If you ask 15 “fitness gurus” what the most important thing to do in the gym is, you’ll probably get 15 different answers, and 14 of them will probably be rooted in a product/service offered by the fitness guru. And that’s not to say that the services offered by gurus aren’t effective, but it is crucial to be aware of these self-beneficial marketing tactics. The true keys to success in the gym are independent of any one fitness program and are far simpler than you might think.
Here are my 3 keys to success in the gym:
- Work hard
- Progress over time
1. Show up and work hard
Once you get to the gym, the most important thing is working hard enough to challenge yourself. There’s no need to train to absolute failure to the point where you can’t walk or move your arms the next day, but your rate of perceived exertion by the last couple reps of an exercise should be 8-9 out of 10. The second component to working hard is not just working hard once, but working hard for enough sets/reps of various exercises that you optimize your training sessions across a given week. At minimum, you want to perform 10 sets per body part per week. As an example, if you performed 5 sets of leg exercises on Monday and 5 sets of chest exercises on Tuesday, you’d at least want to perform 5 sets of leg exercises and 5 sets of chest exercises another day of the week to finish out the minimum 10 sets per week.
2. Progress over time
In the previous key to success, I mentioned performing multiple sets of an exercise for a given body part in a given week. If you were to use the exact same weight for those sets this week, next week, and forever into the future, you would quickly plateau and not continue to make progress. In order to make progress over time, you must progressively overload the weight you lift. This may sound intimidating, but all it means is to safely increase the weight lifted over time. Small, incremental changes add up to big changes over time. If you lift 100 pounds on an exercise this week, 105 the next, and 110 the week after that, then you’re doing great. Consistent progressive overload means consistent gains (using the term ‘gains’ very loosely here to mean literally anything, strength gains, muscular gains, gains in which you actually lose fat, gains in which you get closer to your desired shape, etc.).
In my personal experience, working out really sucked at the beginning. I was lethargic, I was busy, and I was going about the whole fitness journey thing completely on my own. I started and stopped about a million times because I got a fitness coach. And that fitness coach put me in an online community of strangers all over the country who were also doing this whole fitness journey thing. And that was really cool to me. So cool, in fact, that I haven’t stopped working out since I joined that group. That doesn’t mean you have to join an online fitness community or that it would work for you, but it did work for me. And it does lead me to believe that some aspect of accountability is crucial for ensuring your prolonged success with fitness. Whether it’s daily/weekly check-ins with a friend, working out with a friend, working out with a personal trainer, having an online coach, joining an in-person community, joining an online community, or a mixture of all of the above, accountability works wonders for your fitness journey.
So, show up. Work hard (but not too hard). Progress steadily over time. And find a source of accountability that works for you. Do all of those things, and you’ll make gains. I guarantee it.