Pause for a Moment and Consider: Why the Obsessive Focus on Winning?


We live in a world obsessed with what we do.
  • What did you earn from your job last year?
  • What place did your team finish in the standings?
  • What trophy did you win? What award did you get? What measure of social status did you receive?

In moderation, this focus on what you’ve achieved is fine. I like getting results just as much as the next person. I like performing well. I like being on top of my game. Achievement can be a good thing.

However, our obsessive focus on what we’re winning can also blind us from understanding how, precisely, people become winners. If you focus too much on the finish line, you miss the strategy going on during the race.

As I continue to study top performers from all areas of life — athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, and more — I’ve begun to see similar patterns emerge among these people. Today, we’re going to venture to the world of weightlifting to uncover one of these patterns.

The Incredible Success of Yuri Vardanyan

Yuri Vardanyan is widely considered one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all-time. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Vardanyan routinely set world records in the sport, and his run of success from 1977 to 1985 is stunning. (1)

Here are Vardanyan’s results at the World Weightlifting Championships and the Olympic Games during that time span:

  • 1977 World Championships — Gold
  • 1978 World Championships — Gold
  • 1979 World Championships — Gold
  • 1980 Olympics — Gold
  • 1981 World Championships — Gold
  • 1982 World Championships — Silver
  • 1983 World Championship — Gold
  • 1985 World Championship — Gold

Now for the important question:

What methods did Vardanyan use to achieve such an incredible run of success? Are there any lessons we can learn from him and apply to our own lives?

Volume before Intensity

In 1992, after his own weightlifting career had finished, Yuri moved his family to the United States. His son, Norik Vardanyan, began to make a name for himself in weightlifting a few years later.

Norik once posted a training video of a successful attempt to set a new personal record on front squat as his dad watched on, coaching him.

Here’s what he said:

200 kg (440 lbs) PR front squat for 5 reps. These are the only types of PR’s my dad allows me to attempt… reps. He is not a big fan of 1RM in training. He had told me years ago that his best front squat workout was when he did 200kg for 5 reps.

Pause for a moment and consider how this training approach differs from that of most people in the gym (and in many other areas of life as well).

If the best training method for an Olympian is to focus on doing a volume of work and mastering repetition after repetition, why would it make sense for you or I to train by lifting a maximum amount of weight possible? And yet, this is often a trap we fall into.

The problem with the Go Big or Go Home philosophy is that when you don’t have the underlying foundation of strength to handle the intensity of the effort, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.

This is why I believe you should focus on volume before intensity.

Fast Growth is Overrated

So many of the problems I have run into as an entrepreneur, as a writer, and as an athlete have been because I have tried to grow too fast. I was so focused on getting a particular result that I ignored the fundamental habits that would have made my growth sustainable.

Fast growth forces you into a higher cost environment, and if you don’t have the systems and ability to handle those costs, you’ll end up paying for it.

  • When I tried to push myself to lift bigger weights in record time, my body got run down and injured.
  • When I tried to force my business to the next level without knowing what I was getting into, I got stressed out and stepped on people’s toes without meaning to.
  • When I tried to push down the accelerator and double revenues, I fell flat on my face with a product launch and didn’t have a system that could service customers properly.

Intense growth and intense effort are great… if you have the foundation to handle the intensity. This is why Yuri Vardanyan focuses on five-rep maxes. He’s building the foundation.

Put in your reps and build the capacity to do the work. There will be time for maxing out later. First, build the foundation.

This article was originally published on


  1. Despite being the gold medal favorite, Yuri Vardanyan did not compete at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles because the Soviet Union boycotted the Olympics along with 14 other countries.


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James Clear
James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He writes at, where he shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research. You can read his best articles or join his free newsletter to learn how to build habits that stick.
James Clear