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My Thought Process During a Workout

Updated on July 5, 2012
Author leg pressing 1,210 pounds. It takes great focus and mental toughness to lift this kind of weight.
Author leg pressing 1,210 pounds. It takes great focus and mental toughness to lift this kind of weight.


As in any physical endeavor that requires hard work, mental focus and overcoming fear is absolutely paramount to success in the weight room. If one cannot train hard and push through physical discomfort, he will be frustrated with his results. Strength, muscle, and reshaping the body comes only when one pushes beyond the comfort zone. In my business as a fitness trainer, a good portion of the time spent with my clients is geared toward helping them through the mental aspect of productive exercise. This article is a narrative of the thought process of my most recent workout. My hope is that by describing the experience through every exercise I do, you can find tips and insights from my many years of training to help you overcome some barriers you may have.

There are many different strength training programs out there, and they all can work if properly executed, but the way I train is with very brief workout routines using heavy weights taken to failure. I also add some core exercises along with some functional exercises to round out my routine. At most, I do ten or 11 exercises per workout. I also train my whole body, and I finish the whole thing within 30 minutes, and often times under 25 minutes. I will admit that I rarely take my sets through failure (as in attempting one more rep beyond the point I can do myself), because if I did, I would be able to only do 5 or 6 sets total. I do want a little more volume, for I want to do the core and functional exercises as well. Another aspect of this training approach is to move as quickly as I can between sets to challenge the heart and lungs, and condition the body to work harder longer above the anaerobic threshold. Admittedly, after a hard set, one needs some rest to get ready for another hard set, but I try to do the next set well before my heart rate gets back to baseline. This is very different from a typical strength training routine, whereby trainees will take up to 5 minutes in between sets. The intensity is quite high with this protocol, and I get plenty of stimulation for muscle growth.To prove my point, I have gained over 40 pounds of muscle training this way. I am very happy with my results, and I do not dread my workouts. The training program I created is called the HYSTRENGTH(sm) training program, and in another article I will explain in more detail the science and physiology behind it. I also had my wife video the first 5 exercises of this particular workout that I embedded below, so you can see what I did along with what I am thinking. Now, without further ado, I give you the workout.

The Warm-Up

For a warm up, I do three moderately light sets: a set of leg press with 360 pounds, a set of either dumbbell presses with 50 pounds or the barbell press with 135 pounds, and one set of pulldowns with 100 pounds. I do just ten reps for each set. That's it. Then I am ready for the workout. I do this for two three reasons:

  • Too much warm up burns precious glycogen that can be used for intense muscular contractions. We have a limited supply in our muscles, so we want to preserve it for the hard work.
  • Physical feedback. If I got on a bike for a warm up, I don't really get a good sense of how my muscles feel. I can tell right away with a light set if my glycogen levels are a little low, or if I haven't fully recovered my strength from the last workout. I can adjust my workout accordingly based on how I feel.
  • The mental aspect. I also need to gear up my mind for the workout. Almost without exception, my mind is screaming at me, saying it does not want to do this workout. You will notice that in the video. The light sets help me ease my mind into the groove. Sometimes my mind is so stubborn I actually have to yell at myself to snap me out of it.

Today I feel good. My energy and strength seems high. Makes sense, for I took two days off from my last workout. I do feel a little soft around the waist, meaning a workout yesterday would have been better for me to get a little leaner, but I feel good today. My motivation is good, too. My mind is not giving me too much resistance.

The Workout

The leg press is loaded with 1,210 pounds. This is heavy for me, for I usually work with 1,165 pounds. I am able to get 10 to 12 reps with that, and the last few times I did 1,210, I would get about 6 to 7 reps to failure. Let's see what I can get today. Damn, time to start. Even though I know I can do this, it still looks a bit intimidating. I know it is going to be painful. I don't want to start. C'mon, Gregg, you know that once you get started, it's not all that bad. You just need to get this first set under the belt. Then you will get into a groove. O.K. Legs up. Focus. Breath. Get into your body. Get into your breathing. Here we go.

Rep one. Good. I feel strong and energetic. I think I can do more than usual today. Rep 2. Good. Get in the rhythm. Rep 3. Feeling it a little bit. Stay focused. Rep 4. Keep it up. Rep 5. Starting to burn now, but I still feel good. Breath. Rep 6. Getting hard, stay focused. Rep 7. Damn. Barely got it. Rep 8. Good. Still on my own. Rep 9. Can't finish it. Don't panic. Put your hands on your thighs and help...a little bit. Let the legs do most of the work. Lock out, rack it. I sit up. Feedback. Strong! Went to failure and still feel good energy. Next set: Pulldowns. My legs feel a little wobbly. This is good. I made a good inroad into my starting level of strength. They will get stronger. I want to get about 10 or 11 reps today on this set. I will use 200 pounds. That should do it. I am a little shaky. This is unusual. My heart rate is jacked, and I think that is also from the leg press. O.K. Breath, now pull. Rep 1. Good. Breath. Rep 2. Good. Rep 3. Keep it smooth both up and down. Stay focused. Rep 4. It is starting to feel hard and heavy. Rep 5. It's staring to hurt. Breath. Rep 6. Stay focused. Rep 8. Good. I think I'll get 10 today. Rep 9. It's starting to slow down...keep the tempo. Rep 10, it's stuck...Pull! Stay focused...Breath...It's moving...not much, but it is still moving...keep pulling. Can't finish the close, but stay under tension. Let it back slowly...time for barbell press. Again, I want 8 to 10 reps. I'll do it with 265 pounds. Breath. Lift off on the count of 3. 1..2..3..lift. Whoa, lifted it a little too far. Bring it back. O.K. Here we go. The shoulder feels good. I can go a little lower. Good. Do that, and stick with that range for all of your reps. The trigger point work is paying off. Good. Rep 1. Feeling strong. Rep 2. Good. Keep breathing. Rep 3. Do it again. Rep 4. getting hard, stay in the rhythm. Rep 5, breath. Rep 6, breath. Rep 8. Feeling it. Chest is burning and arms are tired. Keep going. Rep 9. Barely able to move it at the end. I won't go as low, but I will do another one. Rack it. Oops. I can't lock out my right arm. Missed the rack. Damn! It's ok, just set it down gently. I am safe and it was a good set. I want to cook the chest a little bit more and work on the core now. I'll do a new one I invented. Push up knee ins with my feet on the fit balls. After 8 reps, my chest is burning! I don't feel my abs yet, keep going. 15 reps. Good. I have no more left. Should I do another set of legs? No. The first set was good, and I want to hit my upper back hard. I'll do 2 leg sets next workout. I'll do a free motion hi pull. I must be crazy. This will jack my heart rate through the roof. O.K. I'll do it. Set up the whole stack on each side. Take a few breaths. Let your heart rate slow down a little bit. I want a good set. Here we go. 1, 2, 3, 4,5,6,7,8,9,10..a third of the way there. I want 30 reps each side. Damn, my whole body is burning. My lungs hurt. Are you sure you want 30? Can you get 30? Stay focused. You can do it. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Ouch! 10 more. I hurt, but I can do it. Stay focused! 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28,...29, 30...Done! Thank god!

Geez. I need to sit down. I am very out of breath. Damn. I did only 5 sets. I can usually get 6 sets before I need this break. I am only half way done. I must have gone deeper than usual in those first 5 sets. I am cooked. Catch your breath. Time to focus on the core. What do I want to do? I know. V up with a medicine ball. Good. Ten reps. Now do low abs with medicine ball on my legs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Barely got the 8th rep. My back is feeling it. Better stop. Damn. I am out of breath. One more core exercise. I want to do another push up knee in, except with my wife holding a band around my ankles. Feeling strong still. I can do it. 9 reps clean, the 10th is hard. Can't finish it with good form. Time for one more big muscle exercise. I'll nail the back today. Another set of pulldowns. Let me lighten it up. I'll see what I can get with 165 pounds. Rep 1. Ouch. Very hard. I am cooked, Do the best I can. Rep 2. Rep 3. Keep it smooth. Rep 4. Breath. Rep 5 barely finished it. Rep 6. Stay focused,..breath. I am getting some help from Sharon. Good. Just finish it with good form. Back is done, for sure. One more set to go. I'll finish with tricep extensions today. I don't know what I have left, but I'll try the whole stack. If I can only get 5 or 6 reps, so be it, but try as best as you can, Gregg. Rep 1. Good. Rep 2. Good. Huh. pretty strong on these today. Rep 3. Still strong. Rep 4. Good. Stay focused. Rep 5. keep it up. I think I can get 10 today. Rep 8, 9, 10. Wow! I am not cooked yet. I'll do 12. 11, 12. Done. I am done! thank god it's over.


When I do my warm-ups, as mentioned above, I do get feedback about what is going on with my body. There are times when I feel a little weaker than usual, or just that my glycogen stores are not quite there. I do alter the workout when I notice this feedback. If I feel a little weaker, I will use about 5 to 10% less weight than usual, stop a couple reps shy of failure, and focus more on endurance and volume. If I feel like I don't have my usual energy, I may do one or two sets less than planned. In either case, I still train hard. I still stay focused. I still get the job done. The consistency allows me to train with heavier weights more often when I am stronger.

Like most of my clients, I, too, dread my workouts. I feel good before I start, and I know I am going to go through some pain. Who in their right mind would like that? However, I made a personal commitment to stay in shape and healthy the rest of my life when I was 17 years old. No matter what happened in my life, I will always stay in the best shape I can. Even if I had a serious accident whereby I would (god forbid) lose a limb or something, I will still figure out a way to exercise. It is this level of commitment that drove me for over 25 years...and through this level of commitment I was able to increase my focus and concentration. 25 years later I am still going strong...

Join me on this journey.

The First Five Exercises


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