Training frequency ✔️ Exercise selection ✔️ The number of reps – and duration of rest periods ✔️ These are the typical 'determinants of success' when it comes to optimal muscle growth.
Of course, optimal muscle growth requires that you pay attention to training programming. But the truth is that even the most perfect workout programming is useless without the 'right' mindset. Although … this begs the question: "What, exactly, is this Right Mindset all about?"
In short, someone who has the 'Right Mindset' is also known to have a 'Growth Mindset'.
If that still doesn't make sense to you, don't worry; that's what this article is about.
Here’s an explanation as to how your mindset affects your muscle growth in the gym.
What is a growth mindset?
To first understand what a growth mindset is, you first need to realize that psychologists largely agree that we have 2 types of mindsets: 1) fixed and 2) growth.
Here's how your mindsets impact your beliefs about yourself and your abilities:
- Fixed mindset: Believe that your basic abilities, including intelligence and talents, are just fixed traits. In other words, you believe that these are static characteristics – and that they cannot be changed in any meaningful way, no matter what you do.
- Growth mindset: Believe that you can develop your talents and abilities through effort and persistence. This also means that you believe that you can acquire new skills through hard work, effort, and training.
Think you don't have a fixed mindset?
Did you reject the idea that you might have a fixed mindset right from the get-go? Don’t be so quick to dismiss the possibility!
Research consistently shows that most of us hold different mindsets across contexts.
For instance, you may hold a growth mindset toward your career (i.e. "If I work hard, I'll be in line for the next promotion") – but have a fixed mindset toward training (i.e. "There's only so much muscle growth I can achieve, it's written in my genetics").
How would you know if you have a fixed mindset when it comes to training? Well … have you ever directed the following statements to yourself?
- "I'm just not cut out for the barbell back squats (or any other exercise); my femurs are too long (or any other excuse)! I'm not going to include them in my training."
- “My muscles aren’t even growing after 2 months of training! I guess this is the maximum gains I’m going to get.”
- "My friend started training around the same time as I did – but they're already deadlifting 100 kg, while I'm still stuck at 60 kg. I'm just not as strong as them and will never be."
Maximum muscle growth requires the right training mindset
Chances are, you have. (I have, too!) And here’s something we all need to recognize: this mindset is a gain-killer. When you start to believe that nothing you do is going to make a difference, then you’re going to give up at the first sign of difficulty.
And that’s going to affect quite literally everything (yes, everything!) relating to your training, including your ability to:
- Successfully establish a mind to muscle connection (i.e. the mind muscle connection)
- Consistently break PRs
- Master challenging lifting movements
… Which would all ultimately give you better muscle growth.
Before you go taking this whole growth mindset business to the absolute extreme, it’s important to note that a growth mindset doesn’t quite literally suddenly make everything possible.
Individuals with a growth mindset understand that they might not become the next ‘The Rock’, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the next top fitness model, or a world-class athlete.
But they believe that they can become a better version of themselves – so long as they work hard.
Instead of thinking that a growth mindset will magically 'give you wings', think of it as something that'll help you uncover your true potential (be it in the muscle growth, physique, or athletic abilities kind of sense).
How to manifest a growth mindset
Simply looking at yourself in the mirror and chanting, "I have a growth mindset!" every morning isn't going to change your mindset. Unfortunately.
Thankfully, though, there are indeed a few actionable steps you can take right now that’ll improve your mindset in the gym – and improve the results you get from training (e.g. mind to muscle connection, muscle growth, lifting numbers).
Reframe challenges as opportunities
Struggling with the barbell back squat (or any other exercise)?
See it as an opportunity to learn. Find out why you're having so much difficulty with the movement – and find ways to overcome these challenges.
For instance, if your mobility (e.g. in the ankles) is holding you back, make sure you learn everything you can about this specific problem. And fix it. This goes for any issue you face. Don’t just roll over and conclude that the movement isn’t for you.
Include the word ‘yet’ in your statements
There’s arguably no other word more empowering than the word ‘yet’ in the English dictionary. Compare the following sentence:
- “I can’t overhead press 50 kg.”
- “I can’t overhead press 50 kg YET.”
See how the addition of the simple word, ‘yet’, changes the entire meaning of the sentence? It signifies the potential for success.
So, the next time you talk to yourself about your lifting progress, be sure to include the word ‘yet’.
Learn to seek criticism
When you have a fixed mindset, criticisms can feel like the absolute worst thing to receive. Because you believe that your abilities can't change no matter what, criticisms can feel like a direct attack on your abilities – and can do real damage to your self-worth.
That’s why you’ll need to change your perspective on criticism.
Tell yourself that valid, helpful criticism is an opportunity for yourself to learn to do better. To lift better. And, ultimately, train better (which improves all aspects of your lifting, from mind to muscle connection to the resulting muscle growth).
So, don’t shy away from seeking criticisms (from a certified personal trainer, of course! Not just any gym-bro or girl you meet.)
Need some help manifesting a growth mindset?
Think you'll need some reminders always to have a growth mindset regarding your fitness journey?
Then you’ll appreciate the Gymstreak community. We’re full of doers who believe that we can train ourselves to be unstoppable. The very best versions of ourselves. Better still, GymStreak – in and of itself – is an automatic workout trainer. Just key in your information, and we’ll take care of the rest. All you need to do is show up and train hard.
If that sounds good, then you’re going to want to check out GymStreak. Right now.Get GymStreak
Carol S. Dweck: Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions. (2011). The American Psychologist, 66(8), 658–660. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024397
Dweck, C. S. (2019). The Choice to Make a Difference. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(1), 21–25. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691618804180