12 Oct The 8 Pillars Of High Performance

I don’t know about you, but when I think about training I think about being a high performer over a long period of time.

Take a minute to think about what I just said – being a high performer over a long period.

Isn’t that the real goal of what we should be training for?

For me, this is a radical shift in thinking over the years when I look at my training.

A high performer is anyone that performs at high level in everyday life. It’s anyone that operates closer to their physical potential on a consistent basis.

What does it take to be successful in your training? What does it take to get the absolute best results from a program or training regimen?

I’ve thought a lot about these questions and have also been fortunate to have had countless discussions with world-class authorities and experts all over the world in the fitness industry.

To be highly successful in health, fitness, and athletics, I think it comes down to the 8 Pillars of High Performance.

What’s important to know is that when you have all of these pillars working for you – you can become unstoppable.

Anyone can become the high performer for a long period of time. And, this not only makes your training better, but your life better.


First, you’ve got to have the right “frame-of-mind” before anything else. You have to have the right mindset – a wining mindset not only for training, but for life. No, this is not meant to be motivational or  some “rah-rah” rant. But it’s the truth, you have to have a strong mindset.

You have to believe in what you can do and what you’re going after. Of course, you have to be “realistic” but there are far too many who use excuses and false beliefs that greatly limit their success. Fear, doubt, complacency, negativity, and uncertainty are major mental barriers that limit results.

How many people think that they are “too old” or “past their prime” to train at a higher level? These are examples of false beliefs. I’m not saying everyone can become a world champion weightlifter, what I am saying is that we can all do more and have more – if we choose to.

How many people don’t aspire to become something better than they are capable of? This, unfortunately, happens for a variety of reasons – complacency being a major one.

Motivation is fleeting, inspiration lasts a little longer, but when we aspire to become something more – nothing can stop us.

Mindset is where everything begins, so the essential 1st pillar of high performance is having the right mindset for long term training and achieving something bigger than you think is possible (see a key reference listed below).

So, how’s your mindset right now? Are you in the right frame of mind? Do you have a strong mind and believe you’re capable of great things – no matter where you are right now? How can you improve your mental game?

What do you aspire to become?


The next pillar is planning. What I’m talking about here is taking a long term approach to training and not just chasing things like the short term vanity goal. Planning is preparing. It’s goal setting and “knowing your why”, both of which I talk a lot about. Many people want a quick fix (especially with the vanity goal), they want the 6 pack abs, dropping the extra belly fat by tomorrow, packing on muscle mass by next week, or whatever the “look good” goal is.

For me, honestly training has become more of quest to “be a better person.” To move closer to my physical potential (and I still don’t know what I’m capable of achieving, I just try to keep moving forward all the time in some way). Chasing the “look good” goals (vanity goals) are fine, but we really should be thinking beyond that and taking a long term approach to this thing called “training.”

We need to see the big picture and plan for the long term to be highly successful – to be the high performer. Planning is having a vision, a mission, and seeing things continue to evolve for ourselves. It’s keeping focused on the “one big thing” and having the plan to achieve it.

Planning is a critical pillar for high performance.

The parallels of what training teaches us about life is astonishing.

Have a goal, have a plan, follow the plan, and repeat over the long term.

How do you see your long term plan? What is the end goal? What’s next after that? How do you continue to get better? How will you know?


In reading and studying some of the most successful people in the world (in fitness, in business, in sports, etc.), one thing they all have in common is their daily rituals or practices. Their habits.

It’s been said that our habits shape who who we are. As the great philosopher Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” If  we look at training or nutrition, we know that we have to have the right habits in place to be successful. We need to look ourselves in the mirror and ask – “What habits are helping me achieve my goals and what habits are hurting me? What do I need to change or improve?”

Can you answer these questions?

From the time we get up until the time we go to bed, we need to have the right habits installed to move us closer to our potential. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll discover many daily rituals that can be improved that can literally “quantum leap” our progress.

What bad habit can be replaced with a good one that will move us closer to our goals?


Obviously, training is a central pillar, but the point of the 8 pillars is that training alone is never enough.

To maximize the benefits of training, we need a combination of things and training is really just a part of the equation. However, the specific training methodology or approach has to be right, as well. A major point of this pillar has to do with fundamental human movements. Keep things simple and focus on the basics.

Again, looking back at all the conversations I’ve had with experts and books I’ve read about maximizing performance and results, it always comes back to the fundamentals.

Attack your training strategically and focus on fundamentals. Have a plan and stick to the basics. Sets, reps, and exercises all matter and should be geared toward the primary – and current – training goal. Training has to be “rationale” and not “all over the place.” There are general principles in regards to what makes a training plan effective (progressive overload, as an example). Training is not complicated, so don’t make it harder than it is.

Great training follows sound principles and focuses on fundamentals that are relevant to the goal.

How’s your training going right now and are you making progress? Are you moving forward?

How is what you’re doing right now working for you? If it’s working, keep moving forward. If not, re-evaluate.


Nutrion is also simple. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is simple. To take a very big picture approach here, good nutrition is eating foods that are nutrition dense and not nutritionally sparse. You know this, most people do. But most people do not adhere to this simple approach of eating whole foods and not overly consuming packaged or processed foods – at least as much as possible.

What about the macronutrient debate (how much carbs and how much fat)? Are there good carbs and bad carbs? Good fats and bad fats? Well, sure. To get a solid understanding of nutrition, I still highly recommend Death by Food Pyramid by Denise Minger. It’s worth your time to read.

Like a lot of things, it really does depend though. Personally, I cycle my macros depending on training days and current goals. While I used to follow a “paleo-ish” approach, I have increased carbohydrate intake based on my training regimens for the purpose of muscle glycogen replenishment and recovery. This can be a “can of worms” to discuss, but nutrition depends on: lifestyle and activity levels, overall health, training goals, training intensities and frequency, aesthetic goals, and more.

Too many variables to consider for each of us, but there are general principles to follow for what is considered “sound nutrition” and those principles are what most thought leaders agree on – no matter what the approach or philosophy.

If you ask most people – how’s your nutrition, most people will tell you it’s good or even great.

But, we have to be honest with ourselves.

How’s your nutrition right now? What do you consider “good” nutrition? What could be improved or refined to move your one step closer to your goal?


There’s no doubt that many “hardcore” fitness enthusiasts probably ignore this pillar altogether. Recovery is so important to making progress, preventing injury, and managing our long term approach to training, yet it’s often overlooked.

The recovery pillar includes things such as: active rest days, managing days off, “waving the loads,” the appropriate and strategic use of de-loading, and specific recovery methods in between training sessions. Basically, it’s being smart about training so that you are recovered enough to actually make gains and forward progress.

And also avoid training in an “overreached” or “overtrained” state, although this is probably pretty rare. If you’re a gym rat and love training like I do, you do need to be in tune with managing recovery and minimizing fatigue. On the flip side of this is inconsistency and training too much by not allowing for sufficient recovery.

Recovery is another critical piece of optimal training for the long term.

Are you recovering enough to make progress? Are you integrating appropriate recovery methods into your training? Do you understand the importance of recovery and how that relates to your goals?


The more I learn about stress, the more I realize how self-sabotaging chronic stress can be in our lives. Listen, we’re all stressed, but it’s how we deal with it that matters.

Life is stressful, so we have to mitigate the negative consequences and there are simple ways to do that. Recognizing stress and being proactive to manage it is the important first step.

Strategies for managing stress include: simple breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness practices, reading, planned “thinking time,” active recovery methods and practices, music therapy (don’t laugh because it works), soft tissue mobilization techniques, play, outdoor walking and other low level activities, etc.

There are many ways to manage stress. I really believe that you just have to be proactive about it. I’ve recently discovered more about this important pillar going through what was probably one of the most stressful times of my life.

If you’re experiencing increased stress (and you probably are), what can you do to manage it? Are you taking steps to reduce your stress levels? What can be done better?


You might be thinking that I should have included sleep in the recovery pillar. But sleep is so important, I felt it needed to be a ‘stand-alone’ and distinct pillar for high performance.

Like stress, sleep is probably not discussed enough when looking at high performance (although that’s changing). What we know is that sleep may be one of the most important components to optimizing not only your health, but peak performance and daily function (from both a physical and cognitive level).

How much does sleep impact performance?

In recent research by Stanford University college basketball players improved their free throw and 3 point shooting accuracy by 9 and 9.2%, respectively.  And, well rested college football players improved 40 yard sprint times by 2.1%. This many not appear significant, but it is and any improvement is what makes the difference in average to elite.

Most adults average just 5-7 hours of sleep per night. What we really need is 7-9 or even longer, especially if we train at a high level. Sleep matters, folks. We need to make long duration, high quality sleep a top priority. I say this for myself just as much as I do for you.

How are your sleep habits? How much sleep do you really get each night? Are you sleep deprived or are you well rested and refreshed each day?




These are the 8 pillars of high performance. If any of these are lacking, results will be less than optimal.

Sure, you can get stronger, improve body composition, and even feel better by doing some of these things. But, when you combine ALL of these, your results can be spectacular. I’m not saying it’s always easy to always apply the 8 pillars, but when you do – you can certainly expect great things.

In review, the 8 pillars are:

  • Psychology – having the right mindset 
  • Planning – knowing the goal and having a plan
  • Rituals – practicing daily “success” habits
  • Training – doing the right things
  • Nutrition – eating for health and performance
  • Recovery – managing fatigue to make progress
  • Stress – minimizing negative stressors
  • Sleep – getting adequate sleep

Understand these pillars and ask yourself which pillar (or pillars) can you improve on right now?

Which pillar are you currently doing well with?

And, which pillar is limiting your progress the most right now? How can you improve?

Take the time to think about this and answer the questions.

We can all get better, one small step or habit at a time.

If you’re a coach or trainer – where can you help your clients improve awareness in these areas and how can you help them improve their outcomes?

Remember, training alone is NEVER enough.


The Edge of Strength – is now available on Amazon. Check out The Unconventional Guide To Live Your Strength And Discover Your Greatness.

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Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff! Subscribe at RdellaTraining.com/join and get your FREE Report and Resource Guide.

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