How gym distractions slow down your progress

written by Philip Stefanov  |  NOVEMBER 3, 2020

Training volume refers to the amount of work we do in any given workout or training week. A simple way to track it is to count the number of hard sets you do for a given muscle group.

In recent years, research has been pointing at the importance of training volume. The more work we do, the better our results are. This is to a point, of course, as doing too much work can backfire on us.

Intuitively, this makes sense - after all, we get out what we put in. The problem is, some people have become so absorbed with the idea of volume that they've been disregarding everything else. In other words, people are so focused on building that damn house that they completely ignore the quality of each material that goes into it.

Allow me to illustrate an example for you:

Take two hypothetical guys who hit the gym regularly - Billy and John. Billy is your typical bro:

He trains regularly and always does his entire workout before leaving. But, he's also scattered - always on the phone in-between sets, his thoughts a thousand miles away from the workout. Sometimes, he's even on his phone for 5-10 minutes between sets. He's never truly mindful of what he's doing at the moment. It almost feels like he's only moving the weight to complete each set, and that's it.

Now John is similar in some ways - he's also consistent with his workouts and never leaves before finishing all of his exercises. But John is focused and mindful. His phone isn't around, and if it is, he's only using it for music. He's diligent with his training, avoids distractions, and focuses on every repetition he does.

Not only am I willing to argue that John will undoubtedly enjoy his workouts more and achieve better results, but I'm also inclined to believe that he could achieve the same results as Billy, but with less volume and less time spent in the gym.

Why? Because of the difference in the quality of training. Sure, a single bad set won't make much of a difference in the long run. But stretch that to 100 or 1000 sets, and we can see significant differences in progress.

So, what does all of this mean in a practical sense? Well, I want to share two ideas with you today:

First, there's the idea of being mindful. We are creatures of habit, and our brains continuously search for ways to make our actions automatic and more streamlined. That's great for some tasks which are, in nature, easy. But it's not so good for nuanced tasks that require thought and focus, such as lifting.

What can we do about it? Well, the best thing I've found for myself and the people I work with is to eliminate distractions. By doing so, you'd automatically free up your attention for the task at hand. If that's your phone - leave the damn thing in the locker. If you always find yourself being distracted by people - respectfully tell them that you're trying to get to your next set.

Second, I'd like to bring a bit of attention to the small, repeated actions that together form each workout - repetitions.

And sure, the topic of proper form is something you're probably well aware of, but it bears repeating because we all tend to put it on autopilot - myself included. The next time you're at the gym, try to be more mindful of every repetition and see how you feel by the end of your workout.

  • A full range of motion and smooth execution on each rep.
  • Focusing on training the correct muscles with the various exercises.
  • A consistent tempo on the concentric and eccentric. Don't exaggerate it too much, but try to make both parts even.
  • An adequate level of effort. Avoid muscle failure on most sets but do push yourself to a point where you genuinely have no more than two to three reps left in the tank.

I'm sure you can agree that two seemingly identical sets can feel drastically different. And since you're already at the gym, why not make the most of it?

If you’re interested in reading more about the topic, click here.

Until next week,



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