T Nation

Psychology and Training


So I don’t post around here much any more due to time constraints with my careers and clients, but I made a comment about psychological factors in lifting and eating being as important or even more important than the biological ones in Brickhead’s contest prep thread, and jasper asked me to write some thoughts in a new thread. So, here it is:

In general I find it comes down to adherance…if you like your job you’re more likely to work hard at it; if you’re not a meathead like us and you like hiking you’re more likely to be constantly active where there’s good hiking available than places there are none; if you like surfing you’ll be way more active living in San Diego than Kansas; if you like tasteful food and you like cooking you’ll be much more likely to stick to your diet when you find good recipe ideas vs. if you’re like me and you just eat because it’s time to eat and you don’t care about awesome recipes, etc.

In other words, even if the plan isn’t the “ideal” plan normal people see more results with things they like because they’re more likely to do them. If weights are 100% effective at body transformation but you hate them, and hiking is say 40% effective…well if you go hiking 4 days out of every week after work but you would only bother to get off your duff once a week to go to lift then you’re going to see much more results with an objectively “less effective” method of fat loss or body transformation because you stick with it. It’s the whole “a decent plan executed immediately and with violence beats a perfect plan executed next week” thing (Thanks General Patton).

In that sense lifting has the same kind of “flavor” to it. Let’s leave age and injury and biology out of it-- maybe you hate doing the same lifts over and over and high frequency stuff bores the piss out of you. You won’t stick to a high frequency program then, and thus won’t reap results even if it is the most effective way to reach your strength goals. On the other hand you could bomb your legs once a week with a Tom Platz style annihilation and see great results because a) it gives you more time between leg days to do other variety of things and b) there’s more variety in the leg day itself, only limited by your imagination and pain tolerance. So it vibes with your psychology–you like variety, you get variety, you work hard and grow.

Just like figuring out whether you learn better visually, orally, writing things down, or by hands on.

A plan or a diet is only as good as the amount of time you spend following it. Sure, you can say “but the metabolic factors in resistance training mean it’s way better for fat loss than jogging”. And I’d agree. Assuming you can make someone do it, lifting is much better for fat loss than jogging (not to mention your knees). But if you’re not going to lift at all, and you enjoy a good 3 or 4 mile run well…you aren’t going to stay in the gym are you? This is one of the lessons I was able to learn in my personal training very quickly–fortunately I learned it mostly through other people’s mistakes rather than my own!



Thanks @Aragorn, that makes very much sense. If you like it, you’re gonna stick to it and it’ll yield results whether it’s a training program, eating plan or career choice. Also reminds me of a Jim Wendler tip, “It’s not really about the training program. It’s about belief.”

It’s so like common sense but I always tend to miss the point when it came to eating for fatloss. In the past I was able to get myself lean with strictly regimented dieting and limited food choices but I wanted to get rid off it as soon as possible. Resultingly I always get stuck in the bulking and cutting cycles despite not being a bodybuilder. Even though I had scrimpy goals of staying lean and muscular year round, I kept missing my objectives due to not able to conjoin it with my personal likes.

Recently I was able to gather it all up and started focusing on developing long term strategies to keep me riveted to my objectives. Not to be surprising, the core of such planning is to enjoy what you do, for me it means specific performance goals when training and to eat healthy meals that I enjoy and actually look forward to eat. I also stopped stressing on eating for fatloss, instead started eating to fuel my performance. Admittedly, it doesn’t bring as fast results as you expect regarding fatloss but nailing PR’s makes it all much more enjoyable and sustainable.


Your philosophy has the added advantage of flexibility. Martial arts was fun, but the older I got the longer it took me to bounce back from injuries, so while weight lifting was originally assistance training for me, now it is the center around which my other exercises fit.


This is a huuuuge issue I see for a lot of people, but notably women and fighters/wrestlers. I really do not know of any two categories of people with any more dysfunctional eating habits. The guy I’m doing nutrition and conditioning for now is scheduled for his first fight in Bellator in about 5 weeks and he is a walking mess–suffer, cut horrifically, suffer in the sauna, then rebound by binging on pizza and chipotle until you’re 30 lbs over your weight class. Women as a demographic tend to have the same types of issues.

What I have to remind almost everybody is to eat and supplement for performance. This cut will be hard for him because he didn’t keep up with the things I had taught him for his last few cuts that were meant to build his foundation for future fights, but it is doable. He is noticing now that he is much more energetic for his training, and he isn’t dying, and his performance in the gym is going great.

For deadline items like competitions of course the flexibility and psychology aspects revolve more around doing what needs to be done of course…but for the rest of the year taking your perspective Jasper is much better and sustainable.


Sure absolutely. It’s all about flexibility.

This is why although I do have strong opinions about a lot of training related topics and “the best” way to do something, when I coach I always put the idea of flexibility first. If they like it and it’s even a step or two in the right direction, they’ll stick to it and then I’ll get more time to corrupt them into the “perfect” ways to do something! Mwahaha…On a serious note though, Nick Tumminello is fond of saying “you don’t fit clients to programs (your favorite lifting style), you fit programs to clients”. Doesn’t matter if you’re giving advice to your girlfriend or wife, or if you’re getting paid, or if you’re just doing things for the long term yourself. There’s obviously a point where you’re fooling yourself into getting lazy, and you can’t allow that of course if you want to get better, so there’s definitely a limit. But in terms of just an overall approach strategy I really think psychology–what you know about your clients, or what you understand about yourself–informs great training. That’s one way you hear about these great lifters and athletes that train “instinctively”. They miight not know the terms or the mechanics, but they understand how they work. Just like learning gets easier once you figure out “hey, I’m a visual learner I need to see it to get it”…


Great post!

I think it’s the same kind of principle with diet breaks during a cut, or a deload week during a training cycle. Yes, there are legitimate physiological benefits, but I think the real magic is in the psychological benefits, i.e adherence and motivation.


Absolutely agree. The human mind (and body) is not a machine. A machine can run 24 hours a day for years on end as long as it is oiled and maintained. A human being can’t do that. Decision fatigue and boredom and a bunch of mental rustiness happens.