How To Prevent Flaming Out Of Your Training

With New Years in the rear view mirror, many are busting out their resolutions and flooding the gym in hopes that This Year Will Be Different. They will get jacked. They will get that six-pack. They will lose thirty pounds. They will finally max X amount on squat/bench/deadlift. For many, though, this year will unfortunately be the same as the last. They’ll put in moderate to hard work for a few months and then flame out.

However, this phenomenon isn’t limited to Resolutioners, it’s just that it’s this time of year that draws out most of these stop-start-stop types for observation. The truth is, year round there are dudes in gyms starting or re-starting training programs and crashing and burning a few months later.

In all my time observing the flame outs, and having been a text book case years ago, it boils down to two factors:

  • Lack of desire
  • Unrealistic expectations

Desire is something we cover here frequently at NLU. It is our belief that desire, dedication, and sheer animalistic drive to wreck shit are the necessary foundation for big and lasting gains. Executing a shitty program without remorse, loving every rep, every bead of sweat, will get you better results than trudging through some 5 star super duper program you bought the book for. Recently, Danger and Play shared his thoughts in an excellent post on desire and keeping goals and his message is very similar. You have to fucking want it, deep down in your bones (and reptilian brain). Every day.

If you are walking into the gym feeling like you probably should lift weights, you’ve already flamed out- the timer just hasn’t gone off yet. Been there, done that.

Unfortunately, there is no way to give people the desire they lack. If they really don’t enjoy it or would rather be doing something else, nobody on God’s green earth can make them want to do it, no matter how enthusiastic they are at the beginning. Ultimately, it is up to them.

This post is for the others.

Unrealistic expectations are what I believe to be the more prevelant cause of flame outs. The 3 and outs. Even if you are god damned Rudy out there lifting and dieting your heart out, failure to meet outsized, unattainable goals or to continue initial, one-off big gains will sap your motivation. You have to have patience and an eye for long game

The fact of the matter is that it takes *years* to get jacked (without juice). You *will not* look like [insert bodybuilder/actor/whoever] after 3 months. You might look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, but I don’t even get where that love comes from.

In three months, on a strict diet or The Apex Predator Diet (here and here), you *might* have lost 20-30 pounds if you really stayed true. That’s great, don’t get me wrong, but every pound you lose gets harder and harder. You cannot expect to see those same results going forward.

In three months of doing the big lifts, you’re not going to put 100 pounds on each lift. It is possible to put 50 on in a short time depending on where you’re at in your training experience, but it’s not realistic to expect that or to continue those gains indefinitely.

It’s fine to have lofty aspirations. In fact, you need long term goals, you need to envision a destination. The problem comes when people make what are long term results, products of hundreds if not thousands of hours, their short term goals. Inevitably, they fail, as they were doomed to at the beginning.

You need patience to know that what you ultimately want won’t come overnight, and that you need to build what you ultimately want upon what is attainable now.

I’ve found it’s best to keep that long term goal pinned up in the back of your mind. It can be crazy, ridiculous, fantastical, it doesn’t matter this is what you’re driving for shoot for the moon. It is the coals in your fire. Pin it up, and move on to present day reality.

We’re going to break that long term goal down and start forming smaller goals in 3 month blocks based on today’s metrics, not what we wish we were but what we can do now. We will choose an increment to measure daily/weekly progress with, and what our milestones will be. The overarching idea is to sublimate the drive for the large goal into focus on what can be done today, on what is attainable and trackable, to the point that the large goal can become a nice afterthought.

Example: You bench 100 pounds for 6 reps now. You want to bench 225 for reps some day, but you know that’s a retarded 3 month goal. Instead, in 3 months you will bench 135 for 6 reps. A 35 pound increase in your 6 rep max at this level is realistic and attainable in 3 months.

Your daily goal is to do at least one more rep than last time.

Each milestone is when you put up 105 for 6, then 110 for 6, and so on.

By focusing on your daily goal of “one more rep” and your milestones of 105×6, 110×6, and so on, you can see yourself progressing practically every day in the gym and are able to measure it. These aren’t just numbers anymore, this is you getting stronger and marking your journey of blood and sweat day by day. The rush of beating last session and hitting each milestone propels you forward.

If you meet your 3 month goal early, fuck yeah, make a new 3 month goal and keep it up. If you come up short, modify it down a little and relaunch a revised 3 month plan. Repeat it over and over again, 3 month block after 3 month block, your long term goal in the back of your mind but your focus on the now and building off of yesterday.

Eventually you’ll hit a patch where you’re not progressing as fast, but by then you’re benching 225 for reps just like you wanted, something you could only imagine back when you started. Often when you do reach your initial large goal you don’t care about it anymore- you’re looking even further ahead and wanting more. The deliberate, measurable day to day progression is far more rewarding. The gradual change in the mirror and on the scale. Furthermore, by this time you’ll have a great feel for how your body reacts and progresses, where you overshoot and when you’re not pushing hard enough, allowing you to make each round of goals more precise as you move up further and further.

Of course, this method can be used for anything in the gym, not just bench. Bodybuilding, power totals, you name it. The 3 month blocks become more motivating than your intial, vague “get jacked” goal, and you’re getting bigger as you progress anyway. By revising down your initial unrealistic expectations and making them attainable and trackable, you’ve moved into reality and onto your way to actually getting what you want.

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About The Author

They call me Fly, Fresh, and Young. Gym rat by day, lecherous drunkass by night. Follow me on Twitter @nate_moneyh.


  1. Virgle Kent January 8, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Damn this is money, I remember when I first started lifting at 18 my goal was to put up 225 lbs on bench for just one… that took two year. Now almost 13/14 years later I sneeze at 225, I don’t have a goal for bench or care about maxing but long term you’d be surprised what’s possible . Great Post

    • TheShido January 9, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      When I started lifting at 16 I wanted to put up 225 before I finished high school. I had it in the back of my mind the whole time I was training. When I reached that goal in April of senior year it almost blindsided me – I was focused on the workout, not the long-term. Now I’m pushing for 315 before I turn 20.

  2. Ironthumb March 20, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    To be honest I indeed started slow this 2014.
    I am just starting to catch up on my 2013s intensity only recently.

    Personal problems will drain you more than overtraining will so I suggest you young bodybuilders to keep mental stress at bay and keep relationship problems to as little as possible especially for married guys.

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