There are a million and one ways to exercise the human body, and different strokes certainly work for different folks. That said, when it comes to resistance training, there are a few tried-and-true strategies for making the most of your time. So without further ado, here are 8 Simple Rules that are guaranteed (or your fitnesspollenator.com membership money back!) to improve your very next workout, as well as many more thereafter.
1. Workout with a buddy.
Training alone can be a nice getaway, but having a partner always makes for a better workout. Not only are you held more accountable simply to show up, but you unconsciously work harder when you have a friend alongside you. Throw in a little competition in terms lifting more weight, doing an extra rep, or holding on for a few seconds longer, and you have yourself a much improved training session.
2. Warm up.
Sorry, but a few minutes on the treadmill or stretching does not constitute warm-up. A real warm-up actually prepares you to lift some heavy weights! Here’s an example of a warm-up that takes only five minutes and will dramatically improve your performance and decrease your risk of injury in the ensuing workout:
To track your progress and eliminate guesswork, write down everything you do during your workouts: the exercises, the weights you used, how many sets and reps you did, and even how it felt. In subsequent workouts, look back to see exactly what you did on an exercise previously. Add five pounds to upper body exercises and 10 pounds to lower body exercises each week.
4. Take sets to “form failure” and no further.
Leave the reps that look like doo-doo in the tank. That is, as soon as you feel your technique begin to waver, call it quits on the set. Unless you’re a competitive bodybuilder, those “cheat” reps are doing more harm than good by reinforcing bad movement.
5. Bring a watch to time your rest periods.
Some folks rest too long; some don’t rest enough. To know for sure that you’re taking the right amount of time between sets, simply wear a watch. Some good benchmarks are 30 seconds between high-rep muscular endurance sets (12 or more reps), 1 minute between moderate-rep sets (6-12 reps), and 2 minutes between low-rep sets for strength. To use your rest time effectively, throw in a mobility drill while you wait.
6. Cool down.
Just like you wouldn’t want to be driving at 65 mph on the highway and have to come to a dead stop, you don’t want to finish your last set and just walk away. Gradually return your body to its resting state with this terrific 5-minute cool-down courtesy of Bret Contreras (5 Things You Should Do Everyday):
:30 x Deep squat hold
:30 x Glute squeeze
:30/side x Hamstring stretch
:30 x Crucifix stretch
2:00 x Deep belly breathing
7. Keep workouts under one hour in duration.
Anabolic (muscle building) hormones are released at the front end of a workout; catabolic (muscle wasting) hormones are released at around 40 minutes in. Thus, in order to optimize your body’s hormonal response to training, it’s best to keep your workouts under an hour. Better even is to break that hour into two half-hour sessions to get all those good hormones released into the bloodstream twice in one day.
8. Walk away feeling refreshed, not crushed.
Scrap the “No pain, no gain!” mentality. It’s simply not true. You should leave workouts feeling better than when you walked in. A bone-crushing workout every once in a while is one thing, but our bodies just aren’t built for that kind of stress day after day. It’s far better to do a moderate amount of exercise frequently than to do a crippling amount of exercise infrequently.
Taking a haphazard approach to your fitness will get you correspondingly half-assed results. Choose to make the most of the time you spend exercising by following the 8 Simple Rules above. Be sure to leave a comment below if you have any rules to add!