Think For Yourself

Also see Part II

The most successful people in the world think for themselves. They aren’t guided by secret puppet masters. Successful people get their hands dirty, take chances, experiment with new ideas and continually strive to improve. They view best as something that can always be made better. Best therefore remains a moving target.

From a business standpoint, Bill Gates offers a prime example. As I’ve said before, he didn’t take a class on how to become Bill Gates. Yes, he surely had mentors along the way, but he had to figure things out for himself. There wasn’t a book or course that outlined his future business model. If such a book had existed, someone would have already used it.

Unfortunately, I’m not here to tell you how to become the next Bill Gates. I wish I knew. My point with this entry is to instead encourage you to think for yourself. You will only go so far if someone else thinks for you. The time will come when you must find things out for yourself.

Application To Training

A day doesn’t pass without me receiving multiple emails from people requesting detailed, step by step programs. When I see these emails, I often think back to Dave Tate’s book Under The Bar. Tate had some excellent things to say regarding program creation.

In his words,

“A program alone will not yield results. It’s the modifications that are made along the way that lead to the success of the program…”

Tate then continued with the following,

Now there are many coaches and trainers out there who will proclaim they have this ability and that their programs will work for anyone. I am here to tell you they are dead wrong! It is just not possible for one to see into the future. Training is a process that has to be taken day to day. Yes, you need to have a basic plan to work from, but there are so many variables that can change at different rates that you must be willing to adapt your plan accordingly… A prescribed training plan is a good idea, but is only that, an idea. The rest has to be pieced together as the session and workouts progress… You will make many changes to your plan along the way.

Excellent Advice

I encourage you to follow Tate’s advice. It is impossible to find a generic program that was tailored specifically to your needs. Trainers don’t have crystal balls and they don’t develop programs specific to your needs when creating sample plans. A sample plan is just that. It’s a sample. It isn’t etched in stone. Sample plans are not created specifically for anyone.

I often compare sample plans to outlines or summaries of a particular style or philosophy. When you see a sample routine, try to look past the specifics (at least momentarily) and instead focus on the philosophy and principles that were used to develop the routine. Yes, you can experiment with different programs, but the goal should always be to customize the material to coincide with your specific interests and needs.

Think about it like this… If an author sells 100 books to 100 unique readers, how can the single program contained within that book be ideal for all 100 readers? On a smaller scale, if you and I have different goals, why would you and I follow the exact routine? Despite what some may say, there isn’t a single routine that will cover the unique needs of entirely unique athletes.

And even if or when you come across a program that is ideal for you, it will not be the best thing for you forever. The best program today will rarely be the best program this time next year (perhaps even next month). The training process must evolve and adapt over time. This doesn’t mean that you’ll need to knock everything down and start from scratch, but subtle additions and modifications can and should be made over time.

Improvise and Adapt

I’ve been in the gym for most of my life. Yet even with all of my experience, there are times when I don’t even know myself. I’ll have a plan in mind for an upcoming workout, but more often than not I’ll make modifications once I get into the gym. I never commit to something that is written on paper, even when I’m the one who wrote it.

Sunday night, I had a tentative plan for what I would do Monday. On Monday morning I got into the gym and felt like a beast. I had a lot more in me than I expected the night before (when creating the workout). Should I have stopped simply because of something I had written down the night before? Of course not…

There are days when you just need to go for it. Forget about what’s written down on paper. If I’m feeling particularly strong, I’m not going to slow myself down or stop simply because the pen says so. I’ve hit some of my best numbers on days when I was not supposed to. I felt strong and decided at that given moment that I was going to go for it.

There will be other days when I may get a little too ambitious on paper. I get into the workout and realize that it just isn’t the day. The greatest athletes in the world have off days. Some days, the iron is flying. Other days, you just don’t have it. During these times, you need to be flexible and make changes if necessary. This isn’t to say that you should give up on the session, but rather that you are willing to adapt based on your capabilities and mindset for that given day.

If you are reading this entry, you are a human being, unless of course there are aliens that I don’t know about. As people, we all have good days and bad days. Yes, we all attempt to control those circumstances that lead to the good and bad days, but life is often unpredictable. I couldn’t have predicted that my daughter would be in pain last night from teething. When I went to bed, I didn’t realize that I’d be up half the night. Life often throws curve balls when we least expect it. Therefore, we need to be on our toes at all times, willing and ready to adapt when necessary.

Yes, it’s nice to have a tentative plan in place, but even the best plan in the world will require modifications at some point. No one knows you better than you. Training isn’t as complicated a process as many would like you believe. Rather than asking for a fish, you’ll be better off learning how to fish. You can then cut the strings off the puppet master and chart your own future. This isn’t to say that you should stop trying to learn. Instead, I’m simply reminding you that much of the learning process involves you getting your hands dirty and finding out firsthand what works best for you.


  1. Good stuff. I’ve been more and more creative when I get to the gym, and have been modifying the workouts I’ve been doing on the fly, and didn’t really give it a second thought until I read this piece. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way. I had an experience on Monday where I powered through the workout and didn’t feel like I actually did anything. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to add to it, but I looked at it this way…having that experience was much better than sitting on the couch, so I’ll modify it for the next time.

  2. Sorry to comment again, but I think it’s much easier to get creative in the gym when you have goals in mind, rather than looking at the workout as a task list. For example, my goal for the Deck of Cards workout is to get under 30 minutes at the present time, although I still have to take short rest breaks. Eventually, I’d like to take zero rest breaks. For other workouts, I’m considering adding a weight vest, changing grips, slight changes in modalities, or whatever so that I can constantly improve.

    I know it’s just another way of saying the same thing you did, but that’s what I got out of your article, anyway.

  3. Good stuff Ross – it feels like a good parallel is the distinction between that war and the battle. As Field Marshall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke said,

    “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

    The battle (workout) may not always go according to plan, but the war itself (overall training goals) can still be won.

  4. Ross, you have to go out and read the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. He addresses what causes success, and talks specifically about Bill Gates and his success in business.

    I think you’re right on point, as usual. The trick is to know what it is you want to do, and then to do that thing as much as absolutely possible. Those are general guidelines, but still accurate…

  5. If more people understood this concept you would see way more people continue with their fitness lives instead of quitting after a month or two when they can’t meet the specific guidelines of a prescribed program. Adapt or die!

  6. I just read Under The Bar recently when eliteFTS had an ebook sale, and it seriously exceeded my expectations. Lots of great stuff in there, highly recommended.

  7. Awesome post.

    Only caveat I would add is that those that are new to training MUST learn the nuts and bolts of programming before running off to do instinctive training. Instinctive training works the best when you have had several years of experience in the gym and have learned what it means to put a decent program together.

  8. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  9. I actually have a video gaming example. A lot of people are now caught up in Minecraft, however few people realize that the game has been slowly developed into what it is now, through time and patience. And more sepcifically to this article, Notch didn’t always follow the herd with this game either- many people were upset about how he changed ladders, yet he did it anyway. Later development was spent listening to the community when they complained about a monster in the game being too powerful, but again if we had NO feedback at all we would be just as lost at making a commercial product. Notch’s market wasn’t just himself anymore once he reached that point.

  10. Great post, I agree that creativity is essential, but you must take into account that you can be creative once you know how to do things.

    In my opinion, you have first to understand the tehory, and then think for yourself and apply your own personal touch to what you do to keep motivated and keep improving daily.

    Problem with most people in gyms is that they do not even want to understand why they are training like that, they do not even question if there is a better way to do what they do.

    For me, this is the difference between decide for yourself or let others decide for you, is something that reflects in every aspect of your life

  11. My best workout routines have happened by accident. I’d go to the gym, and the machines that I wanted to work with would be occupied or broken, and I’d have to make something up on the fly.
    What I would come up with would always turn out better for me than what I wanted to do in the first place. I’d substitite free weights and bodyweight exercises for machines, and torch my muscles and cardiovascukar system.
    Also, my karate school closed for a week for summer vacation, but I wanted to get a couple of different workouts in during that week. So I tried a boxing class on a whim, and found that I likes boxing better than karate. Who knew? Now I’m hooked.
    Blessings in disguise.

  12. Ross, its good to know that there is someone else who thinks the i do. Ive always believed that a teacher teaches you how to do something. But a coach shows you how to take what you have and figure out how to teach yourself.

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