As coaches, we often give similar programs out to similar people, only to see completely different results and clients who walk away with totally different experiences.

While there are certainly genetic factors that play into why one person might lose fat or gain strength faster than another, I also believe the psychological differences between people are just as significant.

Now I’m no psychologist, so to a degree I’m talking out of my ass here, but I have observed a thing or two over the years that I feel is worth sharing.


One of the distinguishing features I see between high-responders and low-responders is the degree to which they have an active-mindset during the training process.

Let’s talk about the low-responders first.

Generally, I think they feel that “fitness” is something that passively happens to them. As if there's a belief that if they simply execute the sets and reps on the program we give them, they are ensured and entitled to progress. To a degree, this makes perfect sense.

I want a result…this is the plan…if I follow the plan…I will get the result.

While logical, this is flawed thinking because programs are written for a human beings, not machines.

This may come as sort of a downer, but the programs we write are simply month-long educated guesses at best.

The human body is the most fantastically complicated example of engineering and organization in our known existence. It has layers and multiple dimensions of communication systems that all depend and respond in a dynamic way to each other. Too much of this..that goes down. Not enough of that…this other thing won’t work.

While we may have figured out the basics of exercise and adaptation to it, we’re only somewhat good at predicting what will actually happen. It fact, a program, while it may look like a model of organization and planning, really just boils down to this:

If you do a lot of this…less of that…for this long…then this will happen…maybe…for most people.

Doesn’t sound too encouraging does it?

So how do you take that program–that long and drawn out educated guess–and actually squeeze all the results you can out of it?

You have to be willing to be flexible and make changes to the program as it’s being executed.

You have to realize that the workout is simply a guess, and not Gospel. You have to have an active mindset and become psychologically in-tune with what’s going on throughout the workout.

THIS is the difference I see between those who get great results and those who do “okay.”

As coaches, it is our job to step in and push people in the right direction. But I truly feel that the athlete or client has to take some ownership here as well. And I’ve observed that with great athletes, I spend more time holding them back than pushing them forward.

Here are a couple things you can do to be more in-tune and engaged with your next program

1. Know 100%

This can be a tricky one, but I think it’s important. Novice trainees just don’t know what it feels like to push themselves to 100%. How can we expect them to get an accurate sense of perceived effort if they’ve never gone the distance?

As a coach, I’m very selective with whom and when I push people to their physical limit. But I can see when someone just doesn’t have a language for how hard they’re working, and I often step in and push them to a level far beyond what they ever thought they were capable of.

I find isometrics to be a great place to introduce this concept with people. They’re super safe and a great way to build entry-level strength for new trainees.

Hold a lunge…great now hold it as long as possible, and if you’re able to stand at the end you haven’t gone long enough. Begin.

This never fails to teach people some lessons about effort.

2. See each set as an opportunity rather than a task

Every time you set up to the bar, take it as a chance to learn something about yourself for that day. Attack it. See what you’re capable of. Are the prescribed reps too much or too little? How fast could you go? How perfect was your technique?

Of the 8 reps that you did, which was your worst and which was your best?

Don’t be an unconscious lifter, get in-tune.

3. Be optimistic and adopt a growth-mindset

It always stuns me that some people just don’t expect to actually get better. Often I’ll catch them lifting the same-old weight for the same-old reps week-in and week-out. They’re just on autopilot…doing the program. What do they think is actually happening?

Progression is the whole damn point. Expect to grow and get better. Will yourself to do more than you did in the past.

Be patient in the long-term, but ferociously aggressive in the short-term.

4. Communicate

Clients that feel training is a one-way street between the coach and themselves never realize their full potential.

Again, we’re making best-guesses based on our knowledge and experience. But in order to make more accurate guesses, we have to know what’s going on. Communication between the athlete and the coach is vital to sculpting a better program, so get in the habit of giving feedback and asking questions. You can only stand to benefit.

Originally posted on NLPT's blog.