It is like clockwork. In January, New Year's resolutions and goals take effect. Every gym across the world is packed. You can not find an open treadmill or bench. Grocery stores sell out of chicken and rice; front steps are decorated with boxes full of freshly delivered supplements. We make promises to ourselves: "I am going to work out six days a week. I am going to eat healthy and meal prep every night. This is going to be the new me forever."
Then, in mid-February, all the gyms are back to normal. Fast food chains have a line around the building, and supplements get lost in the back of the cabinet. If this is you, it's okay, I promise. You are not alone, and there is hope.
What happened? For starters, life happened. We are all busy: school, work, kids, friends, events, and bills. It is non-stop. Secondly, you didn't take the time to think things through and plan accordingly. There are very few people out there who have both the time and discipline to spend six days a week in the gym. Not to mention, meal preparation and consuming a perfect diet consistently. Going at it too hard and too fast is a recipe for failure.
Here is the good news; we do not have to wait until January 1st. Every day is a new opportunity to try again. We can learn from the past and get it right this time around.
Here is the fix.
Start a Schedule
Let's start with the basics. Forget everything you know and everything you have ever done. Set a schedule that makes sense for your life. Do not set goals based on how often you think you need to be in the gym; give yourself time to look over what is possible, and then set a goal based on what you can realistically fit in. Going to the gym twice a week for 20 years is far better than going to the gym six days a week for only one month. Get a planner or a calendar and put down on paper what days you are committing to lifting, then go after it.
Take Baby Steps for Obtainable Goals
For the love of God, you need to set obtainable goals. Do not try to go from zero to 60. Baby steps are the key to nearly everything in life, especially in the gym. Start small, build a habit, and move on to the next baby step. When you try to do too much at once, you do not give yourself a chance to understand what is working and what is not. For example, when it comes to changing your nutrition, instead of trying to follow a full-fledged meal plan, first try cutting out sugar. Set a goal to be under 100 or 75 grams of sugar per day. After a few weeks, when you have achieved that goal, add another baby step. Now, think about your goals in the gym. If you just totaled 1,000 pounds, do not expect to hit 1,500 pounds at your next event. Instead, go after a 50-pound PR. Before you know it, all of these little steps turn into giant leaps.
Design your training cycle based on the schedule that you just set. If you are planning a full power meet and can only lift two or three days a week, you may need to double up on exercises. If you have to squat and bench the same day or bench and deadlift the same day, then this is what you need to do. In most cases, less is more. A minimal number of days under the bar can still equal great success.
In our sport, overtraining or breaking down our central nervous system is common. Overtraining is possibly the worst feeling in the world. Do the best you can with what you have. Never force anything. Be consistent. Try to train on the same days and at the same times if possible. In doing so, you will build consistency and a habit for yourself. Decide, “Monday at 6 p.m. is Squat day.” Let friends and family know what your schedule is so they will hold you accountable as well. Also, one of the best ways to stick with your plan is to find reliable training partners. If someone is relying on you to be there, more than likely, you are going to show up.
Set Realistic Goals
If you set the proper schedule and realistic goals, you should NEVER miss a workout. Ever. If you are planning a vacation, decide whether you will hit the gym before you leave. Of course, there are things in life that pop up from time to time. Plan ahead and figure out how to avoid them at all costs. Your family and friends should understand how important training is, and everyone around you should be aware of your non-negotiables. Personally, no one in my circle would dare ask me to attend anything that interferes with my training days. In the event that a situation occurs and there is no way around missing a workout, figure out how to schedule a make-up day. To be competitive in powerlifting, even for novice lifters, you will have to make sacrifices.
Write Down Your Training Program
Once you have your schedule figured out, it is time to work on your training program. The most important thing is that you put it on paper. Humans are creatures who want and need structure. You may believe you can just “wing it,” but this will not work, I promise. Writing a contract or a plan for ourselves is vital, but it does not have to be complicated or overly specific. If you want to follow an all-out training program with percentages or detailed sets and reps, go for it. However, something as simple as “light bench day” or “accessory day” will work just as well. The most important thing to remember is that the key here is to avoid missing workouts. If you make goals too difficult, you may get frustrated and lose interest. Be patient. Give the program a shot and stay with it. Do not make changes until you NEED to. If it is a light bench day and you feel great, it means that what you are doing is working. It does not mean it is time to MAX out. Trust the process and follow it.
Choose Your Mindset
So, now that you have a schedule and a plan, you are ready to hit the gym. When you walk through those doors, leave your garbage outside. Powerlifting is supposed to be your passion, your escape, the place where nothing else matters. Forget about the world; forget about your bad day. No one wants to hear about your issues; they might pretend to, but they don't. Negative thoughts and negative conversations will turn into the worst kind of workout. You are in your happy place. Focus and get to work. Most importantly, do not skip a rep or a set. If you are not going to complete your workout, you might as well not show up. Skipping sets or reps is allowing yourself to quit. Once that mentality starts, it is difficult to turn it off.
When the big day arrives, and it is time to hit the platform, you need to be able to tell yourself, “I did everything in my power to be successful." If you can honestly say this, when all is said and done, there will be no disappointment, regardless of the results. You will know you did your best with the cards you were dealt. At the end of the day, that is all that really matters.
Keith O'Dell has been competitive in powerlifting since 2001, with over 20 years of experience on the platform and in the classroom. He is a three-time Arnold Classic winner in 2019, 2020, and 2022, as well as the 2022 WPO and Olympia Champion. Keith's long-term success comes from his background in strength training and nutrition.