In my experience, it seems that the people in the gym who have a very structured routine for what they are going to lift each time they go, along with walking into the gym with a complete plan of what they are going to do that day, tend to get better results ultimately.
I do not think that it’s necessary to write down everything you do at the gym. It could definitely help some people, but it could also be a distraction and a limitation in a way to others. There are pros and cons to both sides. However, I do think that at least having a plan in your head of what you are going to do when you walk into the gym is crucial for a variety of reasons.
Having a clear plan will keep you focued.
This is probably the most important advantage that having a clear plan will give you. There are so many unfocused people in the gym and then when they fail to see significant results months down the line, they wonder why? Without intense focus, it is hard to really push to do your best in the gym, which is necessary almost every time you work out.
What do I mean by focus? I mean that you know what you are going to do, do that, and only do that. The effect that this has is that it gets rid of a lot of ambiguity and indecisiveness. Many people who lack focus actually end up stopping their sets short, before being close to failure. This happens because they weren’t 100% sure that what they were doing was the right thing to do in the first place, so they do not feel the same amount of pain or cognitive dissonance that someone else would who absolutely knew that taking this set all the way is the best thing he could do.
Furthermore, having intense focus sort of takes you out of the environment and into your own reality for a few moments. Being able to do this is pretty much vital to your success in changing the way you look over time. Way too many people start each set like they would start jogging – they just start going through the motions. If anything, lifting should feel more like sprinting than jogging, at least in the mindset.
When you start each and every set, you need to be 100% foced only on that set and doing the best you can. Some people can do this just by knowing how many reps they want to get. Others might need to have a lifting log and write down what number to beat each time. However you want to do it, you need to be focus on the act of lifting and doing the best you can. You can not be focused on how much the lift is going to suck or how tiring it will be; you will never be able to do your best that way.
The best way to work through a set is to be totally in the moment. You are only aware of you and the bar. All of your focus is on the act of pushing or pulling and that is it. Only lifting in this type of way will get you quick results.
Most people find it easier to experience this mind set when lifting with lower reps, simply because you do not need to keep the focus for as long, the set starts out very hard to begin with, and you might be a little anxious due to the high weight. All of these aspects invite an “in-the-moment” type of mindset. Longer sets tend to become sloppier and less intense as the set goes on. Since the set was easy to begin with, the person did not bring the same amount of intensity to the set that he would have to a lower rep set, and when the set started to get harder, he wasn’t as ready for it.
So, to cultivate this sort of mind set as a habit, you might want to try it with heavier, lower rep sets first. Then gradually increase the amount of reps you are working with until you get to about 12 or so. Once you can fully focus on a 12-rep set, you should be able to feel the productivity of your workouts greatly increasing. The productivity is not increasing from an increase in volume of the workout per se, but rather from making each and every set really count. This is the only way that you can really push your body to grow.