The sluggish crawl of physique and strength development challenges even the most patient of individuals, and it’s a process that only gets slower over time.
Because this is a common struggle throughout sports in general, many athletes ask us how we have developed this ability to “watch paint dry” and embrace the long view — they are looking for techniques and tactics on how they can hopefully do the same.
But to be honest, I don’t think I ever learned to settle into the slowness. Rather, I feel like I see progress at least every week, if not every single workout.
My personal trick to keep on happily trucking is having insane amounts of goals, an abundance of proficiency measures, and a slew of performance objectives that can be built on during any given day.
I don’t painfully await one lone victory lightyears away. I chip away at the multitude of minuscule wins that are tightly tailored to my personal athletic career every day.
Nobody else can see them, they are not always Instagram-worthy, but they are very real to me and I feel very accomplished very often.
So, rather than continuing to ramble about all the cool things I get to experience in my own head, it’d probably be best if I give some examples. A whole, whole lot of examples.
Some of these items are obvious, some are expansions on the obvious, and some of them are rarely thought of or referenced. Some are on my personal list of goals, some of them are from athletes I've coached, and others are from colleagues, friends, and books I’ve read.
Regardless of their source, I hope you can find at least a few of the following success measures to be a good fit for you and your own journey.
Try a few of them on, see if they feel right for you, then try a few more. Wash, rinse, repeat, and have some damn fun again.
WEIGHT TRAINING IMPROVEMENTS
- 1 REP MAX – Duh
- MULTI-REP MAXES WITHIN A SINGLE SET – 2 rep max, 3 rep max, 4 rep max, etc.
- VOLUME MAXES – “This is the first time I did 3 sets of 5 with 350 lbs.”
PERCEIVED EFFORT IMPROVEMENTS – “Last week, that same weight felt heavier and moved slower than it did today.”
- MOVEMENT QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS – “I finally kept my thoracic spine from rounding on front squats at that weight”
- JOINT HEALTH IMPROVEMENTS – “By keeping my scapula depressed on my DB rows, my shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore.”
- MENTAL CUE VICTORIES – “If I think about wedging my hips under the bar rather than picking up the bar, my deadlifts are tighter and easier.”
- REST TIME IMPROVEMENTS – “I remember that doing this 5 by 5 at 280 lbs used to take me over an hour to complete, but today it only took me 45 minutes without a problem.”
- ADHERENCE VICTORIES – “This is the first time I have gone an entire month without skipping or modifying a workout.”
- TIME IMPROVEMENTS – “200 calories on the elliptical took me 1 min longer last time.”
- PERCEIVED EFFORT IMPROVEMENTS – “Level 10 on this upright bike feels much easier than it did last month.”
- TACTICAL IMPROVEMENTS – “When I listen to podcasts rather than music, my time on the treadmill is more enjoyable.”
- FORM IMPROVEMENTS – “If I am not staring down at my phone the entire time I am on the elliptical, my neck doesn’t hurt and I move my arms more. Both of these things help me finish faster.”
- PRODUCTIVITY VICTORIES – “If I do my cardio while studying for my exam, it saves me a lot of time.”
MEASURES OF PROGRESS WHILE DIETING
- BODYWEIGHT GAIN OR LOSS – Duh
- MEASUREMENT LOSS – “My waist has shrunk half an inch this month.”
VISUAL IMPROVEMENTS – “The scale might not have moved, but I look much harder than I did last week.”
- SATIETY VICTORIES – “If I can spend 10g of my carbs to eat a spinach salad before my normal lunch, I am much less hungry before dinner.”
- FLEXIBILITY VICTORIES – “I accidentally miscalculated and ate an extra 200 calories today. Rather than freaking out, I will just eat 200 less tomorrow and all will be fine. I did not ruin anything.”
- PRACTICALITY VICTORIES – “If I can keep an emergency stash of jerky and seaweed sheets in my purse while out running errands, I never let myself get so hungry that I lose control and make bad choices.”
- SOCIAL VICTORIES – “I went out with my friends during prep, had diet soda at the bar instead of alcohol, and nobody even noticed or judged me.”
- COMMUNICATION VICTORIES – “My friends were giving me grief about not being around them as much during my contest prep, but I had an in-depth discussion with them explaining what my goals would entail and they are now very supportive.”
- ADHERENCE VICTORIES – “This is the first time I have gone an entire month without going over any of my target macro ranges.”
- POSING IMPROVEMENTS – “This week’s check-in video, I remembered to keep my right shoulder down when practicing my left side relaxed pose.”
- REPORTING IMPROVEMENTS – “I did not miss any cells in my spreadsheet this week and did not miss any weigh-ins.”
- TRUST IMPROVEMENTS – “I went to a party and ate way more than I should have. Last time I didn’t tell coach, but this time I was honest. The feedback I got in return was helpful.”
- EXPRESSIVE IMPROVEMENTS – “Because of my new job, I am dying with my current program at 6 training sessions a week. While I have been holding back from telling coach because I feel embarrassed, I now realize it’s what is best for my progress to request a drop back to 4 days per week instead.”
LONG-TERM CAREER DEVELOPMENT
- PERFORMANCE PROGRESS – “I am much stronger now than I was two years ago at this same bodyweight.”
- VISUAL PROGRESS – “I am much leaner in photos now than I was two years ago in photos at this same bodyweight.”
- MOTIVATIONAL IMPROVEMENTS – “I do not feel the need to please others with my physical appearance or gym performance. I now feel like I am doing this for myself.”
- PATIENCE IMPROVEMENTS – “This is the longest I’ve ever stuck to a program without questioning the process.”
- DATA ACCUMULATION VICTORIES – “I planned and logged my training 90% of this year, which is 20% better than last year.”
- NUTRITIONAL SKILL IMPROVEMENTS – “I am much better at estimating my macros based on serving sizes and weight of foods. This will make my next prep easier to plan and increase my dietary flexibility.”
- COMP DAY EMOTIONAL IMPROVEMENTS (Bodybuilding) – “I used to get angry and blame judges when I wouldn’t win shows. Now I keep my cool and see each comp as an experience rather than an attack on my self worth.”
- COMP DAY EMOTIONAL IMPROVEMENTS (Powerlifting) – “I used to get angry and blame my coaches and judges when I would miss lifts at meets. Now I keep my cool and see each comp as feedback on where I can improve next time.”
ATHLETE LIFESTYLE PROGRESS
- REST AND RECOVERY VICTORIES – “I actually slept over 7 hours the last 3 nights in a row.”
- CONSISTENCY VICTORIES – “I took my supplements and did my night time foam rolling every day this week.”
- RELATIONSHIPS VICTORIES – “I went to my mom’s birthday dinner without feeling guilty about missing a workout.”
As you can imagine, while this list is fairly lengthy, I probably missed a lot as well.
In fact, for each of these bullet points, I know I could think of at least 5 other example sentences to build upon what has been given above…but I think you can see my point.
If you keep your proverbial eyes open and are consistently tuned in with every day of your athletic career, precious and notable progress is being made at every turn. Keep them shut, and you can almost guarantee a much more miserable (and seemingly longer) road ahead.