The idea of routine is generally not one people get excited about… spontaneity tends to be a bit more thrilling. Spontaneity is great for your romantic relationships, but I don’t care about those—I care about you getting better at weightlifting. And when it comes to weightlifting—and most pursuits other than love—routine is a valuable tool that needs to be applied as much as possible.
There are two broad levels of routine that apply to weightlifting—the daily routine, and the training routine.
In the gym, routine and habits do a few things for you: improve technical consistency in your lifts, minimize distraction, maximize confidence, and allow better technical learning and progression.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess your lifts aren’t technically perfect. That being the case, during every rep you do in the gym, you’re focusing on something specific to fix (or should be). There are a lot of important elements to any lift, and you know you can’t think of all of them every time—you can only handle 1-3 points productively at any time. The more technique elements you can turn into habits, the fewer you have to think about, which leaves more brain capacity to focus on what you truly need to work on.
For example, you know you have to set your back forcefully in an arch and tighten your entire trunk for every lift—that shouldn’t be something you need to consciously think about after the earliest stages of learning to lift. If you repeat the same routine every time you prepare for a lift, with setting the back as a part of it, you should never have to think of it again after a while.
If you approach each lift with the same routine, you minimize variables, which means you maximize consistency. If you get into your starting position differently every time, the starting position itself is going to end up being slightly different each time, which means every lift overall is going to be different, and you’re going to continue to struggle to develop the proper positioning and balance and timing. Pick a protocol. Do it every time. If you want to experiment with something else, decide what that is, and do it every time until and if you want to change it again.
If you create a pre-lift routine as well—the way you get chalk, approach the bar, what you tell yourself, how you stand and where you look—you’re minimizing variables, creating comfort and confidence, and reducing anxiety or intimidation because you’re simply repeating the same thing you’d done a million times. If you screw around with your lighter weights and only start taking lifts seriously as they get heavy, you’re creating the belief that heavy lifts are different—that means you can’t trust the thousands of great reps you’ve done and all that training that’s developed your ability to lift heavy weights, and now you have to be worried about trying this big scary weight, and maybe you need to try something different, and you start thinking about every heavy weight you’ve missed and suddenly you’re in a full-blown tailspin instead of simply doing a snatch or clean & jerk like you should be.
With the rest of your life, routine and habit can set you up for more success with weightlifting. The more of your day is executed habitually, the fewer decisions you make, which means the more energy and focus you have to invest into the important things. Routine allows for better time management, again with fewer decisions, which inevitably mean delays, procrastination, misjudgment of timing, which translates into feeling and being rushed—potentially missing workouts, having to cut workouts short, and simply having poor workouts because of the stress over time.
Creating routines outside the gym allows for more time to do all those supporting activities that a rushed, hectic lifestyle preclude, like morning journaling
and recovery protocols
Routine means less stress in general—and less stress means higher quality training, more recovery capacity to adapt productively to training, and consequently a faster rate of progress and greater ultimate ability. Check out my article on motivation vs. discipline
for more on this.