11 Things I Would Tell My Younger Self (About Lifting)

There’s a point in one’s training career where they realize they cannot push forth the same way they have for the previous decades. Maybe it’s feeling run down, life/work family changes, or even an injury. Whatever the case, all three have impacted the way I have had to change my training as I age, and certainly won’t be the last changes I’ll make either.

At the time of writing this, I will be turning 31 in three weeks. My training age (a very important factor) is about 15 years, as I have been lifting regularly (squat, deadlift, pressing, and Olympic lifts) since high school. I always found it interesting to hear older lifters tell me things like, “just wait til you are 30”, or “I used to be able to squat daily when I was younger”, and never fully understood it, until now.

I want to share with you eleven (11) things I tell my younger athletes, lifters I meet, and hopefully my children one day who are passionate about living a healthy, and strong lifestyle. It’s important to note that by no means am I an elite strength, power, or fitness athlete, however I do feel I can offer some words of wisdom on this matter (as many of you could too…so please do so in the comments, I’d love to hear from you).

1. Strength Is Key

The strong you are, the more force you can produce…period. While there are a plethora of other factors that can aid in force production, strength (assuming you are concerned with strength, power and fitness sports training) will always be one of the biggest determinants of your training and sport success.

2. Squat Better

Squats are one of the most effective movements for building total body strength and muscle. They also have a broad application of nearly every strength, power, and fitness sport, not to mention are a movement used in life every single day.

With that said, if you squat crappy and add high amounts of weight, you have the perfect recipe for knee, hips, and back issues in you later years.

Instead, take the time to work on mobility, core strength, and refine your squat technique to truly improve long term squat strength.

3. Linear Periodization Almost Always Wins

If you are not sure what I mean be linear periodization, think of it being the K.I.S.S. method of programming (Keep It Simple Stupid). By simply taking the long term approach to strength question and muscle gains, many beginner and intermediate lifters can find great success in their training.

While other methods like non-linear periodization are effective, forming a strong base for more advanced programs NEVER goes out of style.

4. If You Are “Bored”, Trainer Harder

So many people, young and old, claim to be bored with a program. On one hand, it may very well be because they have been doing the same workout program for the past year, which then boredom isn’t the biggest problem…lack of a good program is.

Other lifters/athletes find themselves bored for other reasons, often from them getting distracted during sessions, talking too much, resting too much, and no intent to truly do something great with their abilities, body, and mind.

If you are bored, be sure to (1) make sure you are on a logically, progressed program, and (2) train harder and stay focused.

5. Stop Doing One-Rep Maxes

While one-rep maxes are key for competitions, they rarely end well in long-term training programs. When I was younger, I would attempt to max out every other week it seemed like, only to have no results and nagging injuries. While there are certain programs that are designed for one-rep lifting, it is vital that you (1) take the time to build a solid foundation to be able to participate in such a program, and (2) monitor your health and do not overuse these highly demanding and fatiguing programs.

If you are looking to build muscle, serious strength, or improve your Olympic weightlifting, I suggest you read up on my previous article, “Rep Ranges for Strength, Hypertrophy, and Cutting”.

6. Develop a Solid Aerobic Base

In previous articles I discuss the concept of work capacity, which can be defined slightly different based on the sport. In short, the better your aerobic capacity, the more apt you are to train at higher volumes , often recover from training more efficiently, and improve your cardiovascular health (you know, like having a healthy heart). As you age, you are going to wish that you spent time monitoring blood pressure (which can be lowered significantly by decreasing body fat and improving cardiovascular fitness), excess weight gain (body fat), and established a strong aerobic base; as all three can impact your internal health for years to come…like when you decide to start a family, etc.

7. No Carbs, No Muscle

When I started lifting it was for sports performance, muscle and strength gain, and to become better at contact sports. The more muscle and explosiveness you had, the better. In my opinion, many things have not changed in that sense, despite my not playing a sport in nearly 10 years.

After my sports however, I dabbled with different eating strategies, most often with the fads (before I knew about nutrition and science), always baffled by what I was hearing and seeing. This ultimately led me to get educated on the matter of sports nutrition and exercise physiology.

Carbohydrates are key macronutrients for strength, power, and yes, body fat loss. Without them, you move slower, are often weaker, and your nervous system cannot fire nearly as well. While there are a million and one diets about low, no, high, and even ultra-high carbohydrate diets, one thing to always remember is to keep carbs in the diet. This doesn’t mean being a glutton, just more understanding around carbohydrates and the impact they have on recovery, muscle accretion, and exercise output.

So if your goals are to gain muscle, strength, and become more powerful than ever before, eat carbs (research has shown keto diets can actually impede muscle growth). If your goal is fat loss, you should also take a look at this study that found no difference between low-fat vs low-carb diets and body fat loss.

8. Become Friends With Those Who Inspire (and Push) You

Surrounding yourself with people who feel strongly about your passions (and even those who feel stronger about them) can truly inspire you to continue to grow (both physically and mentally). The gym taught me that someone who shows up day after day to grind out rep after rep usually knows a thing or two about perseverance, determination, and will; all of which are great traits to have for business, wellness, and life.

9. Embrace Being Obsessed with Lifting

Growing up I read everything I could get my hands on on how to build muscle and strength. I would spend hours at the gym training, talking with other lifters, and just being in that environment. Many people knew fitness and training was a big part of my life, and I was totally OK with that.

Don’t be afraid to be passionate about something, even if others will say it’s weird or a waste of time. I ended up meeting some great mentors, received an education, and landed jobs that I never knew existed because of the passion I developed for fitness and strength sports in my early years.

10. Finish Programs

Program hopping is a real thing, many of us at one point or the other have been guilty of this too. While experimenting with a wide variety of programs is beneficial as you can learn more about training schemes and how your body reacts to them, altering systems every 4 weeks is not the way to make real progress. Instead, make small, measurable changes within a program that lasts at least 6-8 weeks to truly allow your nervous system, muscles, and physiological systems to adapt.

11. Have Fun

Super cliche, and super true. Too often we can get sucked into training ruts and/or find ourselves with mountains of training anxiety and rising self-expectations. Learning when to have fun, not care as much about certain outcomes, and enjoying the process is an art, one that many (including myself) struggle with regardless of age. If you can start to find the fun in the hard days, weeks, and months, you most likely will stick around in the lifting scene for decades to come.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram