5 Mental Health Secrets for Better Workouts (Athlete Journal 109)

Your mental climate during workouts is one of the most significant factors for success. Here’s how to optimize it.

Your mental climate during workouts is one of the most significant factors (if not the most significant factor) that will determine the level of success you’ll experience. What follows are a few of my favorite tricks and tactics for more productive gym sessions.

1. Let Go of Results and Do the Right Thing

Sometimes the desire to get a result interferes with the desire to do the right things. If you’re learning how to squat for power meets, one of your goals must be the ability to hit parallel. It’s the right thing to do. You should never let your desire to hit a big number interfere with getting to parallel. If you’re learning how to do full (“squat”) cleans or snatches, you can’t let the desire to make the lift interfere with squatting under. Instead, the goal should be to squat, whether you make the lift or not.

The “right thing” is a premise: If I do “A” it should result in “B.” Then you test the premise by doing “A” and checking your results. If the results aren’t there, your premise is flawed and in need of revision. If your premise is sound, you get the predicted result.

(By the way, one of the best premises you can adopt is: “If I put in the work, good things should happen.” Try it.)

2. Tighten up Your Shoelaces

If I knew where I picked this up I’d tell you, but I honestly can’t recall. The idea is simple – when you’re getting revved up for a big lift, tighten your laces. They’ll serve as a visceral reminder to tighten yourself up. I’ve been using this little cue for years, so I guess it must be serving me in some way.

3. Be Careful of What You Allow to Define You

We all have flaws and limitations. It’s important however, not to give these imperfections too much credit. After all, you’re equally defined by your strengths as you are by your weaknesses. I’m personally careful about labeling myself as old, a geek, slow-twitch-dominant, lazy, or whatever rationalization I’ve been stewing over. The reasons for why you can’t are valid and they’ll always be there if you need an excuse. The reasons why you can are just as valid, although most of us don’t call upon them as often as we should.

4. Lower Your Expectations

One of the most consistently rewarding mindsets you can employ is that of lowered expectations. I know, it doesn’t sound like anything you’d pick up from a book on high-performance psychology, but allow me to explain.

Sometimes, expecting a lot out of yourself, especially when you do it all the time, can hurt more than it can help. If you frequently fail to hit the mark, mounting frustration can seriously sideline your motivation. I’m all for a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners attitude, but to be honest, it often pays to give yourself a break. Anytime you can exceed your expectations (even if they’re low expectations), you can generate a lot of enthusiasm to fuel your gym sessions. Find a happy medium when it comes to your expectations.

5. Have a Routine, Then Break It

It’s vitally important to have a set methodology in the gym – the way you mentally psyche yourself, the way you warm up, the way you take weight jumps, how you deal with misses, and so on.

It’s equally vital however, to conscientiously break your routine so that you don’t become overly dependent on it. If you always use chalk, go without it once in a while. If you always use the same exercise order, break that pattern from time to time. If you always train in the morning, do an occasional afternoon workout. Get away from needing everything to be perfect all the time. Place yourself under some unfamiliar adversity. You’ll be better off for doing so.

This Week’s Training

The big news this week is that I bombed out on my scheduled deadlifts. As in, I missed them. You can watch the video to see what it looked like, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t hit 450 for a single, no less three reps. I’m really not sure why – I might have simply had an off day, or I could have been just unable to recover from the high volume of pulls that I’ve been doing.

It’s too early to tell if the cycle I’ve been using will pay off or not, but it wasn’t happening this week. I have a good ability to dust myself off and move forward, so this setback doesn’t have me terribly rattled. My plan is to do a few heavy singles from a deficit next week, and I’ll have a better sense of how I’m doing then. As always, I appreciate your questions and comments!

Weekly Training Volume: 34,305 lbs (Last Week’s Volume: 27,548 lbs)

Monday, September 15, 2014, 1:03 PM

Bodyweight: 202.2 lbs

Volume: 9,020 lbs


Set 1: 45 lbs × 5

Set 2: 95 lbs × 5

Set 3: 135 lbs × 5

Set 4: 185 lbs × 3

Set 5: 225 lbs × 2

Set 6: 275 lbs × 1

Set 7: 315 lbs × 1

Set 8: 340 lbs × 1

Set 9: 340 lbs × 1

Set 10: 340 lbs × 1


Set 1: 125 lbs × 10

Set 2: 125 lbs × 10

Set 3: 125 lbs × 10

Back Extension

Set 1: 160 lbs × 8

Notes: Knees both feel much better today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 9:45 AM

Bodyweight: 201.4 lbs

Volume: 7,535 lbs

Bench Press

Set 1: 45 lbs × 5

Set 2: 95 lbs × 5

Set 3: 135 lbs × 5

Set 4: 185 lbs × 3

Set 5: 205 lbs × 1

Set 6: 220 lbs × 5

Set 7: 220 lbs × 5

Set 8: 220 lbs × 5

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 70 lbs × 10

Set 2: 70 lbs × 10

Set 3: 70 lbs × 10

Thursday, September 18, 2014, 7:55 PM

Bodyweight: 200.4 lbs

Volume: 5,825 lbs


Set 1: 135 lbs × 3

Set 2: 135 lbs × 3

Set 3: 135 lbs × 3

Set 4: 225 lbs × 3

Set 5: 275 lbs × 1

Set 6: 315 lbs × 1

Set 7: 365 lbs × 1

Set 8: 405 lbs × 1

Set 8: 450 lbs × 0

Set 8: 455 lbs × 0

High-Bar Squat

Set 1: 45 lbs × 5

Set 2: 135 lbs × 5

Set 3: 225 lbs × 5

Set 4: 275 lbs × 2 (Video of this complete workout with commentary below)

Saturday, September 20, 2014, 10:11 AM

Bodyweight: 201.6 lbs

Volume: 11,925 lbs

Bench Press (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 100 lbs × 15

Set 2: 160 lbs × 10

Set 3: 190 lbs × 8

Set 4: 190 lbs × 8

Chin Up

Set 1: +25 lbs × 4

Set 2: +25 lbs × 5

Set 3: +25 lbs × 7

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Set 1: 90 lbs × 6

Set 2: 90 lbs × 6

Set 3: 90 lbs × 6

Set 4: 90 lbs × 6

A big believer in practicing what he preaches, Charles Staley trains and competes just like his clients. Every Friday you can read what Charles has done this week in his workout sessions.

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