Sometimes we fool ourselves in our training and nutrition. Many times even the best of us can justify eating x or choosing y exercise because it tastes good or it is fun, even though it isn’t helping us come closer to achieving our goals. Steve Pavlina in his book Personal Development for Smart People provided a self assessment that I found very useful when applied in the gym and in the kitchen. This especially helped me a number of times when I took two seconds to think about my eating habits.

The basics are this: Steve provided a list of different areas in your life (money, relationships, work, health, etc) that you evaluate and rank them from one to ten. A one means you are not getting  what you want and a ten is perfect and couldn’t be better. Once they are ranked, go back through and if the rank is not nine or ten, it automatically becomes a ONE. This immediately shows what areas of your life need work. This will keep you from settling with things at sixes and sevens that with a little work could be nines.

I took this and came up with my big concept list for training and nutrition. This can also be broken down into smaller components as you see in my picture. I recommend you create your own list after reading this article. Your list may be slightly different but mine will get you started.

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Throughout different phases of training different things will need to fill your nine and ten slots, but you should always keep track of what you’re neglecting at the same time as you’re focusing on what needs work.  Offseason may be for gaining mass and cardio may not even be a concern. On the other hand pre-meet mobility might be dropped as long as it is not a problem.  Let’s address some areas of training and nutrition that should be your nines and tens.


There are different times in training you might find that your nine or ten will stand for different things. In the off season it might be for recovery, prehab or rehab, and other times it will be for peaking. Keep your list at nines and tens and when you let things slip to a one, you know why you may be stuck. Check every few weeks or monthly to keep things in check.

Exercise Selection

You want to pick the exercises that give you the best results. You don’t want to pick exercises that don’t get you any closer to your goals. This seems like a simple concept until you realize how easy it is to NOT do it. It’s often tempting to do an exercise simply because it’s fun or you can lift more than your training partner. While it’s true that a lifter should capitalize on his or her strengths, this can very easily lead to neglecting weaknesses. The exercises that give you some of the best results are the ones you often suck at or you hate to do. Base exercise selection on results not on how much you beat your training partner or how cool the exercise looks. Your results will be driven by the exercise selection. Be sure to constantly focus your efforts on things that will make you better.

What three exercises are your nines and tens for each lift?


Exercise Intensity

I am not talking about yelling and screaming here. I am talking about doing the work that is needed with the weights needed to improve. Are your work sets really work sets? When the plan calls for four sets of eight are you really pushing those four sets or could you have pushed harder? Not every workout needs to blast you into the dirt, but you need to do work. Going through the motions will not get you to the top of the mountain.

This holds true for both main exercises and assistance work. After challenging work sets and “main work” it’s easy to blow off lat work, for instance. Find a way to get this work done and make it count. If you find that you are too tired to finish your workout and a bodypart is neglected then figure out how to give it priority. If you come into the workout feeling like shit find a way to get going or change the workout. If I am not feeling motivated to do standard sets and reps I do work for a song and rest as needed. Having good training partners will also help with exercise intensity. A good training partner will call you out on your BS.

Training Partners

When you are short on spotters, you might have to take warm bodies. But as soon as you have nines and tens, cut the ones loose. The ones are those who don’t load plates, don’t pay attention when it is their turn to spot, and they can’t put down their phone. If they need to be in their own group make it happen. In every group you will always have 20%  rise to the occasion and 20% drop to the bottom. Every time you cut someone or add someone you will always have a new bottom. If you can’t find the weak link in your group, look at yourself.

The strongest lifter in the gym can still be a one. They expect everyone to cater to their needs, load their plates and help them at their meets, but when it is someone else’s turn they are nowhere to be found. Cut them loose! They will always find someone to hover around their needs. It doesn’t need to be you. On the flip side, just because someone is new does not make them instantly a one. They may pay more attention because they want to learn but will also need more guidance and you will need to tell them what you specifically want them to do. Give them a trial basis. You will know after a few weeks where they rank.

As a training partner, how do you rank?


Attitude is one of the things you can control. Some days you will come in feeling like crap, stressed out of your mind, and not focused. When you cross the threshold of the gym, your workout begins. You may not start lifting for an hour but the workout has begun. Get yourself to a nine. That doesn’t mean you have to be rah-rah, or even make small talk for that matter. But you still need to coach, load plates, and do work. It is time to train. That’s what’s important now. If you are there to train then there is nothing you can do about anything outside the walls of that gym. When you come in fired up you will typically have better training session. Figure out how to turn that on when you cross the threshold.

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What determines your attitude at the gym? How can you influence those so you are ready for the gym?


The Gym

Now some of you don’t have many choices in your area but many so called gyms are really just health clubs and fitness studios in disguise. If your “gym” says no chalk, no deadlifting, and no dumbbells over 70 pounds, then it is a health club and has no interest in you getting stronger. They are in business to make money, not create strength like a powerlifting gym.

If there is no other established gym in your area, the next thing you should do is dial 888-854-8806 and ask for Matt Goodwin. Start a club and charge dues. A rack, power bar, and plates will take it to a nine. Your music, your rules, and your hours gives you a ten. This is a hard decision for some but I have yet to meet a person that regrets setting up an elitefts home gym.

If training and progress is important to you the atmosphere is key. Why do you think Westside is so successful? The expectations are very high and you either sink or swim. A culture was built and now it has a self-fulfilling prophecy. At Westside you are a ten or a one. The ones don’t stick around long.


Cheat Meals

Don’t cheat on your diet with foods that are not nines or tens. If you grab mixed berry poptarts out of the cupboard, take a bite and you don’t find yourself thinking hell yeah then put it back in the wrapper and back in the cupboard. You wouldn’t go to a movie that has a boring trailer, so don’t eat something from the cabinet just because it is there.

I know my nines and tens are brownies, ice cream, and pizzeria (Chicago style) pizza. I don’t waste calories and cheats on pasta, chips or The Old Country Buffet. I know I will be disappointed and feel terrible if I eat that other crap. But if I eat good ice cream or good brownies, I will be satisfied. I don’t want to let myself eat things I don’t absolutely enjoy, since I don’t eat them very often. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t find yourself thinking hell yeah during a cheat meal, then you’re doing it wrong. By putting back the ones, I dropped a weight class and even kept my strength.

What cheat meal foods are your nines and tens?

Food Quality

You can’t fly a rocket with 89-octane automotive fuel, just like you can’t reach your goals the fastest by getting all your food from processed bars and powder. Get some grass-fed beef, wild salmon, or whatever high quality source for the desired macro. Give your body foods that are tens as often as possible.

The more processed stuff I eliminate from my diet the better my joints feel. I also find that I get to eat more food and feel full longer with the highest quality foods. Eliminate the ones and work toward a diet that is 90% nines and tens

What foods are your nines and tens?

I think the idea of nines and tens can be wonderfully summarized by a quote from Louie Simmons. He said, “If something is not advantage, then it’s a disadvantage.” If you want to be the best, you need to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed. If you surround yourself with good people, good food, a great atmosphere, and have a great attitude, I would put my money on you to be successful. Take this to heart and you’ll find yourself in a better place.

Pictures courtesy of Clint Darden