I see so many people that go through life just kind of drifting with the wind. They go to their jobs, spend time with their families, drink some beer, and maybe have some hobbies, but they are just floating along, living their lives. Do they ever really do anything with intent? Do they really focus on their jobs? Do they strive to be the best husband, human, friend, or father they can be? When they spend time with their family, do they really spend that time with intent? Do they ever stop and give 100% of themselves to their family? Do they even know what it means to do something with intent? Do you live your life with intent? Do you know what it means to train with intent and do you train with intent?

I see the word "intent" as a combination of the words intense and purpose. To do something with intent means you are doing that action with intense purpose to meet or achieve a goal. This does not just mean you're trying hard or putting forth a lot of physical effort. It means you are giving 100% physically, spiritually, and mentally. It means you are focused with all your senses on the task at hand. This is not something many people have the natural skills do. It takes practice and training to get good at. I can look back at my life and remember a time I thought I did many things with intent, but it was not until I was really able to do things with intent that I fully understood it. For example, when I was young I thought I trained so hard and was so extreme, but it was not until I really learned how to lift with intent that I fully understood it.

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There are so many ways we should live our lives with intent, but for this article, I want to speak of intent with training, and even more specifically in lifting. The more I am in the gym and training lifters, the more I think about intent. I realize more and more that it is a major hole in the programs of so many lifters. Without intent, you're just not getting everything out of the energy you’re putting in. There are so many people in the gym right now just going through the motions. Yes, they are doing the lifts and following their programs, but there is no intent in their lifting. I even see lots of lifter putting forth good effort and energy into their lifting but lack intent. Yes, these lifters can and probably will see results, but not the results they would see if they lifted with intent.

squat rack intent

Thinking back, my first lesson on lifting with intent came from the movie Pumping Iron. There is a portion where Arnold talks about not just lifting the weight but seeing it in his mind too — concentration on the muscles flexing in the mind while flexing them physically and building that mind-body connection. This really stuck with me, because he was the best and because I had already been using visualization in sports. This technique helps get deeper, stronger contractions while also developing much better muscle control. If you are performing a certain lift to build a certain muscle or group of muscles and you do not feel those muscles working then there is not much point in doing the lift. I see lifters cheat lifts and use completely different muscles than they intend. I see lifters doing exercises for a specific muscle group, but they do not even feel those muscles being work. Yet they keep doing that exercise. Part of lifting with intent is having this mind-muscle awareness and working to better develop it. It is making sure you're hitting the muscles you want, and if you're not getting this connection then you tweak it or find another lift.

Another aspect of lifting with intent is knowing and understanding technique. This blends in with the mind-muscle connection, because I believe part of technique is understanding what muscle groups are being used with each exercise. All lifters should know how each muscle moves the body and how each joint is designed to move. They should know proper technique for all the lifts they do. This includes knowing how to perform an exercise in the manner to best work the muscles you are looking for.

For example, a squat can be performed in many ways to work everything from the quads to the posterior chain. We are all built differently and exercises can affect us all differently. Yes, a certain lift may hit a certain muscle group for most people, but it does not mean it will for you. We need to understand technique to make sure we are performing the lift correctly and what tweaks need to be made to hit the muscle groups we want. Sometimes it is just lack of the mind-muscle connection as the cause of us not feeling the correct muscle groups firing in an exercise. We need to be able to recognize this, because sometimes the answer is to move onto another exercise, which works better for us to hit the muscle or groups we are after. This also comes into play with forced reps or going to maximal effort. In these situations, the technique may not be optimal but the results of the heavier weights may be worth it. This is only the case, though, when we are still working the correct muscle groups for that exercise. It is no good to sacrifice the correct muscle groups for weight. Learning technique teaches us more about proper movement and what muscles should be involved in a movement, therefore allowing us to better lift with intent.

If you are lifting with intent then you are putting that intense purpose into every lift. This is hard to explain to someone who has not done it, but you can see it in the people that train and lift with intent. There is no wasted or uncontrolled movement. All of their energy goes in the direction of the lift and not all over the gym. Lifters that have mastered lifting with intent look more like machines when lifting. They lift smoothly with no wasted motion. Sometimes being in the gym gives me the feeling like there is this huge misconception that lifting is just about pushing the weights up, and if they go up that is all that matters. Maybe there is something to this on a meet day where the end result is to get the lift or not, but this could not be further from the truth in training. Lifting with intent means the whole lift—from preparing for the lift to re-racking the weight—is important and done with purpose.

squat intent

Being an amazing lifter is more than just the physical act of lifting. It involves a great deal of mental strength and this starts before we even touch the bar. I believe in visualization and think it should be done before every heavy lift. This only strengthens the mind-body connection. I admit that I do not visualize a lot before my supplemental lifts, but I do clear my head before all lifts. I block the world out and prepare to completely focus on the lift I am about to perform. I do this by thinking about what muscle groups I am about to work. I will think about what it feels like to flex them and feel them work. I often catch myself actually flexing the muscle groups before even doing the exercise. Intent starts before even touching the bar.

Once my hands touch the bar or dumbbell, the lift has started for me. It is important to be as efficient, smooth, and safe as possible. I see too many lifters not focusing when they are picking up dumbbells, unracking squats, unracking benches, etc. They are wasting valuable energy and putting themselves at risk of injury. Before picking up any weight, the lifter should be getting the body in the proper position and stabilized (bracing is a huge part of this). If they have to move with the weight, such as walking dumbbells to the bench, they should be conscious of their movement and body positions. In lifts like the squat and bench, the lifter should be in correct position and tight before the bar is even unracked. Once the actual lift is ready to be performed, everything should be done with extreme control. The eccentric phase of a lift is not just letting the weight go down; it is a chance to build tension and internal abdominal pressure. It should be like a coil spring being compressed and loaded up with energy. When switching from the eccentric to the concentric phase, there should be no relaxing of the body or getting loose. Tension within the body is being built during the eccentric, which is immediately turned into energy for the concentric phase. Again, everything is tight and controlled on the concentric phase of the exercise. The lift is finished with the re-rack, at which point the lifter can relax. Each and every exercise should be performed with the same purposeful intent.

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Maybe it will help to explain what is not lifting with intent. The guy on the bench press who is squirming all over the bench as he unracks the weight has already begun the lift without intent. He proceeds to basically drop the weight on his chest and then presses it up with his feet dancing all around. The bar drives up crooked and all over the place. This lift was not performed with intent. Yes, maybe he did put a lot of energy into the lift and maybe he is tired afterward, but what did he really get out of it? What muscles did he really end up working? The lifter that sprints his squats out of the rack, dive-bombs the eccentric, shoots his butt up, rounds his back, and makes the squat look like five different exercises at once is not lifting with intent. Again, I am sure he or she put a lot of effort and energy into their squat, but what is their return on that effort? The lifter doing curls by dropping the weight and doing a full hip thrust to get it back up has no intent going on. He apparently confused the power clean with curls. The lifter talking to his partners while doing a set or checking out the girl's butt on the leg curl while he is lifting forgot his intent somewhere else because it is definitely not in the gym.

Lifting with intent is not complicated — in fact, it is pretty easy. It is just a matter of focus and hard work. It is going to the gym knowing what your goals are and leaving all the other crap in life at the door. It is about realizing what it really takes to achieve your goals and being willing to do that. It is not about false intensity or energy. It is not about just trying to make great videos that day for social media. It is not about trying to show everyone else in the gym how crazy a lifter you are. It is not about going through the motions and telling yourself you went to the gym so it is okay. It is about letting go of all the bullshit out there and realizing what really works. It is about getting back to the basics of lifting and really putting in the work. It is about understanding that every movement should have a purpose and therefore performing it correctly with intent is crucial. We are only able to put so much time in the gym, so make it count and lift with intent!