Getting athletes to take lifting seriously is often easier said than done. Without any interest in the process, there is little you can do besides patiently wait for their minds to change. Making athletes do something they don’t want to do only leads to a stronger aversion to that specific activity.
If you find yourself in the (exciting) position where athletes have a genuine desire to start lifting, the next course of action is to make sure you foster that desire with the right ingredients. Otherwise, that spark of interest will fade quickly if it is not fueled with the appropriate motivation and mental framework.
The introduction of training places a challenge on pre-existing habits and routines, and can be frustrating to break if they aren’t conducive to the new demand of training. The creation of new habits, routines, and environments will be necessary for the success of your training program. These strategies will help athletes build habits that support consistent and committed strength training.
1) Emphasize “Practice and Skill” over “Weight and Intensity”
When it comes to building a new habit, progress needs to be carefully cultivated. Seeing improvement acts as a psychological reward that helps promote continued consistency, but it can be lost if you only focus on improving maximal lifts, personal records, or top scores on conditioning tests. Those variables are important, but they should be the secondary focus in the grand scheme of a program. Each training day should be treated as an opportunity to practice a set of “skills.” The importance of framing this context to novice athletes is two-fold. We can remove the demand to try and load up more weight as the measure of progress, and we can inspire a critical eye within the athlete to focus on the quality of movement. This is fostered well in team environments, by encouraging athletes to correct each other’s lifting technique, having older athletes demonstrate the lifts for younger athletes, and reciting coaching cues prior to each set.
2) Keep a Consistent (and Progressive) Training Schedule
Routines and schedules are not only great for managing and organizing your time, but keeping training in a single block of time is more advantageous than a moving schedule. Similarly, if each training session is randomly harder/easier than the last, there exists no sense of preparation for what an athlete can expect. For novice athletes, this can be off-putting, and give them little room to build a tolerance to the growing demand of training.
Hard sessions should be implemented after following a prerequisite progression of intensities. This is one of the primary benefits of a block-inspired system that is utilized by Volt. Condensing training into progressive “blocks” of climbing intensity keeps athletes on a steady track of logically increasing demands of effort. This planned exposure allows for athletes to accommodate and develop a tolerance to harder and harder training without overreaching.
3) Build the Streak
From a psychological perspective, the feeling of loss is more impactful than the feeling of reward. This unique mental trick is an evolutionary holdover that conditions our awareness to be on alert for things that can hurt us more so than things that benefit us. An interesting way to leverage this psychological element is to promote weight-room attendance as an aggregating score.
Volt emphasizes this by tracking “workout streaks” which grow each time an athlete performs the workouts in order. Athletes now have something to “lose” if they miss a session. If training is consistent, athletes will aggregate opportunities to improve their skill in the weight room and become more comfortable in the training environment. Benchmarking 5, 10, 20, 50 workouts in a row can be strong motivators for athletes to view their progress in a program. As a bonus, it will help them reflect on exactly how much they’ve gained in strength and skill. Looking back at your starting point after 50 consecutive workouts is a great showcase of an athlete’s training journey.
4) An Enticing Environment is Better Than a Routine Obligation
Humans are good at making excuses. Give an athlete a reason to miss a session and they’ll take it happily. The best recourse is not to force them by a threat of punishment or offering rewards. These are short term, extrinsic factors that don’t create long term value. The only motivation for the athletes comes out of fear, or for a personal reward, that doesn’t connect to the long-term team mission.
Coaches should start by addressing the environment of the weight room itself. It’s not surprising that a cluttered and messy weight room doesn’t invite a feeling of comfort or enjoyment. With the understanding that not all weight rooms have access to the same resources, my best recommendation is to keep a list of necessary upgrades and set a timeline for when you need to make purchases. Good equipment that is durable and comfortable makes a big difference in an athlete’s workout experience.
Additionally, re-organizing the weight room floor can also be a critical step in improving the training experience. Moving equipment to make more available free space, and gaining clear lines of sight from one end of the gym to the other makes it easier to coach from different perspectives, and opens up the ability to guide more athletes at once. Establishing clear rules about bags and extra shoes can be an easy way to start. I’ve been in too many weight rooms where the floor is a potential tripping hazard due to the number of gym bags and loose water bottles. Clear areas designated for bags, or establishing clear rules about leaving them in their lockers can be an easy win.
The Last Hurdle
The success of a training plan is reliant, lastly, on an athlete performing what is asked of them. The best program in the world fails if an athlete lacks the motivation to see it completed. The adoption of a long-term growth mindset can be challenging, but is entirely possible if the right habits are developed and maintained. Managing your training program and training environment so that athletes can develop the habit of consistent training sets your team on the right path for success.
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