We've all been a weightlifting beginner at one point, or hit a plateau and wondered, "What am I doing wrong?" Many turn to their training program and tweak it to no avail. Others go online and search for ways to gain muscle fast or gain strength fast. It's natural to want a shortcut, but this isn't how strength training should be viewed. Instead, focus on the fundamentals. In this piece, I'll discuss what these fundamentals are, and how they act as the best "shortcuts" out there.
Motivation vs. Discipline
Lifting motivation, whether it be motivational lifting quotes, videos, or something else, is like caffeine or a sugar rush. It can be used to facilitate your training, but won't be the reason you achieve results. It quickly wears off and leaves you on your own. Motivation will not get you into the gym 6 days per week. Motivation will not force you to crank out that extra rep or final set. Only discipline will. Discipline, therefore, is the first and most important weapon in your training arsenal.
Discipline separates elite lifters from casual lifters. I know many individuals who started lifting for a few weeks, or even a few months, and then quit because they don't see the progress they expected. They were spurred by motivation to get strong and look good, but failed because they used motivation itself as a crutch instead of discipline. It's easy to train hard when you feel good, but listening to Ronnie Coleman scream, "YEAH BUDDY!" only gets you pumped up so many times. The results you'll achieve by being disciplined in your training, nutrition, sleep, recovery, and hydration over multiple years will shock you.
How Much Protein Do I Need to Gain Muscle?
This is a question that I get asked all the time. Those who are less experienced with training and nutrition understand that protein intake is important in gaining size and strength, but don't know much beyond that. To keep it simple, multiply your bodyweight by 0.8. That's how many grams of protein you should eat per day at a minimum. For example, somebody who weighs 200lb should eat a minimum of:
200lb × 0.8 grams per pound = 160 grams of protein
Protein powder is a great tool to reach this number, but not necessary. It's among the cheapest sources of protein available, which is why virtually all strength athletes use it. With that said, don't expect to take two scoops of protein each day and then turn into an elite strength athlete overnight. Hitting your protein is important, but stands as one of many tasks that should be completed as a baseline. For a more detailed breakdown on nutrition, read my article on if it fits your macros (IIFYM). I discuss what you should aim for with each macronutrient (i.e., protein, carbs, and fat).
How to Optimize Your Training Program
The most important aspect of any training program is to be consistent. This ties back into discipline. The second most important aspect is being strategic with your workout regimen. Identify your goals and tailor your workout routine to those goals. My goals are to gain size and strength, but not necessarily compete. That's why I train using a powerbuilding program that can be viewed here. This is the type of workout plan I recommend for casual lifters and beginners. It will help you build a solid foundation before you dive into the specialized worlds of bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, crossfit, Olympic lifting, etc. If your goal involves competing in one of these areas, or a sport in general, then customize your workouts in ways that train muscle groups and movements specific to them.
Getting Strong with Bad Genetics
"You're so lucky you have good genetics." Many lifters who have hit a plateau or only just started training cling onto the "bad genetics" argument. I would strongly encourage you to avoid this trap. Yes, some individuals have freak genetics and leverages that help them gain size and strength. These individuals still need to put in the work, though, as do you if you want to unlock your true potential. To say that their genetics are the reason for their achievements comes off as an insult, even if it's not intended to be. Michael Phelps was built perfectly to be a swimmer, but he also put in countless hours in the pool. The best strongmen in the world are usually much taller than the best powerlifters in the world. This is to say that genetics can help you become elite, but they do not define the results you can achieve. Once again, focus on the fundamentals, stay consistent, and block out the noise.
Have Fun While You Train
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Having a positive mindset is a weapon when it comes to training. There will be days when you want to do anything but lift. You'll be sore, tired, injured, sick, or busy. Whatever the excuse, a mere change in mindset can turn a terrible lifting day into one of your best. I've personally had days where I considered skipping the gym. As punishment, I made myself do extra sets at heavier weights. To me, it was an enjoyable challenge to attack the weakness in my mind. You might also get a training partner who's serious about their training, but who you can joke around with. Wear a funny t-shirt that turns some heads. Listen to music or switch up your training program to get in the right mental space. When all else fails, remember why you do what you do, and be disciplined.
What About Steroids and TRT?
This is the elephant in the room at many gyms and in many strength competitions. To put it simply, the world's best take performance enhancers (unless you're talking about "natural" competitions, which can still be questionable). This is true of top-tier professional bodybuilders, strongmen, powerlifters, etc. This does not mean you need to take steroids to become elite, and I advocate against steroid use. Many casual lifters who hop on performance enhancers do so because they hit a wall or think it'll help them gain size and strength fast. They find out the hard way that there's much more to it than having the local meathead poke your butt with a needle every few days. Not only do you not know what you're getting in this type of situation, but steroids themselves will not magically make you stronger. You still need to work, you still need to get your nutrition right, and you still need to have discipline. If you do go down this path, at least talk to a medical professional about it and have your health monitored. For 99.9999% of lifters, there's no need to take them. You can become incredibly strong naturally.
There Are No Shortcuts to Gaining Size and Strength
This is the true secret. No matter who you are, what your genetics are, what you look like, or where you come from, you will get out what you put in. If you slack off constantly, only train 2 or 3 days per week, and eat like crap, then don't expect to make any serious gains in strength or muscle mass. If you lift 5 or 6 days per week, track your nutrition, get proper sleep, hydrate, and pay attention to recovery, then you'll make tremendous improvements over time. Gaining muscle is not rocket science (trust me, I've gone down the engineering path). It comes down to making fitness your lifestyle, which requires you to be mindful of what you're doing and keep at it for the long-run.