Hard work and consistency lead to success in the gym, but they're not everything. Work out smarter, and you'll bolster your results and prevent injury. Use these five tricks to ensure you get the most out of your training.
Do a Short, Effective Warm-Up
Your warm-up should take less than 10 minutes, and it should prime muscles for the work you're about to do. Follow these four steps, and you'll be covered:
- Prep muscle tissue with foam rolling, dynamic movements (high knees, butt kickers, walking lunges), or stretching.
- Activate muscle groups using bodyweight exercises (squats, push-ups), isometrics (planks, wall sits), or light weights.
- Go through the movements you plan to do with an unweighted bar or easy weight.
- Begin a ramping phase — start with light sets of the exercises you're doing, and gradually add on to reach your working weight.
Do the Big Stuff First
You may have heard this before, but it's worth repeating. Choose the largest, most complex exercise in your workout and place it first in the lineup. A barbell deadlift, for example, should be done before a dumbbell chest fly or front raise. The deadlift takes much more energy, neurological responsiveness, and overall strength than the latter moves. Nothing should get in the way of the big lifts, and your performance in them.
Begin With Pull Movements
Whether you're doing a total-body workout or a front/back superset, it's important to do pulling exercises before pushing exercises. Push movements rely on — and can compromise — the stability of your rotator cuff muscles, which attach to your shoulder blade. But if you begin with pulling movements, such as rows, pull-ups, and deadlifts, you'll create a much more favorable environment for the shoulder joint to bear load, warming up the muscles surrounding the joint and helping to reduce your risk of injury.
Avoid Abdominal Supersets
It's easy to throw in ab exercises for "filler" between sets of a big movement like squats or deadlifts. They're convenient and quick to set up. The problem is, those sorts of compound lifts rely heavily on core strength. If you tax your abs with crunches and weighted sit-ups in between the lifts, it will lead to weaker performance and possibly injury. Instead, schedule core training on its own day, or at the end of your workouts.
Allow for Fluctuations
Just because you're training regularly doesn't mean the body will perform with perfect consistency. There are going to be days when you feel weak and sluggish, and days when your central nervous system won't be as razor sharp. Sometimes a joint or muscle may bug you during a workout, without much of a reason for it to be happening. Rather than push through pain or keep your expectations at the same high level, it's smartest to err on the side of caution and safety. Adjust and regulate your workouts when you need to. If you're not feeling your best, back off your weight by 10 to 15 percent, so you stay safe, and still get good work in.