The Best Weight-Lifting Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Every guy dreams of attaining chiseled abs and arms, which usually leads to many hours at the gym. Putting in the time will definitely set you on the right path, but it might not be enough to get the results you crave. Many elements go into a well-rounded strength routine, and the little details truly do matter. You may be great at maximizing your effort for individual lifts, but you’re slacking on recovery or consistency.

Fitness can be a tricky puzzle to piece together, so it’s time to clear up some of the confusion. We asked six leading weight-lifting experts to share the advice that had the greatest impact on their own training, which they’ve since passed on to others. Read on to hear what they had to say.

1. Don’t shy away from intensity

Female workout in gym with barbell.

Don’t be afraid to break a sweat. | Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

“Go to failure.” That’s the best weight-lifting advice I received when I was a young man. Now that I’m a professional trainer, I witness the power of it often, and still in my own life.

After my wife’s second pregnancy and the joy of bringing a second little girl into the world, I reprioritized my workouts. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of backing off my intensity in the gym. That meant less resistance, ending before failure, and longer rest periods. The result? I saw a 10% increase in my body fat.

When I realized how I’d drifted, I repurposed my workouts and increased my intensity again. I used several resistance training methods to do it. With a change in diet, I dropped to below 4% body fat.

Joe Cross, C.P.T., founder of Cross Fitness in Minneapolis

2. Remember to take time for recovery

Happy young women talking in gym.

Take time to enjoy yourself. | Ammentorp Lund

“Fatigue masks fitness.” If you’re always doing a high volume of work, you’ll never give yourself an opportunity to realize or demonstrate your fitness gains. Short-term overreaching is a good thing, and part of the training process, whereas long-term overtraining is a huge problem.

Eric Cressey, C.S.C.S., president and co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Mass.

3. Dedication is everything

Active and sporty couple looking at their smartwatches

Keep track of how you do and dedicate time weekly to fitness. | yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images

The most important advice anyone can take with regards to strength training isn’t something I was ever given explicitly, but something that was reinforced over my years as a weightlifter by my coaches. And that is hard work and consistency are the keys to success. There are no magic tricks. And thinking, reading, talking, and arguing about every new thing you hear of is wasting time and energy you should be putting into training and recovery. Or, as I like to tell my lifters, “shut up and get back to work.”

Greg Everett, head coach of the Catalyst Athletics weightlifting team, owner of Catalyst Athletics in Sunnyvale, Calif., and author of Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches

4. Keep everything in balance

Don’t workout the same muscles every day. |

Maintain a strength balance between anterior, front, and posterior, rear, chains. Things usually go wrong when the strength ratio is far off between the two. The biggest areas to prioritize are the shoulder girdle, the middle to lower torso and trunk, and finally, the upper legs. All of these need a balanced, though not necessarily equal, strength ratio to perform optimally and prevent or stave off injury for as long as possible.

Ryan Hopkins, Olympic weightlifter and C.P.T. at Soho Strength Lab in New York

5. Try to be patient

training plan and weights

A workout plan will help. |

The best advice I’ve ever received, and now give to my clients, would be stick to your programming. All too often I see people either, A: write elaborate training programs just to follow them on and off for a while, and get no real results, or B: jump from program to program after 3 to 4 weeks of not seeing the results they want. Stick to a program for 8 to 10 weeks, and assess where you are and where you want to be. Then change to a different program, if needed. Simple is better if it means you’ll be consistent!

Brody Maves, CrossFit Level 1 coach and director of training at goCrossFit in Nashville, Tenn.

6. Prioritize form and technique

doing squats at the gym

A man using proper weight lifting form. | iStock

I was lucky early on in my training career to be mentored by some coaches and professionals who were truly ahead of their time. In the age of more is always better, with sweat being prioritized over technique and form, I learned that building a rock-solid movement foundation is something that not only reduces the likelihood of training-related injuries, but also improves the overall function in the long run. Mastering fundamental movements, such as the squat pattern, the hip hinge, the upper body press and pull, along with creating a stable core and spine are priceless when it comes to fitness and sport. Without requisite movement abilities in these “Big Five Lifts,” your orthopedic health along with your results secondary to training hard will be left up to chance. Take control over the way you move, and your body will take care of you for a long, long time.

Dr. John Rusin, a physical therapist, C.P.T., and owner of Dr. John Rusin Physical Therapy in Madison, Wis.

7. … but always know your limits

Workout Regimen With A Fiercely Loyal Following

Be careful not to push yourself too hard. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Beginning a new workout regimen takes a lot of time and dedication. While it’s important to follow all of the advice of these advanced weight lifters, the most important thing is to know what you can and can’t handle. Serious injury can result from lifting weights; putting too much strain on muscles can tear them and possibly do permanent damage. It’s important to start out slow and build up your resistance and intensity, rather than biting off more than you can chew and risking a potentially dangerous outcome.