is fat loss. If you look at 100 people who have lost a significant amount of weight, some of them may have used a Weight Watchers approach, while others may have had gastric bypass and still others may have followed a low-carb diet or focused on clean eating.

At first glance, this seems confusing, but if you dig a little deeper, you'll realize that all of these people found a way to consistently eat fewer calories for long enough to reach their weight loss goals.

In this example, there were different methods but only one mechanism. If you need to lose some fat and you are wondering whether you should go vegan or non-vegan or use intermittent fasting, then you should think about which method will make it easiest for you to stick to your diet consistently.

Does this mean that all weight loss methods are equally effective? Certainly not, but a less effective method that you stick to is preferable to a more effective method that you can't or won't stick to.

The same applies to your training goals. You may notice that some successful bodybuilders use splits by muscle group, while others use a push/pull split. Some use lower repetition ranges, others higher. Some use mainly free weights, while others focus on machines. Some use forced reps, others don't.

If you focus on these different methods, then the fog will blind you and prevent you from seeing the underlying mechanisms of success: brutally hard work over a long period of time.

5 - You perform a cost/benefit analysis

Whenever you put your hands on the bar, there will always be a cost. Whether this brings benefits or value in return is a completely different story. So think like an accountant - look at the profit, but also consider the costs.

Dr. Brad Schoenfeld recently conducted a study comparing the results of exercisers who performed either 3 sets of 10 repetitions or 7 sets of 3 repetitions. Both groups trained for 8 weeks.

Interestingly, both groups achieved roughly the same muscle hypertrophy. Many have interpreted this to mean that they could start performing heavy sets of 3 repetitions for the purpose of muscle development. In this context, however, it should be remembered that performing heavy sets of 3 repetitions will lead to much longer, psychologically (and orthopedically) more demanding training sessions to achieve the same results that a shorter, less demanding workout would produce.

In fact, Schoenfeld mentioned that the participants in the 7 x 3 group were more or less running on fumes by the end of the study, and he speculated that if they had had to continue this training for a few more weeks, they would have had to drop out of the study.

In a similar way, all techniques and methods have individual cost/benefit profiles that should be taken into consideration when making training decisions.

6 - They cultivate 80/20 thinking

In the late 19th century, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto speculated that in almost all systems, 80% of the results come from 20% of the input. This equation also applies to training with weights. In a training session where you do 5 heavy sets of squats, the first two sets will deliver about 80% of the benefits of performing all 5 sets.

So, if you're feeling conflicted and wondering whether you should train or not because you don't have the time or energy, now you know how to make the best decision.

The 80/20 rule can be applied to any type of training decision, but it becomes especially practical when you're thinking about efficiency vs. effectiveness. If you want 100% results, then you will have to do a lot more (and harder) work than someone who is happy with 80% results.

7 - Internalize the grind

Most mornings I walk to my local Starbucks. Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a woman there who sits at the same table every morning at 6am and it's obvious she's writing a book or something similar.

Is her secret the type of computer she uses? The place? The time of day she writes? The particular drink she's having? While all of these factors could play a role, the real "secret" to any success is that she probably enjoys the willingness to work with consistent focus every day.

I know very little about this woman, but I strongly suspect that she is successful because I have seen her do what few are willing to do: Work hard at something day in and day out without fail. The ruthless truth about training success is that unless your methods are completely idiotic, consistent hard work is pretty much all you need to focus on.

Many successful strength athletes and bodybuilders do a lot of things that sports scientists would consider wrong, but these guys work their asses off on a consistent basis when training. So if your goal is related to getting more muscular and stronger, then there are only a handful of things you should pay attention to:

  • Train three to five times a week. Don't skip training sessions. Exercise even when you don't feel like it and do the best you can.
  • Choose training methods and techniques that are common among exercisers who have achieved the goals you want to achieve.
  • Train as hard as you can. Consistently strive to surpass your previous best performances.
  • Sleep, eat and control your stress as needed to support the above points.


By Charles Staley

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