Many in the iron game are fond of speaking about the "intangibles" whenever they get together after a workout or whenever they chat about their training, goals and lifestyles. True enough: There is an
awful lot more to the serious weight game than lifting and huffing and puffing! Much of it is mental. Some is spiritual. And discipline-which is a key factor in virtually every lifter's or bodybuilder's
life-is a little of both.
Discipline is a key requirement for success in any aspect of the weight game and at the same time a primary benefit of participating in the weight game, per se. We all need discipline; we all recognize
its importance. Some of us may even enjoy it (despite the fact that this is the age of the wimp), and it bears emphasizing that without discipline a barbell and dumbbell set is just so much inanimate
iron and steel.
Discipline is as important in the intellectual realm as it is in the physical realm. It is lack of discipline that frequently causes university and college students to falter and fail-as it is often lack
of discipline that makes a trainee hedge in pursuing his most ardent dreams of muscle, shape, power and size. Often, the better-disciplined individual will outperform the better-endowed. This usually
happens when the better-endowed person attempts to skate by without making his best efforts.
Here are a few characteristics of a disciplined person:
A disciplined individual tends to be goal-oriented
. He knows what he wants, has a clear image of it and maintains that goal clearly in his mind. The ideal well-disciplined person is capable of achieving
or working toward a goal set by someone else-so long as that goal is in his (the disciplined person's) self-interest and so long as it makes firsthand sense to him.
A disciplined person is prepared to work
. Simply put, nothing gets done without the effort expended to do it. And while the overwhelming majority of people "talk a great game," love to plan and are
endlessly "really going to get started soon," the discipline that marks the really substantial person who possesses it motivates him to actually move one foot in front of the other, as it were, and get
A disciplined person generates energy
. Being neither lazy nor evasive, the person who possesses discipline has drive too. Often an excellent self-starter, such an individual is alive. He often radiates
vitality, and rarely if ever does one hear the disciplined man complain that he is "too tired" to do what needs to be done.
A disciplined person often radiates real courage
. Courage is merely an expression of the idea that one intends to do something, even though there may be some nasty obstacles in the way. Courage is a
practical necessity of life.
A disciplined person doesn't quit
. The average person is great at making plans, and sometimes even making a start. But following an initial burst of enthusiasm, the typical person fizzles out, slows down
and - ultimately-quits. It is a sad commentary that the vast majority of people do not have the discipline to stick with the very goals that they themselves want to achieve. When a person has real discipline,
however, he often personifies the saying, "A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits."
A disciplined person is a realist
. Living with his feet on the ground on planet earth, the disciplined individual doesn't hope to go after pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams. He is prepared to keep working toward
goals-but those goals are realistic, and they take into account time, ability and so forth. It is this aspect that separates the well-disciplined from the crackpot fanatics. Fanatics go wildly and blindly
toward the most outlandish goal. Realistically and healthfully disciplined people seek realistic and healthy goals.
A disciplined person can weather disappointment and discouragement
. We all feel that our own suffering is truly the worst that there is; but a disciplined person knows-and accepts-that he is only a human
being, and that while great things are possible for him, setbacks, pain, failures and disappointments are all part of life. Undisciplined people come across more like whining babies when things go wrong.
But discipline means much, much more than sticking to your guns while things are going your way. Anyone can do that. The disciplined person keeps on swinging when he's been hit. And when he's been knocked
down, he doesn't sit there and bellyache. He gets up.
Am I beginning to convey the significance of discipline? I hope so.
You will never succeed in any real way with barbell training unless you have the discipline to pursue it wholeheartedly and to live maturely, accepting yourself and doing your very best always, no matter how
rough things may get. And the good news is that, if you do have the discipline and cultivate it within yourself, then it will snowball. And as time goes by you will become a very well-disciplined individual,
Approaching your training with a sense of discipline will actually make each workout more vital and more alive. Having your whole heart and soul in the workout before you, you will pour more into each movement
and repetition that you do. And, of course, that will mean not only greater immediate benefits from the workout at hand, but much greater long-range progress as such workouts accumulate in your training career.
If I were asked to name the thing that marks a highly disciplined trainee when he approaches the barbell, I guess I would say that he seems to be fully immersed in what he's doing. He is one-tracked in his
devotion to the task at hand, and it is evident. He can, therefore, work harder, lift heavier and accomplish more- frequently in less time than the undisciplined! (I recall the saying, "If you want something
done, ask a busy person to do it." Being "busy" often means simply being disciplined.)
Readers know that I believe in the value of weight training as as aid to living. I would challenge anyone to name an occupation or an activity in which discipline is not an important factor for success. Discipline
in one significant area definitely carries over into others, and I have witnessed pupils of my own who-having acquired discipline in and from their training-went on to pour their newly found strength and power
of character into many other areas of their lives. Perhaps this last term, "power of character," sums up what discipline, in briefest essence, really is.
Great benefit can be obtained from observing those who have excelled as lifters and as bodybuilders. Such persons are an inspiration, and by having their image before you, you may find your own soul fueled for
the long haul toward your goal. But when you look at Mr. America or when you observe with awe the incredible power of any top Olympic lifter or powerlifter, be inspired also by the fact that you are looking at
a living embodiment of severe discipline-and embodiment of that crucial factor that you need if you hope to succeed.
Discipline, unlike muscular development, bulk, size and shape, cannot be seen and measured tangibly. But it is evident in those who possess it, and you'll not find anyone who's built up great muscularity, shape,
power or size who doesn't evidence it.
There is no magic in this world. To get to where you want or need to go requires sustained work, and discipline is the generator of that effort.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to discipline is simply attempting to "discipline" yourself to go after something that you really do not desire or that doesn't suit you. Although this might at first sound like an
unusual thing to have happen, it should be noted that indeed it often happens. Misguided-or, perhaps, cruel-parents and authority figures frequently attempt to mold children into what they want rather than
letting each child decide. Frequently such "parental love" leads to a child growing into an adult who believes that he "should" do this, and he'd "better" do that, etc., in order to be a worthwhile person. Never
mind what he, himself, prefers. All that matters is that he fulfill the expectations of omnipotent "others."
In weight training set your goals according to your personal ambitions and desires. Obviously, we can assume that you really do want to succeed in weight training or you wouldn't be reading fitFLEX articles;
however, do not be corralled into a corner where you come to believe that only the goals advocated by this or that "top name" make sense. What do you want? What would make you feel satisfied and fulfilled in
training? What are your dreams, goals and ambitions? Once you really can answer those questions, you've got your sights set! Now, go for it, and never mind anything else! Put the blinders on and channel your
energies toward the dreams that are dearest to your heart.
Being oriented in this manner will naturally make discipline seem attractive. After all, the only thing that discipline will do in this instance is help you to get exactly where you wish to go.
Another obstacle to effective discipline is poor coaching or teaching. You are far, far better off working on your own, simply using books and written courses for instruction, than you would be subordinating
yourself to an incompetent. Beware of arrogance, watch out for overdemanders and run from any hint of disrespect. These things will help to erode your capacity for discipline because they will drain away your
energy and make you function defensively.
A good teacher guides and inspires. He teaches because he loves his subject, and he teaches because he'd like to help you to live it too. If you are ever lucky enough to find such a teacher, you will have found
someone valuable and precious beyond description; but if all that's around is a moron in a T-shirt with bulging biceps and a look-here-jerk-you're-lucky-I'm-even-talking-to-you demeanor, to hell with him.
Still another, and very common, cause for failure to be disciplined is the notion that that which one finds difficult to do is easy for others to do and that one is somehow singled out for this onerous work.
Everyone must be disciplined in order to achieve important goals. We all feel alone when we are face-to-face with ourselves and when it finally comes time to exert effort. We all get sore, tired muscles. We all
get injuries every now and again. We all feel, "What's the use?" from time to time, and we all know the bitter feeling of failing and backsliding and seemingly going for weeks on end getting nowhere. But those
of us who succeed, stick with it anyway. We are disciplined. You must be too.
The last thing I want to discuss is laziness. Often it is merely this that blocks our following the course of action we know to be in our own best interests. Giving in to laziness is a losing proposition. So don't
Perfection in this regard is useless. We all experience a hint of laziness at least sometimes. It goes with being human. But the trick is not to relent. The trick is to go ahead and focus on that goal anyway and
to go ahead and do what's got to be done; shun that laziness when it appears.
Yes, you can do it. If you are after real success, you must. As a practical suggestion I can tell you what I do when I feel lazy: I grit my teeth and do it anyway!
Sound simple? Well, it is. But that really is my whole point-not only about overcoming laziness in particular, but about acquiring discipline in general. It is simple, but it takes effort and a strong, unyielding
determination to do it.
This column is titled Fundamentals, and there is nothing more truly fundamental in this art and science of physical culture than discipline. We all need it. We can all achieve it. And that means you.