Building big muscles, and then bigger muscles still, depends on an organized plan of action—broken down into daily units—coupled with a great will to achieve. Achievement in any sphere of life depends on getting the individual moments right, at least most of the time.
By getting today right, and by getting every today right, you’ll get the weeks and months right too. Then you’ll get the years right and start to get close to realizing your potential for muscle growth. The secret of life is getting today right. Everyone can get today right, and if you can do it once you can do it repeatedly.
Success in any walk of life comes through goal-directed action broken down into small daily units where each item connected with your long-term goals is focused upon and executed to the best of your ability.
You can’t make sudden, huge jumps in achievement. Achievement comes in small steps, but lots of them. Lots of little bits add up to huge achievement. Muscle growth exemplifies this bit-by-bit process. Strive to get each rep right, each set right, each workout right, each day’s nutrition right, each night’s sleep right, and then keep doing that, again and again and again. Then you’ll get somewhere.
You won’t get everything right each time, but by keeping your attention where it should be for most of the time—on the now—then you can get most things right most of the time, and that’s enough for you to do one heck of a good job, so long as you do it for enough years.
An essential part of the organization needed to get each workout day right is a training diary. At its most basic this is a written record of reps and poundage for every work set you do, and an evaluation of each workout so that you can stay alert to warning signs of overtraining. After each workout, reflect on your evaluation and, when necessary, make adjustments to avoid falling foul of overtraining.
A training diary or journal is indispensable for keeping you on track for training success. No matter where you are now—180-pound squat or 500, 13-inch arms or 17, 135-pound bench press or 350—the systematic organization and focus upon achieving goals that a training journal enforces will help you to get bigger and stronger.
As simple as it is to use a training log, don’t underestimate the critical role this can play in maximizing your training efficiency and productivity. Most trainees are aware that they should record their workouts in a permanent way, but few actually do it. And even those trainees who keep some sort of training log usually fail to exploit its full potential benefits. This is one of the major reasons why most trainees get minimal results from their training.
Keeping a skimpy record of your training on loose sheets of paper, backs of envelopes, or scraps of paper—all of which are likely to be lost—won’t do. Your journal should hold at least twelve months of detailed workout records, be durably bound and robust enough to withstand heavy use, and be capable of being opened flat. And you should be able to see many workout records on each pair of log pages, for ease of entering data and analyzing it.
When used properly, a training journal enforces the organization needed to get each workout right, for week after week, month after month, and year after year. By recording your poundages and reps, your training journal logs your entire training program, and the week-by-week breakdown of how you work through the routine(s) of each training cycle.
A training log eliminates reliance upon memory. There’ll be no, “Did I squat eight reps with 330 pounds last squat workout, or was it seven?” Refer to your journal and you’ll see precisely what you did last time—i.e., what you need to improve on if you’re to make your next workout a step forward.
While a small error of memory in the very early part of a cycle may not be critical, it could be later on in a cycle when you’re in new poundage territory—a mistake of just a few pounds at this stage could destroy a set and possibly ruin a workout.
With a first-class training journal that’s meticulously kept up to date you’ll never wonder, for example, when it was that you broke the 300-pound bench press barrier, or first squatted with 400 pounds. A journal will keep your memory accurate.
You must be 100% honest when entering data. Record the quality of your reps. If you did five good ones but the sixth needed a tad of help from a training partner, don’t record all six as if they were done under your own steam. Record the ones you did alone, but note the assisted rep as a half rep.
It’s not enough just to train hard. You need to train hard with a target to beat in every work set you do. The targets to beat in any given workout are your achievements the previous time you performed that same routine/workout.
If you train hard but with no rigorous concern over reps and poundages, you can’t be sure you’re training progressively. Unless you have accurate records of the achievements to be bettered, you can’t be sure that you really are giving your all.
For accurate records of sets, reps and poundages to have meaning, your training conditions must be consistent. If one workout you rush between sets, then next workout you take your time, you can’t fairly compare those two sessions. If one week the deadlift is your first exercise, and the following week you deadlift at the end of the workout, you can’t fairly compare those two workouts. And the form you use for each exercise must be consistent and flawless every time you train.
Get all the details of your training in black and white, refer to them when appropriate, and get in control of your training. You’ll then have a detailed record of the evolution of each training program, and of your training as a whole from year to year. In addition to control over the short-term, this permanent record will give you a wealth of data to analyze and draw upon when designing your future training programs.
Keep accurate records of each workout, each day’s caloric and protein intake, how much sleep you get, muscular girths, and your body composition.
Then you’ll remove all guesswork and disorder from your training program. But if you track only one or two of the components you won’t have the full story. Even an exaggerated attention to one or two components won’t compensate for neglect of the remaining elements.
But all of this is just a bunch of words. You have to make the theory and rationale come alive with your conscientious and methodical practical application.
Do exactly that, now, and take charge of your training and your muscle growth!
Most trainees have neither the organization needed for success, nor the will and desire to push themselves very hard when they need to. But these are the very demanding essentials for successful bodybuilding and strength training—satisfy them, and then get on with achieving your potential for muscle and might.
Getting your daily units right means getting each workout right. How can you help yourself to get each workout right? Get yourself hands-on supervision.
Armed with the will to get the job done, and the basic knowledge of what to do, most trainees should be able to get a good training partner or supervisor.
Fine physiques and super-strong bodies have been built without training partners or supervisors. Don’t be discouraged if it’s impossible for you to get hands-on help. But the assistance of a serious and like-minded training partner or supervisor is nearly always a tremendous advantage. But anyone with anything less than a 100% commitment is a negative influence, and shouldn’t be tolerated.
Few people can consistently train at their very best without hands-on supervision.
And even most of those who do train alone successfully may gain even better if they had good supervision at least some of the time.
While recognizing the value of good supervision, it’s pivotal that you can train well by yourself. If you can train well only when supervised, you’re dependent on supervision and will never be able to train well over the long haul. Even if you have a reliable training partner there’ll be times when your schedules don’t coincide and you have to train alone.
Never become dependent on another person to get in a good workout.
Effective training has to be intensive, and intensive training is very difficult to deliver on a consistent basis without a demanding taskmaster to urge you to deliver.
Most trainees have experienced the occasional workout when, unexpectedly and only for the one workout, someone got involved during part or all of a training session. Someone might have spotted you on an exercise; or someone you wanted to impress was watching you; or someone might have worked in with you on a few exercises. As a result you found yourself doing more reps than you normally would, or doing the same reps with a bit more weight than you had planned.
You really produced for that workout, while previously you had been loafing. Quality supervision can get this degree of effort out of you on a regular basis, and can speed up your progress dramatically.
Remember that successful training isn’t about effort per se. It’s about how you apply the effort. A sloppy set of an exercise worked very hard isn’t going to do you as much good as will a correct-form set of an exercise worked very hard. But the sloppy form may lead to injury. The sharp eye and words of a good supervisor will help to keep your form tight.
While a good training partner or supervisor pushes you all the way, alerts you to form imperfections that start to creep in (and which you must cut out), he’s also there to spot you. This will give you the confidence and security to keep pushing when the reps get tough.