1.) Change Your Warm-Up
“If you’re in the gym twice a week, you need to be stretching four time a week,” says John Whitesides, head strength and conditioning coach for the NHL’s Boston Bruins. “If you have tight hips, it’s gonna be hard to shuffle laterally and pivot.” The fix: Try using a foam roller on your legs, hips, and glutes for a few minutes before you lift. It’ll break up scar tissue in your muscles and leave you fresh and ready to train.
2.) Get Off Your Ass!
Lift while standing, when the move allows. “Mimic the environment of the athlete,” says Jeff Cavaliere, trainer to New York Mets third baseman David Wright and founder of the AthLEAN-X training system. Seated dumbbell overhead presses do you no good on the field of play. You’ve just trained yourself to move in a very specific and isolated manner, not how you move in real life, he says.
3.) Go Big First
“Always do complex exercises first,” says Bryan Doo, strength and conditioning coach for the NBA’s Boston Celtics. “Hit your major muscles, then the minor ones.” That means squats, deadlifts, and cleans should always come before any kind of curl or extension.
4.) Chug more H2O
“We tell athletes to take in 64 ounces of fluid a day,” says Steve Watterson, strength coach for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. “On top of that, they have to replace the fluid they lose during their workouts.” To make sure they do it, the Titans weigh their players before and after training. You should aim for eight glasses of liquid each day—plan teas and clear fruit juices count; anything with added sugar doeasn’t—along with a pre- or post-workout drink.
5.) Train As You Play
Focus on exercises that let you move through space in a purposeful way. Set up for a cable crossover with one handle high and one low. Perform the movement one arm at a time, rotating your torso with your arm as you go. “We’re trying to get the body to move in the patterns it instinctively follows, but with more power and precision,” Cavaliere says.
6.) Forget Numbers
“If you could tell me how bench-pressing 400 pounds can translate to being better in your intramural basketball league,” Whitesides says, “I’d love to hear it.” Focus on lifting a weight that allows you to use good form throughout the set. “If you can’t do three sets of 20 reps of pushups, you’re not ready to bench.”
7.) Be Eccentric
Don’t ignore the eccentric (or lowering) portion of any lift to emphasize the concentric (lifting) phase. “Guys want to run fast,” Doo says. “That’s great if you have a Porsche engine, but you don’t want to have Hyundai brakes.” To get better at stopping and starting, the next time you do stepups, take four to five seconds to lower your leg down to the ground during each rep. If you can’t move slowly enough, hold a medicine ball out in front of your chest to counterbalance your weight. “Even if you just do it once a week, the benefits will be huge,” he says.
8.) Buddy Up (And Kick Butt)
Cavaliere often trains with Wright, and they’ll compete against each other to see who can do more reps in a given set. “It’s often the last reps that give you 90% of your results,” he says.
9.) Focus On Balance
One side or portion of your body is often stronger than the other. That can cause your other muscle groups to work harder in an attempt to balance you out—leading to injuries and weaknesses. “Unilateral training will help you overcome imbalances,” Cavaliere says. Try one-legged squats or presses with dumbbells working one arm at a time.
10.) Work Your Way Up
Ease your way into hardcore training. Each time you hit the gym, train a little bit longer or lift a little more weight. “That’s the true secret to improved fitness and overall athleticism,” Watterson says.