Creating habits for more muscle, more strength and less fat usually includes such things as consistency in training, adherence to a proper diet and focusing on recovery just to name a few. But there is a bigger picture at hand here. There are larger principles that can develop the right kinds of habits that dig much deeper than just making it to the gym most days of the week.
Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People encompasses that same big-picture perspective. In his book he details seven crucial habits which will help you develop a meaningful, effective life.
Those habits include:
- Be Proactive
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win-Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
- Sharpen the Saw
As the list above can be applied to any facet of life, I think those same habits can easily be translated to your fitness and muscle-building goals as well. Below is a breakdown of how you can practice these same principles to help you lead a more effective muscle-building/fat-loss program.
Being proactive involves more than just following someone else’s training or diet plan. It requires you to honestly assess your physique goals and design a plan to aim directly at those goals. What good is it to have a desire to reshape your physique with more muscle, better shape and becoming leaner when your training resembles that of a power lifter?
Learn how to align your goals and your actions. Do your research, get advice from qualified people and, most importantly, experiment in the gym and in the kitchen. What works for you may not even scratch the surface for someone else. Be your own detective, be proactive and take action.
- What is it that I am trying to accomplish?
- Is my plan in line with my desired outcome?
- Am I letting my ego or emotions get in the way?
- What is my motivation?
- What resources do I have available?
- Whatever I choose to do, will I have to improvise anything?
- Am I willing to do whatever it takes (within possibility) to accomplish my goal?
Begin With the End in Mind
Related to the above, you must be honest with what you want. All of the studying, planning and desire to work hard is all for naught if you don’t have a clear picture of the end result. Beginning with a vision of the end is the easiest and most logical way to figure out what steps to take.
After you’ve established what exactly you want out of all your efforts, the steps to get there should become obvious. Sure, you will still have to put in some work regarding training programs, diet strategies and supplement schedules but the road becomes clear.
And don’t worry about reading everything, weighing all your options and formulating the perfect plan. Once you decide and commit to an end result you will naturally seek out the right information (the essential information) and go forth with your plan.
A few things to remember when choosing and focusing on your path:
- Be honest with what you want – brainstorm options and discuss with others if needed.
- Physically write down your goal(s). There is great power in this practice.
- Post it somewhere you can see it each day.
- Review it each morning – read it out loud will help too.
- Tell someone or several close friends about your new endeavor – this will make you feel more accountable.
You must have all the pieces in place in order to see maximum results. Effective training and nutrition plans aren’t enough. You must also demonstrate consistency and hard work.
Put First Things First
Now that you have your plan created and mentally mapped out it’s time to physically get busy. This doesn’t mean, however, that you blindly throw yourself into the gym and start training without prioritizing.
This is where you clearly link your desires (goals from the above point) with action. For example, if you have set out to reshape your body with more muscle and less fat (as in our example from Being Proactive) then you will logically design an appropriate training and nutrition plan that are directly in line with that goal.
For example, if you desire a lean muscular physique:
- Keep your reps moderate in the 8-15 range.
- Keep your sets around 12-16 for chest, back and legs and 9-12 for shoulders, arms and calves.
- Focus on fatigue, form and feeling the muscle you are working stretch and contract.
- Rest should be kept short, around 45 seconds to 1 minute for most exercises and 2 minutes for big moves such as squats and deadlifts.
- Body part frequency ideally should be around twice per week with a close eye on recovery.
- Be sure you are eating at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- Carbs should be kept between 1 and 3 grams per pound of bodyweight depending on your goals.
- Healthy fats should make up about 30% of your caloric intake.
The next three habits in Covey’s book delve into interdependence and how you work with others regarding your effectiveness. Although your own training and nutrition efforts oftentimes are very self-dependent in nature, it can spill into other aspects of your overall success.
This is easily relatable when you train with a partner. Your training partner should be someone who strengthens your motivation and supports your goal. They should also contribute to the inner workings of your training and nutrition plan.
As the old saying goes: Two heads are better than one. Sometimes you may need a new perspective on a certain detail of your training or you may simply need to stay focused on the overall goal. Straying from your desired outcome is easy when you let your emotions, likes and dislikes dictate your actions. If you need to pack on muscle to your legs and hate leg work, an effective partner can get you through those grueling squat sessions.
But don’t forget another important factor: You also need to be a contributing piece to your partner’s success as well.
A few things to consider:
- Set partner goals that foster friendly competition.
- Have some days where you follow each other’s training routine.
- Bring your knowledge to the table and agree on the best possible plan.
- Feed off each other’s energy for success.
- Genuinely help each other in practice.
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Much like the point made above, this principle is one of mutual effort as well. Once you have created an environment of dual success it’s time to make sure the communication line is open and one of mutual respect. Listening, note-taking and understanding become integral parts of both training partner’s success.
If your training partner or anyone else by that matter gives you advice, criticism or some other words for improvement don’t take offense. Listen with an open mind and attempt to understand the source and purpose of their words.
It is so easy to fall down the chasm of jealousy and “What the heck can he teach me?!” attitude, but others may see another perspective, possibly and better perspective, than you are able to view.
Some points to think on:
- Review your goals and determine if you are still on track.
- Honestly assess your partner’s progress and suggest corrections.
- Swallow your pride and take honest criticism constructively.
- Be open to new training techniques, nutrition practices and motivational cues.
- Review training and diet plans together and on a regular basis.
Synergy isn’t just some corporate term reserved for boardrooms and stuffy meetings. In simple terms it’s combining all of what you’ve learned and processed and putting it into practice for a highly effective outcome. Besides, what good is it to have an awesome plan of action without putting it into practice?
You must have all the pieces in place in order to see maximum results. Effective training and nutrition plans aren’t enough. You also have to demonstrate consistency, hard work and belief in what you are doing on a daily basis.
Having a great day in the gym once per week won’t cut it as well as having poor nutrition but kicking butt in the gym won’t work either. Applying your best effort toward every aspect of training, nutrition, recovery and motivation will propel you miles ahead of just any one of those done well alone.
"Bodybuilding is much like any other sport. To be successful, you must dedicate yourself 100% to your training, diet and mental approach." - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Here are a few basics to put into practice:
- Use mainly multi-joint, compound exercises such as flat and incline barbell and dumbbell presses, deadlifts, barbell rows, pull-ups, squats, leg presses and Romanian deadlifts, barbell and dumbbell shoulder presses, close-grip bench presses, dips, barbell and dumbbell curls and standing and seated calf raises.
- Train most days of the week and, if possible, train each body part about twice per week with a moderate volume. Training too infrequently won’t garner the results you’re after.
- Be sure to eat several (4 to 6) balanced meals throughout the day. Eating just one or two crappy meals isn’t enough to support recovery.
- Get in lean proteins: fish, turkey, red meat, chicken, Greek yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese and whey and casein protein powders.
- Keep your carbs complex: all green vegetables, white and sweet potatoes, white and brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and whole wheat pastas and breads.
- Eat healthy fats: natural nut butters, nuts such as almonds and walnuts, olive oils and avocado.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night – preferably 8 to 9. Also, be sure they are quality hours so keep electronics out of the bedroom.
Sharpen the Saw
Covey’s book ends with a habit that is universal to almost every facet of life and your physique plans should be no exception. Sharpening the saw is described as a renewal, a review of what you are currently putting into practice of sorts. As the old saying goes, everything works, but only for so long.
This isn’t to say that you need to completely overhaul your entire training and nutrition program; it simply stresses the need to regularly assess and review your progress and adjust where necessary. After some time any routine has the risk of becoming stale. There is great value in recognizing what needs shifting so you can get back to making maximum progress once again.
Keep these thought in mind:
- Keep a journal to monitor your training and nutrition. Also, keep track of progress markers such as body weight, have a qualified trainer record your body fat, circumference measurements, strength levels and overall energy levels.
- Every 30 days or so review your progress. Be honest. You should be making small steps toward your goals be it a pound of fat lost per week or 2 to 3 pounds of muscle gained per month.
- Assess you motivation level. Are you enthusiastic and excited to get to the gym? Are you full of energy when your hand grasps the bar? If not, it’s time to change a few things.
- Adjust only a few things at a time. If you’re burnt-out reduce volume a bit or lighten your loads and go higher rep for a few weeks. Change-up some exercises, the order you do your routine or try some things you’ve never thought about before such as an all-kettlebell shoulder routine. If you feel your nutrition is in need of a shift reduce or increase calories slightly by 300 calories or so at a time.
- Relax. Sometimes you will have weeks of no progress. The human body is not a machine – it ebbs and flows so changes won’t form a nice, straight line in an upward trajectory. They may be sporadic at best so practice patience and consistency and have faith in your efforts.