Reprogram Your Life for Resilience

Create a constant environment of challenge to instill mental and physical toughness and tenacity.

Anything worth having isn’t easy. This can be directly applied to training practices. Many gym-goers tend to shy away from the difficult exercises, techniques and sequences of training. Instead, they opt for easier movements and take overly indulgent rest periods and off days, and follow poor diet practices. Conversely, there is a backlash toward those who display tenacity. People call those who are dedicated “obsessed,” “addicted,” and “crazy.” But resilience keeps them continuing down their chosen path, doing what is necessary to succeed.

The concept of resilience should be embedded in your training. Drilling down and getting in the weeds of your program is a necessary practice; it lets you configure your training to optimize the mechanics. But resilience refers to the big picture of your efforts; taking a much-needed step back and evaluating important aspects such as purpose, drive and motivation. This need for resilience should inform every action, and guide your training toward your ultimate goal. Without hesitation, you should allow it to support your efforts and be the ever-present thread that is consistently strong as you ebb and flow through your training life.

The end goal of building resilience is to be able to take the next step. Resilience enables you to get through hardship; it is the proverbial life preserver. But the next step is to become anti-fragile. Resilience gets you through the wall; becoming anti-fragile strengthens you for the next wall you encounter.

But how exactly do you instill resilience in your training? What are the underlying principles you should adopt so you can build a better base of support?

Define a Deeper “Why”

No matter the training style (power, strength, hypertrophy or any combination) resilience can be applied. To hone in on your real goal, you just need to ask yourself a few key questions:

  1. What is my ultimate goal?
  2. Why do I want this?
  3. How should I be training to get me there?

The last question should not only include the appropriate training program, but also behaviors such as consistency, persistence and discipline. These factors will start to define and build your resilience. With a clear vision, you will start to practice steadfast habits.

Another trick is to imagine stepping outside of yourself, as if you were both the coach and the athlete. What would you put that “other you” through? What would you recommend as far as everyday habits? Would it be skipping workouts when they were tired, being lax on their diet, and taking the easy road in the gym?

Now that you know the “why” behind your “what,” you will need to take an honest look at your current training and programming practices. Does it match up with your goal? Are you training for strength when you really want to shoot for more hypertrophy? How about your consistency? Are you skipping a lot of weekly workouts? Are you eating properly? Could you become more in line with your goal? 

Are you practicing what you preach, or taking the easy way out? [Photo credit: J Perez Imagery]

Program Changes to Emphasize Resilience

  • Difficult exercises: Choose three difficult exercises that intimidate you, or you’re not good at. Incorporate them into your program each week on separate days. Make it your mission to practice them to perfection. Your goal should be to make them comfortable, so you can move on to another three.
  • Challenging techniques: Do you perform a set then rest? Super-setting antagonistic body parts such as chest and back or quadriceps and hamstrings is a great way to increase intensity and get uncomfortable. Make training tougher.
  • Get uncomfortable on purpose: Make it your goal to get uncomfortable often. Great things aren’t accomplished with easy, familiar methods. Those who achieve had hard, unfamiliar climbs.
  • Test yourself: Be sure to test your strengths as well as your weaknesses. This doesn’t have to be exclusive to maxing-out on the bench press. Shoot for 100 reps of chin-ups, 10 sets of 10 reps on squats or other nontraditional challenges.
  • Always reassess: As you build resilience, you will quickly adapt to your new normal. Don’t get comfortable. Once you master any challenge you laid out for yourself, reassess and push the boundary once again. Keep moving forward.

Build Resilience Through Your Lifestyle

The concept of resilience shouldn’t just be found in your training; it should also permeate your day. Habits aren’t created with a few minutes of focused effort each day. They are strengthened with consistent practice and self-awareness. Do you tend to take the elevator only a few floors up? Do you circle the lot for five minutes to look for the closest parking spot? Do you procrastinate moving those boxes in the garage?

Here are some strategies to reprogram your day for resilience:

  • Get un-sedentary: As humans, we tend to take the easy road all too often. It’s in our nature. I propose thinking the opposite. Stand instead of sit. Walk instead of ride, and help someone with a physical task when appropriate. Build on this daily.
  • Wake up and be productive: Waking up late, skipping breakfast and rushing out the door is no way to start any morning. Wake up early, prepare a healthy breakfast, plan your day, and take control.
  • Challenge your morning: Train early in the morning, if at all feasible. Get up earlier, tackle your training first thing, and you will build incredible discipline. For some, this is the ultimate test of resilience.
  • Keep moving ahead: Constantly examine your life and keep a check on your daily activities. Try not to fall into your old habits. Stay cognizant of your posture, time spent sitting, and technology use just to name a few.

Create an Intentional Environment of Challenge

Lastly, there is one resounding skill that can potentially help you improve and facilitate all of these positive changes. Practicing self-awareness is a powerful tool regarding your success. Not every attempt will be perfect; you will fail, try again, and possibly fail again. But this is where resilience comes into play. As long as you keep what you are trying to accomplish at the forefront, you will be driving in the right direction. Remember, the key is to create an environment of challenge to “toughen you up,” so you can finally make substantial and desired changes.

Having a strong mind isn’t an inherent trait:

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