Sean Hyson

Fitness Distilled

September/October 2014

No Quit Tips, Part 2

posted on October 16, 2012
written by sean hyson

Last time, I talked about strategies for not quitting on yourself when your workout gets tough or doesn’t go the way you’d like it to. Here’s what I learned from Ben Bruno, an ace trainer in North Andover, Mass., about how to handle it.

If something goes awry in his workout—as in he didn’t get the weight or reps he wanted—he knows it’s due to one of three reasons: “Either I’m exhausted, my form was bad, or I wasn’t focused.”

The answer to the first problem is easy: end it. At least whatever it is you’re doing at that particular moment. If you’re gassed, there’s little to no point in going on, and it could even be counterproductive or dangerous. You have to be honest with yourself enough (and have control of your ego) to admit you’re beat and walk away till next time. “Sometimes the worst thing you can do is come back and try again in the same workout,” says Ben. If you’re benching and the bar comes halfway up, stops, and you fight it for five seconds before a spotter has to lift it off you, you’ll almost never get it on the second try, no matter how angry and fired up you are. “Go crush yourself on something else”—something you CAN handle—“or just go home,” says Ben.

Ben Bruno. How could you not trust a man
who dresses like this?bru

If your form was bad, ask yourself, “Can I do it again?” If you missed a bench rep because you brought the bar down too low on your chest, then it was a technical flaw that stopped you and not a lack of readiness, energy, or strength. Just think about correcting that one problem and you should be fine. The classic mistake people make is thinking EVERYTHING was wrong. They chastise themselves, which means they start thinking negatively, and then overanalyze their technique. They try to make too many corrections, and mess it all up much worse.

The third problem—lack of focus—can also be remedied the same way. “I don’t agree with people who say to ‘clear your mind’ before lifting,” Ben says. “You need to keep your mind engaged. Just think about one or maybe two things. When fatigue sets in, that’s when things go wrong with form. If I just think about one form point and block everything else out, I can finish the set.”

Consider high-rep deadlifts (which Ben thinks is the toughest thing you can do in the gym and doesn’t recommend unless you’re experienced). He does these a lot to test his fortitude, and because, for some odd reason, he really likes pain and exercise-induced asthma. When the set starts kicking his ass, he’ll only focus on driving his heels through the floor. It’s not that he forgets to keep his back flat or his chest up or any of the other aspects of proper deadlifting—those are (and should be) already down pat. He just keeps one of them in the front of his mind to make sure he’s doing every rep as perfectly as possible. “It’s easy to have good form when the weight is light. But having good form when it feels heavy is what allows you to keep lifting.” In other words, focusing on form makes the lift EASIER.

And while you’re thinking about that one thing, you’re NOT thinking about how you can’t breathe anymore or what’s on TV that night.

“I just keep thinking that one thought, and eventually the bar doesn’t move anymore,” says Ben. “That’s when I know I’m done.”

Here’s Ben doing… oh, I don’t know, but it looks freakin’ hard.


And here I am with a 255-pound atlas stone. It was toward the end of my workout after cleans and deadlifts, and I really struggled. But I didn’t quit.

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