So you've poured through tons of articles, YouTube videos, and podcasts on your quest to find your next training program. You've finally decided on what you think is the best for your goals and are ready to start. That was the most important decision to make, right?

What if I told you that while programming is important, how you execute said program is far more crucial to success? Every experienced lifter and coach will tell you that choosing a solid, well-designed program is important. But 99% of the time, when a lifter doesn't reach their goals, it's NOT because they chose the wrong program but how they executed it. If the program were the most important thing, all the best powerlifters, bodybuilders, and strongman competitors would train the same way. However, this isn't the case; different lifters succeed and fail at the exact program because of execution.

So certainly put thought into your programming, but understand that the real payoff will come from how you execute it. To aid in your quest for progress, here are five keys to getting the most out of your program no matter what you choose.

Key #1: Whole-Ass the Plan

Once you've determined which program you will run, the time for waffling back and forth about which program is best is over. One of the biggest mistakes lifters make (including myself at times in my career) was committing but then maybe wondering if there's something better and never truly focusing 100% on the program you need to execute. Execution is so important; you can't afford for any percentage of your brain to be spent on wondering if there's a better program to use. Of course, you can always go in a completely different direction for your next training cycle, but for now, put your 100% focus and effort into executing what is in front of you. An unwavering belief in your actions is more powerful than people realize.

Think about it in terms of a relationship. If you're trying to make a future with your significant other, but then you're on Instagram endlessly scrolling through photos, wondering if you're missing out on someone hotter/better, how on earth will you be able to put 100% into your relationship? Instead, focus on what you have and what is in front of you. Or, in the words of Ron Swanson, "Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."

Key #2: You Can't Reach Top Speed with No Gas in the Tank

With any program, the only way to progress is to force your body to super-compensate in response to a training stimulus. Depending on the program, this could be through increases in volume, frequency, or intensity (or varied waves of all three). No matter which you are focusing on, your recovery will have to be on-point to get the most super-compensation from the stimulus. You can train as hard, as frequently, or as long as you want, but it will be a waste of time if you can't recover.

Many articles, videos, and other resources focus on recovery (including several I've written on this site). Still, I would emphasize making sure the following are dialed in (in a sustainable way) throughout your program:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Stress Management

Those things are easy to let get away from you. But if they do, a plateau will hit you in the face before you ever see it coming. Remember that to progress in any training program, you must train HARD. That point gets lost these days in all the complex training information available, but it is ultimately a non-negotiable. Think of recovery as "earning the right to train hard in the gym." If you approach recovery with this mentality, you can push harder in your training and, most importantly, super-compensate from that stimulus to progress.

Key #3: Work Hard

On that note, one of the curses that come with the blessing of unlimited access to training information these days is severe analysis paralysis. Make no mistake; training intelligently and wisely is incredibly important. But if intelligent programming places the key perfectly in the ignition, hard work is the only thing that can turn it and fire up the engine.

Countless smart lifters struggle to make progress because they lack a work ethic, and conversely, lifters know nothing about programming but work extremely hard. This ultimately allows them to speed past their overthinking peers.

Place a good training structure around yourself, and then start the journey knowing hard work is a non-negotiable for success.

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Key #4: Don't Sweat The Technique

It's important to remember that every good program operates on the assumption that you are performing all the movements with the correct technique. That might seem obvious, but particularly with complex multi-joint movements, HOW you execute them will ultimately determine whether they "work" or not. I can't tell you the number of lifters I know who have written off movements like rack pulls or floor presses because they didn't help their lifts. But then, take a look at their technique, the rack pulls were a glorified hitch/leg press, and the floor presses were bounced off the floor, and they were using leg drive. Even with single-joint machine movements, the range of motion, speed of movement, and mind-muscle connection/intention make an incredible difference in whether their inclusion in the program "works" or doesn't.

The big takeaway is this: when you select a program, make sure to research and practice the skills necessary to perform the movements featured. In addition, there should be a focused intention on getting technique right as you begin the program and setting the correct tone immediately.

Key #5: How You React When Something Goes Wrong

So you've committed to a good training program, researched and practiced the skills necessary to execute it, dialed in your recovery, and are ready to work hard. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, as any lifter who has been at this a while knows, the answer is "plenty." Like all things in life, there is no perfect equation for success that comes without obstacles. You can do all the above keys the right way, and you can still have an unexpected injury, a stressful life situation that takes away from your training, or any number of trials that life tends to throw at us. 

The good news is there is countless wisdom and character built from persevering through trials. One of the most gratifying PRs I've had was a 5-pound PR in a meet following a complete nightmare of a training cycle. It wasn't the most impressive landmark weight, but it symbolized my perseverance in a rough time of life. Any time things go wrong, we can persevere and come out on the other side smarter and wiser as lifters.

When the unexpected happens during a program, take a deep breath, resist the urge to fall into the downward spiral, and ask yourself, "Okay, what next?" 

Where can you pivot? How can you continue to work towards your goal in the new circumstances? What can be learned from this? Good can come out of even the most challenging training cycle. Continue to persevere; it will pay off.

There are plenty of great programs out there, many of which you can find right here on elitefts. Combine one of those with the five keys above, and nothing can stop you.

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Joe Schillero has competed in both powerlifting and strongman with an elite total in the 220-pound weight class. He has his master's degree in exercise physiology and is currently the General Manager at the Mandel JCC in Cleveland, Ohio. In this position, he oversees fitness, membership, and aquatics operations. He can be reached at