What exactly does it take to be an elite lifter? By elite I mean the top in your sport. The elite powerlifters who squat more than many can total, the bodybuilders who make it to (and win) professional bodybuilding competitions, the strongmen you see on TV… what habits do they have that make them elite?
While genetics play a decent role in abilities, there are some habits that these elite lifters have developed over the many years of training that everyone should adopt today. While none of this article contains groundbreaking scientifically backed information, it does come “straight from the horse’s mouth” in regards to where it comes from. This means lifters like Jonathan Byrd, Brian Carroll, and other strength athletes have given this advice before.
If you take this advice and run with it, you’re well on your way to developing the skills and habits to reaching your training goals and getting that much closer to the elite level.
They Become Consistent In Whatever They Do
Pick any article that I’ve written tips in and you’re going to see that somewhere in there I write that consistency is key. It’s true and this is possibly the most important habit you need to develop over any other habit on this list.
If you can consistently train even on a sub-optimal workout routine or consistently eat alright foods, you’re going to progress and eventually you’re going to reach your goals. Sure you may be progressing slower than you could or you are not losing as much weight as you could be, but you are consistently doing what needs to be done.
Step #1 on your list: Become consistent in whatever you are doing.
They Strive For Progression
Along with being consistent, elite lifters are striving for progression every time they step into the gym.
Many readers on this website are beginners or early intermediates and get discouraged when they see they gained “only” 5 pounds in their bench this month. When you get to the elite level, you are going to be thankful if you can gain 5 pounds in your bench over the course of 6 months or a year… it’s just how it is.
The trick is that you strive to progress every time you step into the gym regardless what it is.
Maybe you ran a mile 10 seconds faster than last time, maybe you busted out a couple more reps that you got pinned on last week, etc.. There’s always something you can strive to do better.
I’m a huge fan of making a log and taking it wherever I go. This means I have hard evidence what I’ve done and if I’ve done better or not.
They Track Everything
Going along with what I mentioned about making a lot, elite lifters make it a habit to track everything – The food, the weights lifted, everything.
While tracking everything doesn’t need to be a detailed account of everything you do during the day, tracking your food intake and tracking the work at the gym you’ve done will help you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Everyone is different and has different goals, different needs, and different weaknesses.
Tracking what you do helps you learn your body and will help you determine how to get the most performance out of your body.
They Learn Their Body And Work On Weaknesses
Learning your body is important because is the difference between knowing whether that tweak you just felt is something ripping and about to cause a debilitating injury or just a muscle that wasn’t quite warmed up yet.
Knowing how certain foods affect your body will help you with body composition. Everyone’s metabolism is different so knowing what foods help you perform better vs make your stomach bloated and make you tired will give you an advantage over the regular gym goer.
Quite honestly you can make progress on any workout (with some tweaks) and can reach your body composition goals with almost any diet (with some tweaks) if you know how your body works.
If you want to make it in this game for long, learning your body should be a top priority so you can keep the injuries to a minimum.
To eat before your training or not? That is the question.
Eating before working out is a personal preference… have YOU figured out which you prefer?
They Learn To Develop Extreme Mental Focus
I ask Jonathan Byrd sometimes how is it possible to put 1000 pounds on your back and squat with it… and he replies with “mental focus.”
Any time I’ve ever hit a PR or fought through a hard workout, it’s taken extreme focus and that focus seemed to make it so much easier.
With all of this “adhd” and “add” out there, people go to the gym to talk, snap chat, take selfies, mess with music, or play games on their phones while “training.” If you want to get the most out of yourself and your body, you’re going to have to quit the multi-tasking crap and focus on what you are doing.
You should treat stepping into the gym to train as a special time you need to develop an extreme mental focus.
If you’ve ever watched a Pete Rubish grinding out a deadlift or George Leeman deadlifting, you see the amount of focus they build up before they lift. It is mandatory to develop this type of mental focus if you want to succeed.
They Learn Proper Nutrition And Supplementation
Anyone can smash some pre-workout, go train for 3 hours, and smash a protein shake at the end of their workout… but preparing meals for the week and eating the right balance of healthy and junk food is something many of us can’t (or won’t) do.
The internet is making finding information easier and easier every day… how will you use it?
Reading some nutrition text books and learning from nutritionists has never been easier with the internet and social networking. Elite lifters will learn at least basic nutrition and will utilize their social networks to learn more and stay on track for whatever goals they are aiming for.
Take the time to read some scientific studies, read some forum posts and articles about supplements and educate yourself about the topic. If you are wanting to become an elite strength athlete, you’ve shown that you can be dedicated to some pretty hard shit.
Don’t let the easy stuff like reading some books keep you from reaching the top just because you don’t think it’s important.
They Stay Learning Everything Possible
Like I said above, anyone can go and lift weights and push themselves hard. The trick to becoming an elite strength athlete is that you stay up on everything you possibly can.
This means subscribing to newsletters, checking up on news and new scientific research, following people in the fitness industry to see trends and what’s new… all of it.
You have to invest time outside of the gym if you want to make the most out of this.
With elite lifters posting their training and diet logs on the internet almost everywhere you turn, you can find the trends and you can find many similarities between these people… do this and you’re one step ahead of the game.
They Hold Themselves Accountable
Whether they put it out there on social media or they have a group or team of people they train with, elite strength athletes hold themselves accountable.
If you missed a training day or you ate an extra pizza for dinner, own up to it and hold yourself accountable. Everyone slips up, but if you hold yourself accountable, you’re going to have more drive and motivation to hit your numbers and stay on track. Not only will holding yourself accountable help you, it will help others if you help hold them accountable as well.
I’m not saying you should punish yourself if something doesn’t go the way you planned, but having a support system is something that everyone needs.
It’s rare to find an elite lifter that doesn’t at least have a training partner to put them in check and help push them forward.
They Surround Themselves With People Stronger And More Experienced Than Them
Surrounding yourself with people who are stronger and more experienced than you are will make a huge difference in your abilities and if you can make it to an elite level or not.
While simply putting yourself in the same circles as elite lifters won’t automatically make you a better athlete, you are going to pick up nuggets of information from them that you can use… we won’t even get into how awesome of an environment that can be created with a bunch of passionate and experienced athletes.
It’s important to at least find a training partner, a group or team, or a whole gym that you can surround yourself with the experience there. The 10/20/Life movement is big and I get to see how it affects Byrd and other athletes in the team.
While you are working on developing other habits, try to work your way into the circles of the type of people you want to become. Don’t expect to be embraced with open arms if all you do it take and waste time – you’re going to have to provide value to the people just the same.
They Surround Themselves With Like-Minded People
Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals is another habit to develop. You literally are the average of the people you hang around with.
So if you hang out with people with no motivation for life and spend most of their time drinking and eating pizza.. it’s going to be extremely difficult to get to an elite level when that’s what you are surrounded by on a daily basis.
When you surround yourself with goal-oriented people who are actively trying to achieve their goals, you’re going to feel the spark and passion between them and it will motivate you to push that much harder towards your goals.
I made this a separate habit than the one above because I feel that the people you surround yourself with every day make just as much of a difference on your performance as surrounding yourself with more experienced lifters… if you are around toxic lazy people all of the time, you can’t realistically expect to get too far.
Jonathan Byrd shows us in this picture how important it is to keep like-minded people in your circle:
They Stick To The Basics
I said earlier how awesome the internet is for making information available to everyone… but there’s a catch.
Everyone has their own opinion and “expertise.” Every day a new exercise, fad diet, or fad workout comes out.
Every day an elite strength athlete completely ignores them and sticks with that works – the basics.
What do I mean by the basics?
- They train heavy squats, bench, and deadlifts
- They train every weakness to be as strong as possible
- They skip on bullshit social media exercises
- They eat as healthy as possible
- They consistently train
- They don’t switch supplements to the “newest and greatest” every time something hits the shelves
There’s not many secrets out there other than hard work pays off… no burpee or 1000 pound leg press “multiple times” will make you an outstanding athlete overnight.
They Do Whatever It Takes
It takes years to get to an elite level and it takes countless hours of hard work to achieve anything. Elite athletes realize this and they will do whatever it takes to get there.
They train when they are sore, they eat when they have to whether or not they are full, they do what is necessary.
90% of the population simply can’t eat every meal on time that they prepared and train every day, take naps when they need it, and make it so you have as little stress in your life.. it’s just impossible to do with jobs and other obligations.
But if you are willing to do whatever it takes even if it’s sleep on the floor of a room in a friend’s apartment so you can go to the gym that has the team of lifters you want to train with and you have to bag groceries to pay for your meals – you are one step closer to doing whatever it takes.
This article was written to give you some insights on what it really takes to make progress and kick ass in the gym. These tips are taken from actual elite lifters and from personal experience what I’ve learned from surrounding myself with more experienced athletes.
I feel that if you can get these habits ingrained in your day-to-day routine, you’re going to become a more successful strength athlete and you will notice your personal and professional life increasing in quality.
Have any other tips you think should be on the list? Leave them below.