Let’s be honest here…
It’s more than likely that your workout sucks.
You know it’s no good and it’s time you made some improvements. I’ve come up with 20 ways (read: tips) that you can use to instantly improve your workout. Of course, not all of them will apply to you, but I encourage you to use as many of them as you can to enhance your shitty routine (only half joking). Your body will thank you.
Let’s get started.
1. Outline your goals
Do you know what you’re training for? Do you know what your goals are? It’s hard to figure out what to do when you don’t know what you want. Sit down with a pen and paper and write down what you want to get out of your training. Do you want to lose weight? Gain lean muscle? Lower your resting heart rate? Figure out what your goals are before you start putting in the hard work at the gym.
2. Rest more
You don’t need to be in the gym 5-6 times a week for 2 hours at a time to get results. Not even close. Don’t underestimate the power of rest or overestimate the possibility of overtraining. If you’re struggling to achieve your goals, try adding more rest to your routine. It’s the easiest thing you can do! I guarantee you will come back stronger than ever.
3. Go solo
This one is always up for debate and I’ve had numerous discussions about workout partners. At the end of the day, it comes down to preference – I simply love to work alone. I find that a partner opens up more opportunities for socializing and inevitably slows me down. Without a partner I find my workouts are drastically more efficient. Be honest with yourself – if your partner is slowing you down, try going solo for a while.
4. Schedule your workout when your energy levels are peaking
We are all different. Some of us like long walks on the beach while others like to bungee jump from hundreds of feet in the air. Same can be said about our energy levels: they peak at different times. Some of us feel vibrant in the mornings while others are wired in the darkest of hours. Understanding when your energy levels peak is important when it comes to structuring a better workout. If you find you’re a morning person, try hitting the gym or the track when you wake up. If you like to stay up, schedule your workout for the evening. Obviously there are some limitations to this but do your best to maximize the efforts you put in the gym.
5. Leave your phone in the locker (please)
Listen up. If you are using your phone to enhance your workout (i.e. maybe you have some fitness apps that you’re using or you’re using it for music), then OK I understand the reason for having your phone with you. But if you’re only using it to text between sets, it’s best just to leave it in the locker. Focus on what you’re there for and leave everything else for later.
6. Get your mind in the zone
Scientists, athletes, and muscle heads around the world have all shown the benefits of getting your mind in the zone. Psyching yourself up for a lift or event can help increase your performance – by how much is dependent on you. You don’t have to go extreme here, but you can use the same concepts. Before you go to the gym or head out for a run, use certain visuals or music to get yourself pumped up. Maybe you have a ‘before’ picture of yourself hanging on your wall or you have Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ blasting on your speakers. Do whatever it takes to pump yourself up – your workout will be that much better.
7. Have it on paper
Are you coming into the gym asking yourself ‘What the fu*k am I gonna do today’? If so, you’re wasting your time. You need to have a plan and you need to have it on paper. Bringing a workout journal with you will help keep your workout in check and, over time, will show you how you are progressing. Without it, how do you know what’s working and what’s not? Chronicling your efforts in the gym will improve your workouts in the long run.
8. Start with a dynamic stretching routine
More likely than not, you’re still making the same old mistake of performing static stretches before your workout. Research has shown that static stretching before a workout deactivates your muscles. Instead of static stretches, perform a series of dynamic stretches. You can read the difference here. Dynamic stretches will effectively prepare your muscles for any movement-based, high-intensity workouts and will make your overall workout more effective. Don’t know where to start? Check out these dynamic stretching exercises.
9. Carry water with you
This one helped me out huge! I used to go to the drinking fountain after every exercise (sometimes every set). As soon as I started bringing my own water bottle, my workouts became more efficient. My rest periods shortened down and I minimized the opportunity for socializing. If you want to make your workout more efficient, bring your own water and leave the cooler talk for the office.
10. Don’t read while exercising
I laugh when I see people reading their Economics textbook while backwards pedaling on the elliptical. I admire the desire to learn, but there is a right time and place for everything. If you’re in the gym, then focus on your workout. Otherwise, stick to the library.
11. Wear headphones
If you go to the same gym all the time, you kind of get to know the people there. That’s cool. But don’t get into the habit of socializing. When I’m at the gym, I’m there for a reason – I don’t have time to talk about the weather. At the same time, I’m not a rude person. I can’t just blatantly ignore a person. That’s where my headphones come into play. If people see me with headphones they are much less likely to approach me. Even if they do I can pretend that I don’t hear them. Problem solved.
12. Prepare your weights ahead of time
This one really depends on the gym you go to. If you can, prepare your weights before you begin your set. Get them ready by your bench or station. Sometimes you want to move up in weight for the next set only to find that you can’t find the weights you need. Don’t waste time searching for weights – prepare them ahead of time or just grab a weight you can use for all your sets.
13. Use a stop watch to time your rest periods
This one really helped me out during my Visual Impact Challenge when I was forced to shorten my rest periods. Using a stop watch made me realize just how quickly those seconds go by. If you try to wing it, you’ll see just how easily we zone out and prolong our rest periods without even knowing it. To ensure your rest periods are consistent, use a stop watch or some other type of timing device.
14. Start drinking your protein shake midway through your workout
This one is not for everyone. For myself, I’ve found that taking my protein shake midway through my workout is optimal for absorption. By the time my workout is done, the protein is broken down and ready to be utilized for muscle reconstruction. Play around with different consumption times and see what works best for you.
15. Have Plan B ready
No, I’m not talking about the ‘next-morning-oh-shit’ kind of plan B. This is about having alternative exercises ready. The fact is sometimes the big exercises can’t be done because machines are taken. If you’re looking at your workout journal and you see you got bench press coming up next but there are 10 people lined up at the bench station – you gotta move on. Bench is taken? Try the dumbbell chest press. Squat rack busy? Check the leg press machine or do some goblet squats. Have an alternative prepared for all your big exercises.
16. Ask ahead of time for a spot
If you’re like me and you love to work out on your own, you’re aware of the one downside when it comes to lifting heavy weights – you don’t have a dedicated spotter. If you know you’re going to be working with heavy weights for a particular set, ask someone you trust or the trainer on duty to give you a hand ahead of time. Just make sure they know what they’re doing. Don’t get stuck looking around for someone to spot you between sets. This is a huge time waster.
17. Up the intensity of your workout
This is all part of the fitness bloomer training philosophy. If you want to get the results you’re looking for, you’re gonna have to step outside of your comfort zone. If by the end of your workout you’re as dry as when you started, you’re not working hard enough. Remember, nothing of value can be gained from within your comfort zone. Up the intensity of your workout and watch your results skyrocket.
18. Focus on your breathing
This is one aspect of proper technique that many of us completely forget about. How you breathe during a particular exercise or activity plays a large role on your body’s ability to perform that activity at a high level. Next time you’re at the gym or hitting the trails for a run, listen to yourself breathe. Focus on making your breathing more exaggerated and see how it affects your performance. I found an interesting article that might be able to help you out with this.
19. Concentrate on each repetition
This is one tip I picked up while reading Pavel Tsatsouline’s book The Power of the People. In the book he talks about the importance of concentrating on each movement – each repetition – of an exercise. For example, when you’re performing the bench press, focus intently on each repetition. Feel your muscles contracting. Feel your grip tightening around the bar. Listen to your breathing. Focus on fully contracting each muscle group in your body. When you can master this for any particular exercise, I guarantee drastic improvement in the performance of that exercise and thus your workout overall.
20. Do your cardio after weight training
There have been countless discussions on the topic of whether to perform cardio before or after weight training. Here’s what I know – during an extensive research study, scientists from Japan have discovered that when subjects performed cardio before weights, their growth hormone response to the weight training workout was blunted by roughly 1,100% compared to when they did weight training first. That should be enough to convince you. Either do your cardio after weight training or just do it on another day.
I hope you found these tips useful. If you got any tips of your own, share them in the comments below.