If you can get ripped, you can study

Studying - it's not that different from hitting the gym.

There’s this weird stigma around studying.

Like, you don’t really say you’re trying. You don’t tell your friends you’ve made a study plan. Or that you really wanted to do well in that test.

To say you care about school – that thing you have to do for 6 hours a day, that thing that is meant to prepare you for whatever you want to do afterwards – is somehow pretty uncool in most circles.

And yet there are a group of people who are doing all of those things, without shame.

They’re making notes of their results in spreadsheets or notebooks.

They’re coming up with incredibly detailed plans on how to get better.

They’re sharing their progress on Facebook and Instagram.

They are the ultimate nerds, and they don’t care. Who are these people, and why aren’t they embarrassed?

They’re bodybuilders, and somehow, they don’t particularly care about your opinion on the fact they’re weighing out 225g of steamed chicken before going to bed so they can hit the gym at 6 am tomorrow morning.

I think we can learn something from bodybuilders and dedicated gym-goers. Yes, even (maybe especially) from those guys who wear string singlets all the time.

Firstly, we can learn from their attitude. If a guy can wear the t-shirt equivalent of a g-string in public with no qualms, surely we can stop being embarrassed about having a study plan?

Secondly, we can learn from their strategies. Let’s look at one particularly interesting strategy and how we can make it work for studying.


Periodization is a strategy sportspeople and bodybuilders use to avoid plateauing, or becoming stuck at one level. It basically involves planning out variation in:

  1. What you’re doing.
  2. How hard you’re doing it.
  3. How often you’re doing it.

And I think we can use it to kick some serious ass studying, too. How could that work?

Muscles grow when you put more strain on them than they are used to. Your knowledge of a subject grows the same way – when you push yourself to understand maths concepts that you’ve never heard of, or do questions you haven’t done before, your skills and understanding of maths grows.

So just like you have to keep increasing the demands on your body if you want to reach Hulk levels of hugeness, you have to keep challenging yourself in a subject to get better at it.

Avoid the temptation to keep doing what you do well!

Just like your muscles eventually stop growing if you keep doing the same thing, your brain will eventually stop learning if you keep doing the same thing. Basically, once you’re good at something, you need to move on to something new!

This is hard, because it feels oh-so-satisfying to do something well, while going down struggle street can be really frustrating.

I know. I’m studying statistics at university right now, and the temptation to just do questions that ask me to draw boxplots is real. You guys, I am SO GOOD at drawing boxplots! (Would you like me to do one for you now? No?) Except, I would do a lot better to move on to things I’m not good at, so as to grow my statistics muscle (probably the least attractive muscle ever, haha).

Periodization in action

So what might periodization look like for my (fictional) statistics muscle? Let’s say I’m a month out from my exam. I might make a periodization plan like this one:

    • Week 1: summarise key concepts in mindmaps.
    • Week 2: do practice questions with my mindmaps next to me (changing what I’m doing).
    • Week 3: Use flashcards to memorise key formulas and concepts (changing what I’m doing and how often I’m doing it).
    • Week 4: do practice questions without any guides (changing the intensity).

Other than preventing you from staying stuck at one level, periodization also has some other pretty sweet benefits that carry over from working out to studying, such as:

  • Avoiding boredom and tiredness with the same old exercises.
  • Maximizing both general subject knowledge and specific exam preparation.
  • Being able to optimize your performance over a specific period of time, like leading up to an exam.

So let’s take some techniques from our gym going friends. Periodize our exercises. Change it up not only in what we’re doing, but also in how often and how hard we do it. And most importantly, let’s not care what anyone else thinks about working hard to get what we want.

So getting ripped and studying isn’t all that different. In both, we need to change up what we’re doing and how hard we’re doing it. And let’s go for what we want, without caring what others think.