Written by Alex Hormozi
“Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”
There are tons of great articles here on programming, nutrition, and guidelines to general badassness.
I hope this is one that simply helps enhance those.
When I started lifting, I just figured I would need to work really hard, stop eating shit, and keep going until I owned a weight. Then I would make a big jump and start all over again. I had a few buddies that would lift with me after school and we made great gains even as teenagers without a lick of knowledge about programming. And that worked…
…for a long time.
Then I got REALLY into reading about programming, periodization, westside, madcow, nutrient timing, insulin sensitivity, thyroid regulation, metabolism, etc. and my mind was blown. The more I read, the more I felt like I understood nothing, but I couldn’t stop.
Over the years, I made fitness my career, and I would apply these programs/theories to different clients, and myself with mixed success. Sometimes it would work really well, other times, nothing would happen. Why?
We could go into responders and non-responders, volume, recovery, genetics, etc.
But I don’t think that is what separated the great successes from the failures. And I know this because the successes started increasing when I started doing a simple thing: simplifying and getting people EMOTIONALLY involved.
Let me give an example:
When I started my first weight loss center, I had a lot of advanced nutritional knowledge under my belt, slight caloric deficits, metabolic issues, insulin sensitivity, carb cycling, thyroid regulation, etc. I knew my stuff, or so I thought, and applied all of these principles into absolutely beautiful meal plans for my clients.
They were genuine works of art. And after my first big batch of clients, I had about a 20% success rate of people hitting the weight loss goals they set out for themselves. And they were OBESE.
I was freaking out, wondering if I had underfed my clients, wondering if I had cut their calories too drastically and increased activity too fast.
I called my dad, incredibly, he told me “Son, stop worrying about your knowledge. They just didn’t follow it.”
Of course, like a good son, I figured he just didn’t understand down-regulation of thyroid and started a different regime for my overweight clients—more moderate deficits (nothing over 400-500 calories/day) to create sustainable long-term weight loss.
And guess what…nothing happened.
After two failed attempts, my dad’s advice sunk in. I just needed to figure out a way to get them emotionally invested.
So, this time around, I made the plans way less “high tech.” They were rudimentary color coded plans, added a weekly weigh-in, and honestly, just did a bunch of things to get people emotionally invested. This went from daily check-ins, to online support groups, to trainers knowing everyone’s names and checking in with them constantly. But the most important part was just trying to make it FUN and competitive by announcing weekly biggest losers and a having a leader board in our lobby.
We made it a game – a challenge. And all of a sudden, the results sky-rocketed. It was themselves versus themselves and people went nuts about it, and their success followed.
I bring up this little anecdote because it brought me full circle into thinking about my own programming. Why hadn’t I been getting stronger? I know I was more advanced, but still, I couldn’t progress with these 5-10lb PRs for 12-20 week cycles. It just wasn’t worth it. And it wasn’t like I was someone who missed workouts. I always got in and did my work. And I PAID for my programming because I understand the value of having someone else do it for you—it means more to you, and you are less likely to F*** with it. But the thing was, I still wasn’t having fun. I didn’t look forward to workouts. They were clock-in clock-out workouts. Not much variety, just accumulating volume over time. So I needed to change something, but what?
So I took a page out of my own book and made more gains in strength in next 4 months than I had in the past 2 years.
I started doing 2 things:
1) I started training with at least one other guy and preferably a group and we set the tone of pushing each other every time we got in the gym. We would even talk about how intense the workout was going to be for 15min before we got started (taking our pre-workouts and waiting to let them kick in).
2) I scrapped my advanced programming for a bit and went “old school.” 6 Sets of each of the big 3 with the same weight everyday (closest plate & 25 combo to to~85% of our current max) and whatever beach work we felt like crushing that day. But most days would be the same BP & SQ or BP & DL. We’d just try and hit more than we did the week before and eventually just try and own a weight that we were legitimately scared of. Within weeks, we were hitting 5 x 5 with what used to be a weight we would dread. Once we weren’t scared anymore, we would add a 10 (for BP) and round to the nearest 25 or plate for SQ/DL and start all over again.
It worked because we all pushed each other, and we were bought in emotionally and having a blast. We didn’t overly worry about a bad night’s sleep or CNS fatigue or autoregulation (our auto-regulation turned into calling each other pussies unless we manned the fuck up and got the work done – extra scoop of pre-workout sometimes suggested). We just got in there and pushed ourselves. Obviously there were a few days where weight felt glued to the floor, and we would just work up to a triple and wrap it up, but our partners were the judge. If they said go, we went, and we didn’t let one another off the hook easy.)
And in 4 months, I made more progress then I had made in 2 years. And this was with programming most would consider regressive. But it worked because I was giving a shit again, having fun, and getting scared of new weight while also finishing with whatever torture sounded particularly grueling.
One time we just did sleds for timed rounds (do not recommend) mostly because we wanted to see who would back out first.
So, perhaps the issue you may be having with your own programming is that if you want to get more out of it, you need to get more into it.
You might need to remember what it was like to have fun and be scared of a weight. I am legitimately scared about my workouts now. Not because of insane volume or anything like that, but I know that I am going to need to push myself or my partners will call me out. And I mean legitimately getting mini-psyched about each set because at this point, these are all weights I have never lifted before.
So that is how I went full circle and have made the fastest progress I have made in 9 years, by doing what I did as a beginner – adding reps and owning a weight until eventually it didn’t scare me, then starting all over.
If you’re a numbers guy take 85% and round and use that everyday for 6 sets until you own it. Just get in there and do it.
Mini takeaway – Sometimes I feel like we can get in our own way with all of the knowledge we acquire and lose sight of the most important thing that got us into it in the beginning, having fun pushing ourselves with a bunch of buddies and knowing that you are going to get after it that day.
So if you can, shake some of the guys’ hands at the gym, even if they are way weaker than you, and ask when they train. See if you can meet up with them. Have a few guys on standby – one or two will usually come through – and stop worrying about what part of your cycle you are on. Just get in there and get after it and push each other, you may just make the biggest gains you’ve made in years.