Visualization

Visualization is imagining a thing before you do it. Before I start a set on a lift, I visualize doing all the repetitions. Take the weighted chin-up for example. After my warm up, I take a few seconds to just imagine myself doing the reps with the top weight.

It’s not magic, but I believe it helps me lift more. I know it helps as a reminder of the cues I want to keep in mind during the lift. I see myself starting and finishing each rep before I even attempt them.

It “greases the groove” also. Remember when you first learn a movement, any movement, it feels stilted and awkward. Most of us probably don’t remember learning to walk. But do you recall learning to ride a bike? How wobbly it was? Or maybe the first time you used chopsticks? With practice, the movements become like second nature.

“Greasing the groove” describes that process. Each time you repeat a new task it becomes more comfortable. Visualization can help with this. Obviously visualizing a thing is not quite as good as actually doing it, but it’s still very useful.

It’s like rehearsing a speech in front of the mirror before you deliver it before your audience. Even if you’re a pro at making speeches, chances are you still read it aloud a few times before you do it in front of a crowd. You can think of visualization in training the same way.

Seeing yourself through the entire session before you do it might seem a little weird. Instead of going through the whole thing, try visualizing each exercise just before you do it.

Let’s say your session (for the sake of simplicity) is 3 sets of 10 repetitions for 4 different exercises. After your warm up, but before you begin your working sets, visualize the entire working sets. See yourself unrack the bar; walk it out; you brace your core; your hips and knees flex; you hit your depth; you drive back up to the starting position. And then you actually do it.

‘Cause you do have to really do it, if you want to see results. It would be nice if we could imagine our way into being fit, but we do have to put in the work. The visualization is a nice way to get in some mental repetitions to help guide the path to progress.

And… I bet it has some carryover into other aspects besides training and public speaking. I don’t know if visualizing yourself avoiding a traffic jam would actually work, but who knows, give that a shot too and let me know how it goes.

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Confession Time

I had a bad week at the gym. I was out of town last weekend, having fun. It was worth it. When I got back on Monday afternoon, there was plenty of time to go to the gym but I had a strong case of Not Feeling Like It.

So I skipped.

Not a big deal. I schedule my workouts for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Missing one Monday just means I bumped that day’s training to Tuesday, and Tuesday’s to Wednesday.

Without going into too much detail about it, Monday and Thursday have a lower body focus, Tuesday and Friday are more upper body focused. Saturday is a short session on lagging parts.

It turns out Tuesday morning (my schedule dictates I train before work) I still didn’t feel like it. But I went anyway. I believe training when you don’t feel like it is almost a double-bonus. You get the training plus the benefit of strengthening discipline.

It’s easy (or at least easier) to go when your enthusiasm is high. But when it’s not, that’s where discipline comes in. Discipline is doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, whether you feel like it or not.

This is the part where I’d love to brag that it was an awesome session and I hit new PR’s on everything. But the truth is, none of the sessions this week were great. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

My goal for each workout is small: just one more rep (repetition) in just one exercise than last week’s session. Consistent progress by small increments. If you’re first starting out the progress will happen quickly and the increments will be larger. As your training experience increases, progress gets harder to come by.

Unfortunately, basically there was no progress for me this week. In fact I regressed a little bit in one exercise. It’s mildly frustrating but I’m glad I went. I’ve never regretted a work out. Progress in any endeavor is rarely smooth and linear for long. Ups and downs and stalls are part of the process. The key is to keep the trend moving upwards over time.

The point of this post is that even when you don’t feel like going, go. Giving into laziness will never move you towards your goals. Not every training session will result in personal records.

Put the work in consistently and be patient.
This is what I tell myself.

Cheat Meals

We all know the importance of having your nutrition dialed in. I think it’s smart to keep track of caloric and macronutrient intake. But that doesn’t mean I eat perfectly. I don’t even want to.

Having a cheat meal, or even a cheat day, isn’t going to erode your progress. Think of it this way: if you ate terribly (chips and soda) 80% of the time and then had a salad 20% of the time, you wouldn’t expect to remain fit, would you?

Logic tells us the inverse of that (eating healthy 80% and not so great 20% of the time) won’t torpedo your gains, and it’s true.

In that vein, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite cheat meals.

I love a good burger. There’s nothing like it. In fact, it’s probably my favorite food. A beef burger or a lamb burger medium well always hits the spot. And fries, too. I make sure to enjoy it at least once a week, totally guilt free.

On the rare occasion I’m not in the mood for a burger for a cheat meal, then I’m definitely down for pizza. Pepperoni or mushroom are my favorites. I know, nothing too exotic, but c’mon.

Being fit doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods forever. That kind of drudgery is just not sustainable for most of us. Depriving ourselves tends to lead to bingeing anyway. While a cheat meal won’t sabotage you, a cheat week definitely might.

So enjoy your favorite foods once in a while and don’t feel guilty about it! The key, though, is “once in a while”.

What are some of your favorite cheat meals?

Focus on the Process

I make an effort to always focus on the process of attaining my goals, not the outcome. It’s a bit of a small distinction, but one I think is important. The process of going after a goal, is what you put into it. In fitness, that process will be training, nutrition and recovery. You lift the weights, eat proper food and make sure to get enough rest. The goal would be a stronger, better body. That’s the outcome.

The thing is, you can’t always control the outcomes. You can control the process.

For instance, you may have wanted to be 6’ when you were a kid. (I was a short kid. I didn’t ever make it to 6’ and I’m okay with it.) As a kid you could eat well and get plenty of rest (Process). This would help ensure you grow to your maximum potential height. But if your parents are 5’5”, there’s a good chance there’s nothing you could do to become 6’ (Outcome).

This isn’t meant to bum you out or frustrate you. Quite the opposite. You see, in any given situation, there are only 4 possible outcomes.

Good Process Poor Process
Good Outcome Expected Good Luck
Poor Outcome Bad Luck Expected


An example of a Good Process is forming a good training, nutrition and recovery regimen and sticking to it for a period of time. If you do this over time, you will most likely achieve a Good Outcome (a.k.a. those six-pack abs of your dreams!).

I say “most likely” because there aren’t any guarantees in life. Sometimes you can do the right things and not have things turn out as desired. This is Bad Luck. This isn’t meant to be a deterrent. You may have wanted a six-pack but maybe your abs turn out to be asymmetrical or look different than those of the Instagram model in the picture. Or maybe you got hit by an asteroid. This is just Bad Luck. There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t sweat it.

A Poor Process would be forming a half-assed training plan and halfway adhering to it. There are a lot of ways to mess this part up. It’s important to form a good plan with all three pillars (training, nutrition, and recovery) accounted for.

Someone following a Poor Process is not likely to see the results they want. They’re not even really trying to achieve them, are they?

There are some people who will be able to follow a Poor Process and still see results. This will not be the case for the vast majority (and I’m confident their results are temporary). This is called Good Luck. Relying on it is not a good life strategy.

I’m hardly perfect at this. It’s tricky to come up with a desired outcome, form a plan and then act on it without thinking about that outcome. But I’m learning to focus mainly on the Process and am actually enjoying it more.

Let me know what you think.

Take Action

Now’s the time of year when it’s popular to reflect on the past 12 months and look forward to the next 12 months.

I’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions. I get why they’re so popular but they’re just not my thing.

I do think it’s useful to look back on the year. Did you accomplish the goals you set for yourself? If you did, that’s awesome. Nice work. If you didn’t, it’s a good time to consider why.

Were your goals too big or unrealistic? Did you lose focus? Maybe you realized that they actually weren’t that important to you and you changed objectives.

Or perhaps you didn’t set any goals at all. I think this is a big mistake. Sure, the best way to make sure that you don’t fall short of accomplishing your goals is to avoid setting any targets. But that’s not really what you want from life, is it?

I strongly encourage you to set a few goals. What are the 3-5 things you want the most over the next year?

Figure them out. Write them down. Then write down the steps you think are necessary to get them done. They should be big enough to challenge you, maybe even scare you a little. But they shouldn’t be so big that you intuitively know they’re impossible.

Once you have the steps written down, you know what it takes. Think how empowering that is. You’re in control.

Take action. Get after it.

How to Build Your Own Workout Plan

It’s not as difficult as you might think. Start with your goals. Let me guess: Lose some fat, gain some muscle?

Let’s start with a very simple yet effective workout. It may seem too basic, in fact. But the fewer the variables, the easier it will be to know what’s most effective. This is more than enough to get you started on the way to being in your best shape. You can always add complexity down the line.

You don’t need to work out every day of the week in order to get your goals. Living in the gym is… living in the gym. I like training but I think we’d all agree that there’s much more to life.

Pick three nonconsecutive days to train. Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, for example.

Choose a time of day that you’re going to stick with. Some people find it easier to work out in the mornings. Others prefer the evenings. Neither is objectively better. What’s better is that you find a time when you can do it consistently.

Keep each session under an hour. 45-60 minutes is plenty. If it takes much longer than that, most likely there’s a lot of chillin’ going on or it’s not a very intense regimen.

Give it your all for an hour and use the other 23 hours in your day to accomplish your other life objectives.

Pick one compound leg exercise. (Examples: squat, deadlift, leg press.)

Pick one upper body push compound* exercise. (Examples: bench press, incline bench press, overhead press.)

Pick one upper body pull compound exercise. (Examples: pull ups, chin ups, rows, lat pull-downs.)

Here’s a sample workout:

  • Take a few minutes to warm up. Do some light calisthenics or ride an exercise bike to break a sweat. Don’t tire yourself out.

Then for each exercise, do the following:

  • Warm up set of about 10 repetitions with light weight. Rest 1-2 minutes.
  • 3 working sets of 10 repetitions. Choose a weight you can control. It should be heavy enough to challenge you, especially the last 2-3 repetitions. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets. After you’re finished with all the sets of one exercise, move on to the next exercise.
  • Once you complete the 3 exercises, take a little time to stretch and cool down.

That’s it. It’s simple but not easy. As with any program you’ll need to push yourself in order for it to work.

Tracking your workouts is key. Use an app or old fashioned paper, it doesn’t matter. Keep track of what you’re doing in the gym. You won’t have to guess what you did last time or what you should do this time.

Once the 3 sets of 10 gets easy, increase the weights you use. Early on, you may find yourself getting stronger each week. Over time the gains will come slower. This happens to everyone.

Progress will happen if you’re consistent.

Outside the gym, if you want your best results, you’ll have to pay attention to your diet. Write down everything you eat. You don’t need to track every calorie and macronutrient (but you can if you want to). Just being intentional about your intake is helpful.

Three sessions per week, each session under an hour, and watch your food intake. That’s it.

Now get after it!

 

*Compound exercises are ones where you use more than one joint. For instance, in doing a bench press, you’ll use your shoulders and elbows to move the weight. This works the larger muscles in the body which means you’ll get stronger faster. In contrast, an isolation exercise only uses one joint. An example of this would be a biceps curl, where only the elbow joint is involved. There’s nothing wrong with isolation exercises, but compound exercises are more efficient in building strength.

Killing Procrastination

My biggest fault is probably procrastination. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow? I fight against it every day. I’ve gotten much better but it’s still a constant struggle. It’s one of the reasons I make sure to train first thing in the morning. I know that if I leave it until after work I just won’t do it.

“A good plan executed violently now is better than a perfect plan next week” – Gen. George Patton (paraphrased)

This is the antidote to all of us who tend to deliberate too much and act too little. Paralysis by analysis is real.

This year is ending and that means people are coming up with their grand plans for next year. They’re going to follow that dream. Go after that new job. Start a business. Get in shape. Travel. You get the point.

Start now. This message is as much for me as it is for any of you reading it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your lifelong dream or if it’s just one little bit of self-improvement. If it’s a great idea to start January 1, then it’s a great idea to start today.

If you’ve studied economics you’re familiar with the term “opportunity cost”. If you haven’t, it’s a fancy way of expressing the idea that every choice you make (opportunity) is a decision not to do something else (cost).

In order to get something, you give up the chance to get something else. When we procrastinate, we forfeit time but for what? Anxiety? Temporary distraction? And we still end up just as far (or farther) from our goals.

This isn’t to say we should rush to action without forming a plan. Just that we shouldn’t wait until the plan is perfect before we put in action. It will never be perfect.

Make a decision on what you want. Sketch out a good plan, with time constraints and specific steps. Then execute it for a fixed amount of time without second guessing the decision. Learn as you go, make small adjustments when necessary. Enjoy the process.

Get after it. Now.