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What The Gambler Can Teach You About Strength Training

Kenny Rogers sang The Gambler in 1978. On the surface, the song appears to be about gambling, but there’s a much deeper meaning pertaining to life in general. The song is very appropriate for the field of strength & conditioning, and the lessons contained within take most lifters two decades to fully comprehend. Here’s the video:

And here’s the chorus:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

kenny_rogers Consider the training week. Say you lift four days per week. Typically, one of these days will rock, one will suck, and two will be mediocre.

Consider the training year. A few months will kick ass, a few months will suck, and half the year you’ll feel like you’re just plugging away. Strength and physique gains are never linear.

Do you have the fortitude to stick it out, or will you quit as soon as the going gets tough?

Some days, you’ll have something you want to accomplish in mind, but it just won’t be there. Will you be stubborn and grind away, allowing your form to turn to crap and risking injury? Or, will you be disciplined enough to walk away and live to train another week?

Other days, you’ll feel like superman. On these days, you might get a little carried away and do too much. The next day or day after, you might be wiped out. Will you stick to the exact recipe even though you’re drained? Or, will you modify your training accordingly and back off a bit to allow your body to recover?

There might be an exercise that consistently causes you pain or injury. Assuming you’ve taken the time to learn proper form and strengthen the appropriate supporting muscles, will you be stubborn and keep grinding away at this exercise, or will you find a suitable substitution and live to train another week? Here’s another line from the song: “Every gambler knows, that the secret to survivin’, is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep.”

Your body is pretty good at sending you signals (biofeedback, if you will). Will you pay attention to them? Or, will you be stubborn and ignore them?

Is there a particular area of your body that is acting up on a regular basis? Have you identified the culprit? Many people assume that they need to perform special corrective exercises in order to rid their pain, but many times simply removing the offender will alleviate the discomfort.

Are you disciplined enough to walk away from an exercise for a brief period of time, even if it’s one of your favorite movements? Many times taking a step backwards will allow you to take two steps forward. Or, will you grind away and turn an acute situation into a chronic situation? front-squat Do you know what your personal “money” exercises are? I can guarantee you that they’re going to be slightly different than those of your colleagues, depending on individual goals, anatomy/anthropometry, injury history, and logistics.

Lifter A might choose the back squat, deadlift, hip thrust, bench press, military press, and bent over row. Lifter B might choose the front squat, trap bar deadlift, glute ham raise, farmer’s walk, weighted chin up, and weighted dip. Lifter C might choose the Bulgarian split squat, single leg RDL, sled push, heavy kettlebell swing, weighted push up, and inverted row. Lifter D might choose the hip thrust, goblet squat, weighted back extension, American deadlift, dumbbell incline press, and one arm row. Lifter E might choose the Cybex leg press, kneeling leg curl machine, glute blaster machine, Hammer Strength chest press, Hammer Strength row, and cable lateral raise.

Have you taken the time to master technique, experiment with different exercises, and tinker with different protocols so that you can understand how your body responds to different stimuli? Or, do you just follow someone else’s template or someone else’s orders without questioning it?

The quicker you can master the advice uttered by the lonely gambler, the better off you will be as a lifter. I can assure you that if you’re consistent over the long haul, if your training is generally pain-free, if you’re strict with your form, and if you pay close attention to your body, you’ll see markedly more progress than the lifter that doesn’t. band hip thrust


  • Shane Mclean says:

    Bret, how did you come up with this? Heard that song one too many times?

  • There’s a remake of that scene in a commercial right now! But yeah, definitely true – in a lot of aspects of life.

  • Sandy says:

    He sings it with Wyclef Jean too. Interesting version.

  • Alex says:

    So, what can Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” teach us about lifting?

  • Kristine says:

    Very timely Bret…even though I know better, I was still having that battle in my head about whether or not to push through today. Thanks! And now I’ve got that song in my head…

  • Smurf says:

    Hey Brett i recently purchased your sprinting Ebook! Good book! I was wondering do you have any recommendations on any WEIGHT training programs for sprinters in paticular! I was considering you Glutei maximus ebook but i wasn’t sure if its the right one for me, i trust your judgement and would like your recommendations!

  • Ggs says:

    Here we are Sunday evening sitting on the porch me reading your blog my hubby looking up keltec pf9 and then it happens the gambler…our traveling song… We always sing on our road trips….imagine that..,
    We are sitting across the table sipping some wine doing our own thing and bam it happens glute guy to the rescue … I am going to get a glute workout after all thanks much love
    Get glutes member
    You Are the best
    As always thanks

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