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20 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Workout

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 doingDon’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.

Alykhan - Fitness Breakout - October 13, 2011

Srdjan,

Great list. If everyone were to follow these tips, they’d be in much better shape towards achieving their goals. Tip 19 is huge. When you focus on that mind to muscle link, you really start to get the most out of your workouts.

Alykhan

    Test - October 14, 2011

    I agree 100% – the mind to muscle link can really make a huge difference. A lot of people go through their motions/repetitions without much thought to what they’re doing. Concentrating and listening to your body will provide an insane boost. Thanks for the comment!

Bob @ HealthyMeansYou - October 14, 2011

Very solid list Serge,

Point # 3 is a definite must, I think.
I see too many guys bunching up together and pretending to workout. All they really do is talk about bs instead of focusing on what is suppose to be done in the gym.

I go solo too and then I have some people I talk to in the gym every now and then. I will ask them to spot me if need be. This way works the best

    Test - October 16, 2011

    Thanks for the comment Bob! Like I said, point #3 is all about preference. Most of the time I see exactly what you see – 5 guys chilling at the bench station ‘working out’. For me, going solo has just proven to be the most effective and efficient way of going about it.

Darrin - October 15, 2011

Great list, Srdjan. I’m with you in that I’m a “lone wolf” in the gym. Don’t really want to be dependent on someone when they probably lift different size weights than me and might end up canceling anyway. But I know that some people DO get more motivated when they have a workout partner.

    Test - October 16, 2011

    Like I told Bob above, whether to have a workout partner or not comes down to preference. I particularly know some people who simply cannot workout alone – they need somebody there with them (of the same caliber) to push them. I can totally see the logic in that and if it works then that’s great.

    But I’ve also seen people come into the gym together and slow each other down. They spend more time talking than training. If this is the case, then going solo might be one solution to improving your workout.

    P.S. Glad to see Lean Mean Viral Machine back up and running again 🙂

Dave - Not Your Average Fitness Tips - October 16, 2011

Good job pulling together ways to improve your workout. In fact the only things I don’t do on this list are wear headphones, ask for a spotter, or start drinking protein midway through. The first two I don’t do because I exercise on my own at home. I never like having the protein too soon either as I don’t like to train intensely on a full stomach.

    Test - October 16, 2011

    Training at home is a whole different ball game. Some of my best workouts are in my basement – no distractions, no socializing – just me and my barbell.

Kevin McMillian - October 19, 2011

This is awesome … I really like the stop watch and concentrating on every rep. Those are big ones for me and I implement those every workout.

Tim @ Behind The Workout - November 5, 2011

Wow Srdjan this is one of the best lists I have ever read! Everything is just spot on – I especially agree with the phone thing, it annoys me when people play with their phones in between sets or even worse, talk on the phone during a set. Many people over look dynamic stretching and hydration so I am glad that you pointed that out. The plan B tip is great too – if someone is hogging your machine, you should just work with it and do something else.

    Test - November 7, 2011

    I think different things annoy different people, but there are always a few of those habits that get under everybody’s skin. All in all, if you implement these tips into your training, your workout will improve drastically.

vannie - November 7, 2011

I definitely agree with all these tips. We need competition so that we won’t feel too tired doing the routines. I’ve been into boxing and well, it’s hard but I keep pushing.

    Test - November 8, 2011

    Competition is definitely a great psychological boost – great source of motivation.

Dr. George Suarez - December 9, 2011

You’ve pointed out some great points. I think #10 which is about concentrating on one activity is very, very important. Its not advisable to read while exercising and eating, we get lost in the book so we’re not concentrating in a single activity. Its wiser to do one thing at a time.

Fathin Shaikh Naeemmuddin - July 7, 2012

There are always discussion about whether do cardio or strength first. But what about mixing them together, sort of like sandwiches? For example, jump rope for couple of minutes then do few minutes of strength and repeat several times. I’m easily get bored so I love to do this sandwich workout. What do you think about this?

    Test - July 7, 2012

    Hey Fathin – the style of training you’re describing is called circuit training and it’s a great way of combining strength training with cardio training. You pick a bunch of different exercises (example: skipping, pushups, bodyweight squats, mountain climbers) and you do them together, one right after the other (no rest between). Kind of like one big sandwich 🙂 And it does a great job of killing boredom.

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