Life has a way of clouding our view. It has a way of blocking the big picture and only letting us see the small details. I've always thought about this in general terms, but recently I realized that this is also a problem in strength training. I often run into athletes who can’t see the big picture and focus too much on the small details.

One example of this is lifters who have a favorite strength athlete. When this happens, I always seem to hear that these lifters are doing exercises because so and so does them or they're following so and so’s program. They always want to know what lifting program their hero is following, what supplements he or she is taking, and what he or she eats. They will blindly follow anything they read or even hear about this athlete. All they see are these easy little tidbits that are right in front of their faces. They never ask themselves the real questions or look at the bigger picture.

Find the Right Questions

So what are the real questions? Well, when it comes to training, the questions that I think people should ask are, why does this person train the way he does, or do I have similar reasons as to why I could train like that? Some athletes train with a very high volume because they have good genetics and can recover quickly. They may also be taking other “supplements” that help them recover. Do you have genetics similar to this person, and can you really keep up a pace like this athlete?

On the flip side, some athletes such as myself have terrible recovery time and aren't able to train with a high volume. If you have good genetics and recover quickly, why on earth would you train like me? You would just be undertraining and not making progress as quickly as you should be. This leads to another question—what are these athletes like? Do they have physical jobs or families? Do they have lots of stress in their lives, or do they have physically easy jobs with low stress? This all plays a role in what training programs will work for you as an individual. A program won't necessarily just work for you because you like one athlete who follows that program.


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Just because an athlete does one specific exercise doesn't mean that you also need to do this exercise. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it either. It's important to remember that most top athletes became as strong as they are because they know what they're doing. Most top lifters know that they're only as strong as their weakest link and they will even do exercises based on this theory. So if you happen to see an athlete you look up to do a certain exercise, take some time to think about it. Why is he or she doing this exercise, and what muscle groups does it work? Do you have a weakness in this area? Could this be another exercise that you could rotate into your arsenal to work these muscle groups? Most importantly, what is the correct way to do this exercise and does it work for you? Don’t follow blindly. Use your brain and understand what you're doing or trying to do.

Think Like the Best

This type of thinking goes for all aspects of what your favorite athletes do. You should always realistically compare yourself to these athletes and their lives before just doing what you read about them doing. Try to figure out the big picture of why they're doing what they're doing. Once you figure out what muscles are worked, try to figure out why he or she is working those muscles. Try to understand the whole workings of the athlete's program. This way of thinking can give you great insight into your own training. You may learn one thing that can help you improve and that makes it all worth the effort. This goes for nutrition programs, plyometric programs, supplement programs, and other programs. Don't ever forget that we are all individuals and the best coach that you can ever have is yourself. No one can ever know you as well as you can know you.

The example I have of not seeing the forest for the trees and the one that actually spurred this article is in regards to a lifter's mentality. To this day, I have never heard anyone ask about the mentality of his favorite lifter. I have never heard anyone ask about an athlete's heart or will. To me, this is an enormous mistake!

Lifters are trying to plant individual trees, and most top athletes planted themselves a forest. Technique, training, nutrition, and recovery are all important things, but they are just the trees that make up the forest. They'll make you strong, but without heart and will, you'll never be great. I have seen it time and time again—guys or girls who are as strong as hell but lack the heart and will to become great. They don’t get it or they don’t look for it, so they remain mediocre.

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I've been very fortunate to be in the warm-up room and compete with all the top lifters. I used to try to compare all these athletes to find the common traits. They're all different in terms of nutrition, training, lives, and personality. I found some guys who trained using the conjugate system or worked with bands and others who didn’t do either. I found guys with strict diets and other who ate whatever they got their hands on. Some did cardio and some didn’t. Some approached the bar like an animal and some seemed as calm as could be. The only real common ground was that all the top guys had heart and will. Hell, even the few assholes in the sport still have heart and will. They have the heart to believe in themselves and never set limits. They have the will to do whatever it takes and push themselves beyond the point where most people give up. This is the shit. This is what's really important. This is how the guys who you never thought would be great make it to the top. This is the stuff that you can’t measure or track. This is the guy or girl who gets told by everyone that he or she can never lift that much, but the reply is “F*&% you! I'm going to do it anyway!”

I would love to see this subject discussed and written about more because, for me, it was the key to my success. For so many strength athletes, it was their heart and will that really got them to where they are. This is probably why I love sports movies about the underdogs because essentially it's a movie about heart and will. This is also why I think some well-known gyms can produce so many top lifters. Some say it's because of the atmosphere and, in a way, I agree with that. It's because even though they don’t talk about or try to teach heart and will, it is learned. It is taught by the actions of the top athletes in that gym. Lifters watch and see how hard a top athlete pushes himself, how he carries himself, and how he believes in himself. It isn't the atmosphere as much as it is learning what the top guys really put into their training. It's actually seeing an athlete with heart and will.

In order to be top strength athletes, there are many things we need. But hands down, heart and will are the most important. Heart and will have done more for amazing lifts than technique, nutrition, programs, or steroids could ever do. The power of heart and will is immeasurable. This is how records are broken and how barriers are destroyed. Find your heart and will and you'll see what I'm talking about.


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