"Just 12 weeks to your best body ever." Sounds great, doesn't it? But here's something that sounds even better: "Just 12 years to your best body ever."
"What?" you cry, balking. "That's crazy!" Seriously, though, stick with me for just a minute. Imagine that you spent the next dozen years training in such a way that you defied time and actually got fitter as you got older. And then you built strength and conditioning for 12 more years, increasing your performance yet again. Now that would be a transformation worthy of going viral!
Sound impossible? It's actually easier than you think! To show you how, we asked seven elite MusclePharm athletes—whose combined training years are way more than 12, by the way—what principles have allowed them to keep killin' it daily and coming back for more. Heed their eight rules and you can lift for life!1
Train With Just Enough Intensity
A lot of people would have you believe that training has to leave you a sweaty, staggering mess in order to be effective at all. The truth is that there's also a lot to be said for occasionally leaving the gym feeling stronger than when you stepped in. "Just enough" of everything is the sweet spot you should really be hunting for.
"Too often, people are training with too much volume, very high intensities, and along the way, ignoring signs of potential injury," says record-setting Olympic weightlifter Derrick Johnson. "It's very common to see injuries of the shoulders, knees, low back, and elbows as you progress due to the sheer loads you're putting on these bones."
Any lift that comes with "how muchya" baggage is especially important to scale properly—particularly when body parts start barking. "If my knees are bothering me, for example, I'll listen to the warning and do a bunch of glute-activation exercises rather than squats that day," he says. "I want to be able to come back and squat another day. Seriously—don't train through the pain."
Don't Give Yourself Too Many Choices
One of the great things—and the tough things—about the gym is that there are so many different ways to challenge yourself, grow stronger, and change your life. You can train with weights, machines, body weight, cardio, swimming—anything! Without a map to guide you, there are simply too many options to choose from.
The solution: Don't choose. Have a plan in hand and follow it. "Go into the gym already knowing what you will be doing every time, so you don't just wander around aimlessly," says NPC bodybuilder Andre DeCastro.
Finding the perfect plan may sound like a ridiculously tall challenge, but Bodybuilding.com's Find a Plan section makes it incredibly simple. Just enter your gender, goal, and current fitness level to see the best plans for your needs, designed by some of the top trainers and fitness experts in the world. Each plan contains daily workouts, nutrition info, and supplement guidance so you have exactly what you need to succeed.
Remember, the perfect workout plan isn't one that burns a certain number of calories or achieves a certain level of muscle activation. It's the one you can stick with for long enough to see results—period!
Give Yourself a Little Choice
A classic beginner's mistake is starting a program and thinking everything is set in stone. Canadian fitness competitor Kyla Ford stresses the importance of remembering that you are a unique person with specific needs and preferences.
So does that mean you should tinker with your program's sets, reps, and movements? Not necessarily. Follow them as closely as you can, but consider saving a few minutes at the end of every gym session for whatever you want. Try a new movement you're curious about, or devote an extra couple of sets to something you intuitively feel is important—yes, it can be your precious biceps peak! Down the road, this type of work will help open your mind to new possibilities, new goals, and new ways to enjoy yourself in the gym.
"This is part of how you learn to listen to your body," Ford says. "If you want to do this for the long-haul, you need to learn what works for you."
Take the Long View
Trainers and athletes often talk in percentages. Keep your eating 90 percent clean, they say—or 85 percent, or 87.5 percent. It's easy to laugh at the numbers, but the important idea to get across is that fitness success is cumulative. No matter what mistake you make, it's just a drop in the ocean if you take a broad enough perspective—and if you keep coming back for more.
"When you have diet slip-ups or miss a workout, just get right back on it," says cover model Noora Kuusivuori. "Remember, you are creating a new, healthier lifestyle, and what matters most is that you don't give up. Throwing in the towel is the only thing that guarantees you won't get the results you want."
Quality Over Quantity
Quick: How good is your squat? If you simply answered with a certain number of pounds, you misunderstood the question. There are plenty of bad squats that are heavy, and plenty of good ones that are light. Which is yours?
"Learn proper form and use a proper weight," commands IFBB men's physique pro Stan "Stanimal" de Longeaux. "Leave your ego outside of the gym."
Easier said than done, right? Of course it's satisfying to struggle through a difficult lift and push a weight you were once terrified by, but those numbers should be earned by high-quality, controlled training, not by simply adding more weight to cheat lifts. Don't be one of those lifters whose injury rap sheet is as long as their PR list!
No matter your goals in the gym, de Longeaux says you'll move toward them faster when you learn to target and recruit muscles properly. This might require a step down in weight, but the increased stimulus your muscles receive more than makes up the difference. Focus on quality, and the numbers will come.
Program Your Rest
This can be a hard one to wrap your mind around. You've been sitting around for most of your life, right? You can rest when you're dead—until then, let's crush it on the daily! This mindset is the recipe for a forced rest day. It could either result from an injury or from the type of overall fatigue that comes from hitting your workout too hard for too long.
"Your muscles grow when you rest," says de Longeaux. "Never underestimate how important rest days are, as they'll allow your body to rebuild and recover. If you're training every day, you're not going to make the progress you're supposed to and will end up just getting frustrated."
So how do you know if you're resting enough? Just take a hard look at your last few weeks of training and ask yourself this: Are you as strong at the end of the week as you were at the start? If you're dragging ass into Friday's session and taking double doses of caffeine just to set foot in the weight room, you need more recovery. Instead of daily training, try every other day, two out of three days, or alternating weight training with something like a yoga class.
Focus on Fun
Think you have to run, do hours alone on the stairs, or kill yourself with endless circuits in order to burn fat? Well, you don't. Sure, more activity equals more calories burned, but if you're miserable during the activity, you're not helping yourself as much as you think. This isn't supposed to be a punishment!
"Don't force yourself to do something you strongly dislike. Pick activities that you enjoy," says Kuusivuori. "Not everyone likes the same type of training, so pick something that you look forward to so you stay motivated."
Exercise classes with your friends, sports, hiking with your family—they're all great choices that can be kept up for years. Find one fitness activity you can do purely for the fun of it, and make room for it every week. If you aren't enjoying the results of your training, you'll never stick with the active lifestyle for long.
Think Beyond Your Goals
Trainers love it—love it!—when their clients have really specific goals. You want to burn 10 pounds of fat, add 5 pounds of muscle, or front squat your body weight for reps? They can help you do that, if you're willing to do the work.
However, you're more than a PR or a body-composition chart. You're a person, and you're bigger than your goals. "You want to make sure you're living the lifestyle for more than just weight loss or changes in body composition," says DeCastro. "Goals such as more energy, health improvement, or greater self-confidence may sound vague, but they're the ones that will help you continue the process and ensure you don't get bored with it."
So how do you achieve those goals? With time, consistency, and patience. Figure out how to keep coming back and doing good work, and great things will happen—and keep happening!