More often than not, when we set out to improve ourselves or any given area of our lives, the way we go about it is by addition.

We decide to start a business, invest more hours in developing a certain skill, pick up a musical instrument…

When it comes to the gym, guys are always looking to add new exercises to their routine or to adopt the latest nutrition trend or to start counting calories…

It’s always about doing more stuff.

Introducing The Via Negativa Approach To Improvement

Via negativa is Latin for “negative way” and it’s a phrase used in Christian theology that denotes a way of describing God by focusing on what he is not. The idea is that comprehending what God is, is a task deemed impossible for the finite human mind so the only way to describe Deity is by subtracting everything that it is not.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is because via negativa is also a great approach to improving any area of your life including your health and fitness by subtracting everything that is not useful or optimal for success.

In other words the focus is on what to remove (or what not to do) rather than on what to add (or what to do).

Тhe following is a list of things to subtract that will improve your results in the gym…

I. Bad Mindsets

bad mindsets in the gym

Focusing On The Details

Too often guys focus way too much on the details and forget the bigger picture.

You see people doing lateral raises on a BOSU ball or succumbing to the latest nutrition fad instead of zoning in on the basics.

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle (named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto) which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

When it comes to the gym, guys forget that 80% of their results come from the 20% that represent the training and nutrition fundamentals.

Instead they focus on the 80% (the details) that bring them the 20% of results.

Think about it… wouldn’t your time in the gym be much better spent if you focused on basic, proven exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, rows, pull-ups, dips… instead of doing lateral raises on a BOSU ball?

You bet it would.

Nutrition-wise too – if you’re trying to build muscle, instead of counting every single calorie you consume, you’d be much better off simply making sure that you’re eating at a surplus, that you’re consuming enough protein and that you’re eating clean overall.

Unless you’re a competing athlete, forget the details for now.

Focus on the big picture.

Focus on doing the 20% of things that will get you the 80% of results.

Self Judgement

This one usually applies to newbies who feel out of place in the gym.

The first time you step in the gym and you see all the big guys you can’t help but feel a bit intimidated and out of place.

This intimidation ultimately comes from self judgement and thinking that you’re not good enough.

It’s easy to succumb to such thoughts due to the fact that you might not know what you’re doing at first since it’s all brand new to you.

What you have to realise is that everybody was once a newbie.

You have to start somewhere so embrace the fact that you have a lot to learn.

And once you get to know the other gym members you’ll also realise that most of them are super supportive and will help you out however they can.

So don’t be afraid to ask for a spot and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Sometimes self judgement also comes up when you’re doing a silly-looking exercise.

You feel anxious about doing it because you want to maintain a certain image.

What you often have to do is leave your ego at the door.

Which brings us to the next point…

Ego Lifting

According to Urban Dictionary, ego lifting denotes “the act of lifting heavy weights for the sole purpose of impressing other people in the room. This is usually done with awful form and gratuitous grunting noises.”

Apart from being retarded, this behaviour is plain dangerous as guys often skip their warm-ups and jump right onto heavier weights than they can handle while compromising their form which obviously often leads to nasty injuries.

And all of that to impress another dude, lol.

Newsflash: nobody cares how much you lift.

Most people are so focused on themselves and what they’re doing that they’re not really paying much attention to your bench pressing in the corner.

Besides what good does it do you even if you manage to impress them?

You get a “bravo” and a pat on the back? Great.

Once again, leave your ego at the door, warm up well and focus on lifting with proper technique.

As a bonus, this will actually get you the results you want while staying away from injuries.

II. Bad Training Habits

Time For Change


You’ve probably heard the word “overtraining” thrown around a lot online but what exactly does it mean?

Overtraining means exerting yourself physically beyond your ability to recover in a timely manner.

What this means it that overtraining is a factor of your personal recovery ability.

People are different and that’s why it’s hard to state how much is too much in absolute terms.

As individuals we have different recovery abilities and what might not be enough stimulation for one lifter might be too much stimulation for another.

What happens with a lot of guys is that they read famous bodybuilder X’s workout in a magazine and they think that that’s a good way for them to work out, not realising that professional bodybuilders probably have (1) better genetics than they do, (2) are advanced lifters and (3) are on PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs).

So although I can give you some general outlines (e.g. the total number of sets in a workout should be in the 20-25 range), ultimately it’s up to you to learn to listen to your body and gauge how much is too much for you.

Rushing Through Exercises

Just yesterday I was talking with my friend, Ivan, and he mentioned how he started having really solid training sessions ever since he stopped rushing through his routine and started focusing more on the movements themselves and on performing them with proper technique through the full range of motion.

I had noticed the same thing in the period when I grew the most.

I’m not saying you should lift with a super slow tempo – just make sure you’re going through the full range of motion, perform the exercises with proper form and focus on the muscles you’re working.

This way you’ll make sure you’re stimulating your muscles correctly while avoiding possible injuries.

Doing Cardio Before Your Lifting Session

If you do your cardio before your lifting session, by the time you get to the weights you’ll be noticeably exhausted and that will show in your performance and in your lifting form.

An injury is the last thing you want so keep the cardio for after your lifting session.

III. Distractions

distractions in the gym

Being On Your Smartphone While In The Gym

Give Facebook a rest. Seriously.

Unless you’re tracking your workout, your smartphone has no place in your hands.

Don’t overextend your rest periods and focus on your workout.

This way you’ll have a more effective workout and a better experience overall.

Too Much Socialising In The Gym

Same as above.

Making friends and cracking jokes with your gym buddies is good fun but you have to remember why you’re there.

In Conclusion…

Hopefully, by now I’ve been able to convince you that there’s just as much merit in subtracting unnecessary or plain harmful behaviours and mindsets as there is in adopting new, empowering ones.

I invite you to use the via negativa approach for yourself, make the necessary changes in your life and reap the rewards.

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