Discipline: You Need It To Reach Your Bodybuilding Potential.

Real champions success can be isolated to one point, Discipline! Absolute and unwavering. Read on to find out more about what discipline is.

Let's face it: walking through our workouts, with a lackluster attitude, will produce little in the way of size gains. We all know those who shuffle from one piece of exercise equipment to another in an aimless fashion, looking at their watches and hoping for their session to come to an end so they can drive home and watch television.

One wonders why these people train in the first place. After all, real gains come only from intensive training and their half-hearted sessions, lack the necessary intensity and, more often than not, fail to deliver even minimal results.

We all know real champions push their physiques to the limit and accept nothing but the best from themselves. These people move quickly and purposefully around the gym, like human dynamos with expressions of intensity on their faces - their physiques reflect the intensity they apply. These people clearly demonstrate discipline, the essential component that often separates the awesome from the mediocre.

What Is Discipline?

People generally hate discipline because it often means forcing oneself to confront the realities of their life: the dieter for example who must rigidly adhere to a stringent eating plan.

Discipline therefore has negative connotations for many. It is, however, an immensely important variable, as far as developing a phenomenal physique is concerned.

Mental Control

Essentially, exercising discipline means having control over ones mind - using our inner voice to force a particular result. Imagine performing a set of bench-presses with a non-disciplined mind-set. The weight lifted and number of reps would probably be at least 25% below what could be achieved with sufficient motivation.

Imagine then a raving lunatic approaching with a gun and demanding you load an additional 20kgs and pump out and extra 5 reps. In all likelihood this would be achieved.

The lifter has disciplined themselves to lift this weight because their life has depended on it. This is precisely the type of attitude needed to excel in bodybuilding, and sport in general. Training needs to become a life or death situation, as extreme as this may sound.

Before beginning the aforementioned set of benches, the lifter, in the first instance, has taken the easy way out. This is a natural part of the human condition. We are likely, when faced with difficulties, to take the easy option because we are pleasure seeking beings.

Obeying The Doctrines Of Oneself

We all love to feel good and this makes sense. However, we need to apply self discipline, and make things hard when training muscle is the aim. Clearly an unpopular concept, discipline (which means adhering to the doctrines of another) must be used to push the boundaries of physical capability.

Self discipline could be extrapolated to mean obeying the doctrines of oneself. This means we must set goals and continually seek ways to enhance motivation levels. In short, self discipline is the ability to get the job done, regardless of ones emotional state.

Given its competitive nature and the degree of excellence needed to separate oneself from others of similar proficiency, sport is one arena where self discipline is needed in abundance. One who understood the importance of self discipline was Great coach, Vince Lombardi, who said,

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."

How To Practice Self-Discipline

Self discipline is essentially a frame of mind. When we think positive thoughts, self-discipline is more readily activated. On the flip-side, negative thoughts promote a sloppy attitude and a weak mind.

This leads to low self-discipline. The key to activating self-discipline through positive thinking is to perfect our inner dialogue - the little inner voice that talks to us all the time, and gives out instructions.

Those who have experienced a negative childhood, generally have a negative inner dialogue. Thoughts planted in our heads from a young age tend to crystallize into a particular mind-set that leads us into adulthood.

If negative thoughts are planted, it is much harder to activate a positive mindset and consequently self-discipline is harder to practice.

On the other hand, a positive upbringing will probably lead to a more optimistic voice and a higher degree of self-discipline as a result.

Given training success depends to a large extent on discipline; one will need to try and change any nagging self doubts and negative internal dialogue.

Before attempting a set a heavy squats it is advisable to train your inner voice to say, for example, "this will be the most enjoyable set of squats ever and the weight will be lifted with ease" as opposed to the negative "this weight is very heavy but I will attempt it anyway."

By repeating the former, a positive, lasting, thought pattern will be established. This will help to obviate any lingering negative feelings which inevitably impede training progress. Practice the following to ensure your inner voice becomes positive, which will help to forge self-discipline and enhance training.

Forget The Past

Focus on the present, and future if previous negative experiences are holding you back. This will help to establish a positive inner voice and self-discipline.

Negative thought patterns are often established in childhood. Constantly dwelling on childhood experiences will reinforce negative patterns and dilute the present.

Your Inner Dialogue Must Be Specific

Before training arms, for example, think about exactly what is to be achieved. "I will lift the heavy weight" probably won't cut it. Rather, "I will curl the 85 pounds and contract my biceps to develop massive arms" is more detailed and conjures a vivid image of an end result.


Repeating positive statements to develop a positive inner voice does not have the same impact as visualizing exactly what you want to achieve while making these statements. Imaging building biceps like mountains, while saying "my arms are exploding with new growth."

Try To Avoid Negative Events & People

Both will sap energy and dilute enthusiasm. Negative people will plant negative thoughts in those of whom they come in contact with. Surround yourself with positive people as this will reinforce your own positive thought patterns.

A good training partner can help to strengthen self discipline with their insistence that you complete "one more rep."

Learn To Master Problem Solving

An important step to establishing self-discipline is taking control of one's emotions. Becoming upset and angry will only serve to derail positive thinking and self-discipline. We all encounter problems. How we deal with them differs depending on a variety of factors. Self-discipline, and control, certainly help when it comes to solving a problem, and moving on.

Those who find it hard to move on are often those with minimal self-discipline. An injury, for example, might mean weeks, or months, away from the gym. Continuing positive self-talk, and keeping ones eyes on their goals, will assist a smoother transition back to the gym, when the injury has healed. A strengthened resolve and sufficient self-discipline will help in this respect also.

Focus On Discipline, Often

Discipline, by its nature, is not an easy trait to establish. However, by putting ourselves in challenging situations throughout the day, while resisting the temptation to become sloppy and unfocused, one can strengthen their ability to rouse discipline when it counts.

For example, when sitting in a chair, one might try to keep their back straight; despite the fact they are tired and feel like slouching back. Another way might be to resist staying up late or sleeping in, excessively. These things might encourage complacency and a resultant lowering of discipline over the long term.

Indeed, focusing on discipline, with a view to building it, can be elegantly explained with a bodybuilding analogy: in short, the more you train discipline, the stronger it becomes, and, just as it takes some muscle to build more, it, similarly, takes some self discipline to establish additional levels.

Progressive Resistance

The key when using this analogy, to establish self discipline, is to consider the principal of progressive resistance, as it applies to weight training (the lifting of progressively heavier weights, or the addition of repetitions, to increase training intensity, and promote muscular gains).

Taking on challenges that are close to ones capabilities will promote increases in self discipline, more effectively than unrealistic, largely unobtainable, targets.

Therefore, to build self discipline, take it slowly and establish it at a progressive rate, rather than diving straight into the heavy stuff and risking injury, metaphorically speaking.

It is next to impossible to achieve every objective, regardless of how self disciplined one is. It is, therefore, more advantageous to correct the so called smaller problems, such as eating that extra bite of pizza, or stopping short of failure when training with maximal weights, rather than trying to tackle a 300-pound behind-the-neck-press, when one's training weight on this movement is 120 pounds.

Work Hard

This could be the single most important piece of advice pertaining to the achievement of self discipline. To put all of the above into practice, one needs to work exceedingly, and consistently, hard.

Hard work to some might conjure up images of self denial, and suffering. However, all the good things in life come as a result of the kind of sustained hard work that makes these things worth having, and life worth living.

The biggest barrier to self discipline is a weak mind, and this often results from failure to set goals, and execute a plan of action (explained soon). As mentioned, self discipline can be strengthened like muscle tissue, and the more one practices self discipline development, the more they will become strong mentally.

How To Apply Self Discipline

Knowing all of the above will undoubtedly help when aiming to strengthen self discipline, but without a plan of attack, the best idea and knowledge base in the world might fail to gain traction. Using the following plan will help to bring ones self discipline goals to fruition.

Choose the area of life that needs strengthening

For simplicity's sake, a basic weight training example will be used. An area that might need addressing could be the amount of weight lifted on the bench press. A lifter might stop short of adding an extra 5-to-10 pounds due to complacency, or lack of self discipline.

Create a plan of attack

The plan would, therefore, be to consciously add weight to this movement, as per the progressive resistance example mentioned earlier. At this point, self discipline is actively being put to the test, as a change in mindset is being occurring.

Execute the plan

The execution phase is where the lifter will either succeed, or fail, as the mindset is challenged to actually put into practice what has been planned.

Not dissimilar to classic goal setting, this is the essence of self discipline - the execution of a plan to break a negative cycle of self delusion. Indeed, without goal setting, we live our lives floundering in a sea of ill discipline.


To achieve one's bodybuilding goals, a large degree of discipline is imperative. The sloppy thinking and complacency that result from an undisciplined mind (which is itself the product of negative thinking) may result in a complete lack of focus and low self-belief.

To counter this state, it is advisable to focus on developing discipline. The strategies suggested in this article might sound silly to some, but they will have profound results if practiced religiously.

Anything that encourages a positive inner dialogue is conducive to success in any sphere. Given bodybuilding is an intensive activity, a large degree of self-disciple is needed.

Self-discipline (the strategy we use to get ourselves to do something that does not come naturally) can only be developed through a strong sense of self belief coupled with a positive inner voice.