10 Things the Strongest Athletes in the Weight Room Have in Common

We talked to top strength coaches to learn what separates the strong from the weak.

On every team—or in a weight room—there's always a group of athletes who are stronger than the pack. It might seem like these athletes were gifted with natural-born strength and can simply look at a weight and get stronger.

But make no mistake, this strength is almost always earned. So what's the secret sauce? We talked to a few strength coaches who work with some seriously strong athletes to find out what separates the strong from the weak.

Ndamukong Suh prepping for the 225 Bench Test before the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine

Strong athletes persevere

Strong athletes have the perseverance and an understanding that it doesn't happen overnight. It's a process, and they keep working to get better. Throughout this process, they learn from their mistakes rather than getting upset over their mistakes. Failure is a bad word because it's final. Mistakes are something you learn from and can help you achieve your ultimate goal. — Rick Scarpulla, strength coach and owner of Ultimate Advantage Training

Strong athletes are consistent

I think the big thing is consistency. Very few athletes—even the ones who are gifted—are particularly strong from the get-go. The gifted part applies a lot more to athleticism than it does to brute strength. Being consistent and starting to train at an early age—middle school to high school—and sticking with it for a long time are the athletes who end up the strongest overall. — Tony Bonvechio, strength coach and co-founder of The Strength House

Strong athletes improve their weaknesses

My guys will do the extra stuff to fix their weaknesses. Some guys have weak hamstrings. Some guys have weak lower backs. The stuff that most people do a couple of sets of in the gym, we really hammer them and have seen great results. As you go through the process, you see guys who lift big weight and they're constantly going after their weaknesses, whether it's rear delts, shoulder stability or hamstrings. Guys who make the best gains continually do that throughout their entire career. — Cory Gregory, top training expert and owner of CoryG Fitness

Strong athletes prioritize core training

The biggest thing I see is the ability to synergize the pillar (or core)—the coordination of upper-back strength and stability with 360-degree core stability and posterior hip stability. Those things all integrated as one to minimize force leakage—that's the thing the strongest athletes have in common. The population that has the best pillar strength that I've seen is the high-end CrossFit athlete. They have cores that are made out of stone. The depth of their abs, obliques and erectors is just unbelievable. This all comes down to training the big foundational movement patterns. We really look for the ability to carry under load. If you can't carry a weight that's twice your body weight for 30 seconds, you're probably not going to be an elite level strength athlete. — Dr. John Rusin, strength coach, physical therapist and owner of John Rusin Fitness Systems

Strong athletes have a warrior mentality

When you're a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point (Editor's note: Scarpulla was the powerlifting coach there for many years), they teach you how to put on your camo makeup. You dip three fingers into the makeup, put it on the left side of your forehead, close your eyes and wipe it down and across your face to the right side of your chin. When you open your eyes back up, you become a warrior. That's the mentality you need to have in the gym. — Scarpulla

Strong athletes always work toward a goal

With someone that's weak, they usually don't have an outlined goal. So you need to set some benchmarks. I have guys who come in at 5 a.m. (Editor's note: Cory and his strongest guys lift at 4 a.m.) who have zero interest in powerlifting or bodybuilding, but maybe just want to bench 250 pounds. If that's your goal, that's awesome. At least you have something to work toward. — Gregory

Strong athletes give themselves an offseason

The athletes who are weak and never reach their strength potential play sports all year round and never have a chance to dedicate any time to strength training. Or they stop training altogether during the season. You see a lot of athletes who will train hard several months out of the year and they stop lifting when their competitive season comes around. They don't hold onto the strength they built in the offseason, and when they start strength training again after their season is over, it takes a long time to build back up to where they were. In-season training doesn't need to be hard and heavy—just enough to maintain and pick up where you left off. — Bonvechio

Strong athletes are confident

Successful athletes are extremely confident in themselves. They're confident in their abilities. They're confident in their training. In reality, confidence is a real belief in yourself. Weak athletes just don't understand that, and they're afraid to fail. — Scarpulla

Strong athletes start with the basics

A hot topic right now is not specializing in one sport. I also think it's important to not specialize in your strength training too early. I think being very general when you're strength training at the start is hugely important. A lot of athletes train the wrong exercises or try to go sport-specific way too quick. For example, if you're a middle school athlete who is playing three sports and have one main sport, training sports specific would be silly. — Bonvechio

Strong athletes have a plan

Another common issue is failing to have a true plan. People just walk into the gym and are lost. You need some direction. With the amount of content out there, there's no reason to aimlessly walk through the gym, not knowing what to do. You have to find something or someone that's coaching you and stick with it. Gregory

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Topics: MOTIVATION | BENCH PRESS | CROSSFIT | STRENGTH COACH | BODY WEIGHT | BODYBUILDING | CORE EXERCISES | CORE TRAINING | POWERLIFTING | GETTING STRONGER