Lots of guys brag about hitting the gym all day, every day. The way they talk, they make it sound like marathon gym sessions are the only way to work out.
Don't be fooled, though: Any smart weightlifter knows that workouts aren't made by how long you work out, but rather how focused you are while you're there.
Here are five critical tips for making every workout better "in the trenches," so you can build muscle and strength faster any time.
1. Check your ego
First, you have to understand that you're not going to set a personal record every session. Sometimes when you get to the gym, things don't go according to plan because of all the unforeseen obstacles you didn't see coming: you didn't sleep well the night before; your nutrition was off; you're dehydrated; you feel run-down. It happens to everyone.
Here's the thing: Some training sessions "reveal" your strength, while other training sessions "build and maintain" your strength. If you can just be smart during your workout by scaling back the volume (sets x reps) or intensity (amount of weight used), you will build a sort of insurance policy that the next time you step in the gym, you'll be ready to go—and stronger for it.
2. Make smaller "jumps" with heavier weights
As you're working up to heavier weights—usually to build a bigger strength foundation and increase your volume—make sure you're hitting all the stages you're using to work up to that goal. You never want to miss a weight. Look at any elite lifter, and you'll notice and they almost always hit their target reps for any given set.
By taking smaller "jumps" between reps, you ensure that you're getting the training impact you want, and that you don't end the exercise with a failure. You always want to end on a win.
3. Always do a warmup
Never underestimate the importance of a good warmup. Gone are the days of going right from the car to "under the bar." If this is a common practice of yours, you'll eventually get injured. (This is not up for debate. It will happen.)
The warmup—including mobility drills, foam rolling, activation exercises, and flowing movement sequences—is absolutely critical for consistently getting stronger in the gym and moving better outside of the gym.
4. Focus on movement quality and mobility
Don't even think about loading up a barbell until you have a good sweat going and you've practiced the movement you're going to be training. Some fundamental movements:
- Pushups (for bench press)
- Goblet Squat (for barbell squat)
- Dumbbell / Kettlebell Swing (for deadlifts)
If you can perform the fundamental movement during the warm-up with good form and through a full range of motion before you get under the bar, then your technique will be better once you grab a barbell or put it on your back.
5. Be ready to make changes
Every time you go into the gym, you should take stock of how you feel and how you move in the warm-up, and then use that feeling to determine if you'll need to adjust the workout for the day.
Say your workout calls for heavy deadlifts, but you notice during the warm-up that your hips feel tight and that you can't get into a good starting position. This is a sign that you need to make a game time decision to pick another exercise that will train the same muscle groups or the same movement pattern, and for which you'll able to use better technique.
This type of instinctive training is really the key to you training smarter. It's not a cop out! Established lifters know how to work around soreness or discomfort to achieve gains without putting their health at risk.
If you can keep these critical tips in mind every time you train, you'll be able to train smarter and pain-free for years to come.