T Nation

Focus During Workouts


Hi everyone

My first post here and first of all, I've been soaking in the wisdom of the more experienced folk for some time now - so thankyou :slightly_smiling:

I recently made the commitment to turn my 165 lb skinny-fat ass into something reasonable. I turned 25 not long ago and the fact that I won't be a spring chicken forever hit hard - prompting me to really get serious about getting big and strong

I'm lifting 4 times a week, eating big and clean, cut back on my social life a bit until all the right habits become automatic, etc. About 6 weeks into things, I'm 5 lbs heavier, most of it muscle, and the weights on the bar are climbing steadily

In fact everything's moving along nicely - everything except my focus during my workouts. Very plainly, my concentration during my work sets sucks and it's something I consciously need to work on

What's most annoying is that I love to lift, look forward to training all day, and yet halfway thru a set of squats for example, my thoughts go for a stroll and the weight feels 10 times heavier all of a sudden

I'm not sure whether it's my way of dealing with the discomfort of training but it happens on almost every intense set. I then end up rushing thru the set, robbing myself of the full benefits of each movement - and kicking myself afterwards

Any methods you guys use to 'stay with it' during your workouts - and especially the difficult sets and reps?




Welcome aboard. You seem to have the right mindset, and I hope you find a place here.
As you are aware of at this point, it is a mental game, the problem lies in your brain, not your body.
Try rehearsing your workouts in your head all day before you lift, at night as you fall asleep, etc. Visualisation works for some.
Logging your sets/reps might help. If you have it down in a notebook, you can look at what you have done and what you need to do. 'Okay, three (two, one) more sets and I am done. Every box you check off as a set is progress, and you can feel like you are doing something as you go. You know, baby steps.
Chemically, consider Spike or Power Drive. I haven't had much luck with Spike, but my wife loves it and feels it gives her much more focus (in and out of the gym). Power Drive does the trick for me.
Nutritionally, are you getting enough food energy? Are you properly hydrated? Have you tried sipping a simple carb/protien mix during your w,orkouts?
If none of those work, consider just shortening your sessions. Nobody says you need to do 6,8,10 sets at a time. In fact, Waterbury's concept is frequency, so maybe two daily 35 minute sessions might prove more effective than one daily hour session where you peter out at the end.


Just some suggestions:

  • Pre/During W/O Nutrition... I don't lift well in a fasted state either.
  • Aggressive, loud music can seriously improve your w/o...try to psyche up (I'm not talkin Celion Dion here)
  • Give Staleys EDT a try - there's just no time thinking about anything else than lifting

Hope that helps.



Trying taking a Spike and listening to music. The combination of the right thing playing loud enough and that little little pill should put you in 'the zone'. Good Luck!!



I work-out in the evenings. I save up all my frustations, anger, turn my ipod on to some pumping trance or heavy metal and let out the day on the weights. Dont talk to anyone and after awhile people think you are crazy and will leave you alone (I feel sorry for the last guy who asked me how much I bench during a session)......



Could be accumulated overtraining ... or to put it another way, not eating enough. I'd say take a week off and eat really well and big. Or, take a week with reduced sets and eat real big. Your body should grow during that time. Lack of mental focus is a sign that energy systems (food) is failing. You should see this as an opportunity to cut back a bit and really feed and grow. 4 times a week is quite a bit, too, especially if starting out, in my opinion. So I think you have overdone it ever-so-slightly and your body is going "back off man, I need some time to compensate!"

I once did a system that was the same sets / reps etc.. but each week cut back on the rest time between sets. For 3 weeks, going from 3 mins rest to only 45 seconds. Then, week 4, back to 3 minutes and a cutback on efforts etc.. but that was great, time to grow, allows your body to recover from the 3 weeks of accumulated progressive overload. Anyway, that is what I suspect you are feeling now.


This kind of reminds me of something Big Dave Tate wrote in his latest interview. The idea that powerlifters would be fried after a couple reps and bodybuilders wouldn't be able to squeeze everything into a few reps. To me, metabolic subtlety aside, that speaks to focus.

You have to learn how to produce force. It is a skill. Training in the weight room should be as much practice of skill as it is pure conditioning value. Here's some bullet points I've gleened form various sources as well as fabricated for myself as regards focus:

-Visualization. Lots of good stuff out there about this. Mike Robertson has an article and Brooks Kubik wrote alot about it in Dinosaur Training. I like to visualize that I'm walking down a path jam packed with barbarian warriors, with only the narrowest space in between. (I'm a pacer, by the way, so this works nicely with how I pace around the gym in between sets.) They're screaming, usually the word "UP" or "KILL" and it's deafening and the sound rattles my skull. Everyone in my gym is something these barbarians are ripping limb from limb or burning or attacking with clubs and swords. The equpiment is bears, other beasts, stone monoliths, anything else to set the mood. The drinking fountain is a murky pool and the walls are granite cliffs. When I get to the platform or the power rack, it too is set in the middle of this barbarian horde, and they truly work themselves into a frenzy when I address the bar. Then you let 'er rip. Visualize yourself performing too, how your body is positioned the way you want it to be, how your performing exactly how you'll want to for real. Yet another visualization tool is flashing the color red. Red as in blood, fire and war. There was a study Kubik wrote about that the color red in the form of a flashing light caused the greatest forces on a grip dynamometer, whereas other colors had no effect or lessened force. Visualize the color red flashing before your eyes, even painting what you see in red overtones. Visualizing blood, fire and war works for me too.

-Vocalization. I like to make up a "diddy" to say before you execute. Now, these can be used as a learning tool, like when Dan John says "Check" when someone is doing an )-lift (Read DJ's Get Up!, you'll get it.", but I use these as a psych up tool. I'll say "bend the bar" or "crush" or "up" whatever. The key is to just boldy say it out loud, with no concern over who might hear you or what you look like.

-Positive self talk. I think in Dr. Singer(?)'s interview he says how you should only use positive self talk. Never say "I can't fail." say "I will succeed." Don't say "I can't miss this" say "I will lock it out." It's easy. I've done it before. I can get this, so on an so forth.

-Sometimes a good slap in the face does wonders to bring me back "in the moment".

Hope some of that helps you. Now, please bear in mind, I don't use all of that all the time. That's for when I want the MAXIMUM amount of psychological arousal. There's supposed to be an optimal amount of psych-up, too much is as bad as too little, you have to find the sweet spot. Also, don't use these for evrry exercise all the time. No need to go through this whole routine just for face pulls or terminal knee extensions. I actually have to tone down my psych up on my lighter days to keep from getting burned out.



Thanks for all the suggestions! I particularly like the music and visualisation ideas - I think I'll spend 5-10 min before every workout visualising the exercises/sets/reps for that day, with the discman on. Yeah I do keep a workout log so I might mentally run through my planned workout

If that doesn't work after a week or two, I'll look into thermogenic compounds. Spike/Powerdrive is not an option however as I live in Australia :slight_smile:

Also, I don't think I'm overtraining, for a number of reasons ...

  • I'm seeing progress, both in muscle mass and poundages on the bar

  • I'm following an ABBH-type protocol and workouts are only lasting 35-45 min

  • I'm going hard in my workouts but not to complete fatigue - my #1 priority right now is nailing down my form in the big exercises

  • Diet is plentiful - about 3,500 kcals a day

  • A pretty sedentary job for 10-12 hours a day

  • I've only been at it for about 6 weeks!

  • Most of all, my inability to focus 100 percent was present since the very first workout - so it's not a result of overwork

And again, I appreciate all the responses. The mental stuff is less 'fun' than discussing lifting, but I'm pretty motivated to getting every aspect of my training in gear



And Conor, good tips there about a pre set ritual. I've read a lot of Kubik's older stuff and like you said, he recommends 'psyching up' only occasionally (at a meet, for a long-term PR etc). I'm going to try your idea of using a word to bring myself together just before a set




Man it is part of the game. At the beginning you will have to learn to focus too. It is not automatic and usually takes some time for people who have short span of attention.

The idea of ipod or any music player is good. I use it myself and it gives me 2 added bonus. 1. I get to listen to the music I want and 2. It intimidates some people so they don't try to ask stupid questions in the middle of a squat!

If you can schedule your workout at lunchtime it is also good since only very dedicated people will be at that time and they usually stay focused.



hey, also peppermint essence, wakes up the brain good


Two things to add

1) iPods are a wonderful invention.

2) I have a trick I use before big lifts that helps me focus. In the minutes between sets of squats I put my arms over the bar and chin on it and focus as intently as I can on a single point, like a fleck of paint or dirt. I just concentrate on it and exclude everything else in the world. I also always breath the same way before the set (four long breaths, three quick ones). The combination of those things gets me into the proper mindset, where the only thing in the world is the next set and my doing it well. The heavy lifts where I don't do this, where I end up talking to someone, etc., just don't feel the same.


ipod ipod ipod. and take something to get you fired up. i am trying this hyper-shock shit. tastes like orange and ass, but it seems to do the trick. that is until i get used to it, then i will try something diff. i used to drink redline, until for some reason they stopped selling it all the LA Fitness'.anybody know why?


Just take 1 capsule of Spike about 20min before the workout. You'll be able to focus on every set and rep. The mental clarity during a workout will forever eliminate the guilt of having wasted time in the gym - because you simply won't waste it.


Orange and ass ... LOL

I'm fortunate enough to have a decent set-up at home (squat racks, dip/chin bars, barbells, dumbbells, lots of weight) so getting distracted by others is not really an issue - other than the odd spider, lizard or rat :slight_smile:

Sheesh, reading that last para, and the more responses I get to this thread, the more I think I should just stop being such a pussy. Sure, I'll do the basic mental prep that people have kindly suggested, but when it comes time to hit the iron, I just need to suck up the pain and just friggin squat, pull and press till I drop


I just set my goal on the reps I'm going to do. Sometimes, i imagine myself as either a powerlifter or weightlifter, especially during the brutal sets.