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The Two Most Important Variables in any lifting program

I've written several articles over the last few months about programming, sleep, tracking food, exercise technique, etc. It's a topic that I'm very passionate about. It's easy for myself and other strength coaches to get lost in the weeds about sets and reps. I've discussed over the last several week ideas like "Are 3's better than 5's for strength?" "Will sets of 8 actually elicit more hypertrophy than sets of 5?" "How often should we adjust exercises? What's the optimal number of sessions per week?" "How much protein should you be eating?" "How does caffeine affect our health?" All of the information gleaned from these fun discussions, however, pales in comparison to the two most important variables for getting the results you want from lifting in the gym:

  1. Hard work

  2. Consistency

Bell curve meme about doing hard things

Working hard has become a bit of a meme itself, as people have beaten to death the narrative of grinding 24/7/365 when that's really not the same thing as productive, hard work. Productive hard work targeted at getting stronger and building muscle requires a person to brush up against their limits. It also requires dedication outside of the gym.  There should be enough stress in your training to drive you to make good decisions outside of the gym: you'll get good sleep, eat enough protein (and overall calories, really) and perform whatever other recovery steps you could take. It may even induce an edge of anxiety, as the work is exhausting and uncomfortable. As with most things, I will use the squat as a prime example of this.

Every once in a while, you should be squatting a weight that actually scares you. Squatting with a tinge of fear from time to time is a good thing. It forces us to face a stress we've never felt before, and challenge ourselves to overcome it. This is good for us both mentally and physically. The level of effort physically drives the body into adaptation, and mentally builds the fortitude to do more hard things.

This level of 'hard' applies to all movements, though. Pushing yourself on the squat is one thing, but following up with the same intensity on subsequent accessory work is just as critical to driving the overall progress that you are seeking.

Doing this only every once in a whlie is part of intelligent programming, but even on 'light' days, intensity of focus needs to be there. This is where the second variable, consistency shines. We all have days in the gym where we feel great and are ready to get after it, but those days go to waste if we are not willing to step up and perform them again and again. A great squat session on Monday followed up by a lazy volume workout Thursday creates little or no results.

It's not hard work that creates results, but the compound effects of consistent hard work. Consistently challenging yourself in new ways or with higher workloads creates the growth and success you are looking for. I like to make the comparison to an investment account. It's great that you put in a sum of money when you opened the account, that will pay off in the long run! It's just as important that you consistently contribute to the account so that the eventual compounding interest reaches its full potential. That money that you first put in will be worth so much more when you take it out, and each dollar works together to create more wealth for you. Fitness is generally the same. Dr. Jonathan Sullivan calls it your "Fitness 401k" that you start investing in and realize the benefits of later.

Periodic hard work is okay, but the real lasting impact comes from the consistency of putting in the effort. Good programming, expert coaching, even great genetics, fall to the feet of hard work and consistency. Nothing can ever be optimal without these pillars in place. Get after it today! But also, tomorrow, too. And the next day...

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