You’re about to head to the gym for yet another workout and are feeling determined and committed. Or, perhaps the story is going in a slightly different manner. You’re heading to the gym but are feeling a little hopeless. You haven’t exactly seen the results you were looking for and are wondering if you’re ever going to get that dream body you’ve been envisioning.
Whenever you hit the gym, there are a few key things that you need to know to help make sure you make the most of it. Whether you are currently seeing results or not, these things will help you take your results up until that extra notch and push the barrier for success.
After all, if you’re going to spend your precious extra time (and let’s face it, we don’t have much of it!) in the gym, you better darn well get a good pay off for doing so.
Am I right?
I thought so.
So with this said, let me introduce you to five ways to bet more out of every workout you do so there are no more questions of whether you will see results. It’s only a matter of how consistent you are so you can determine how soon you will see those results.
Focus The Mind
Here’s a little secret that many people don’t know or just completely overlook with their workout program: it’s not just about lifting the heavyweight and completing the rep. It’s about really feeling that muscle.
Stop and think about this for a second.
You’re probably thinking, ‘Well I do feel the muscle since I’m moving the weight.’
And this is true. You do have to contract the muscle to get the weight up. But are you envisioning in your mind the muscle contracting? Or are you just focusing your thoughts on moving the weight?
This is where you’re going wrong. During the next workout you do, I want you to picture that muscle in your body – the one you are trying to target – squeezing and contracting with each rep you do. Picture it shortening and then lengthening as you put the weight back down again.
Imagine it working hard, all the muscle fibers getting smaller as you move up to the top of the exercise. At the same time, picture the muscles around that working muscle relax a little. This is referred to as the mind-muscle connection and refers to just how in-tune you are to your body during the workout session you’re performing.
It’s imperative that you aren’t just going through the motion but are instead, maximizing your focus on that target muscle.
It also helps prevent other muscles that you shouldn’t work on from coming into play and taking over to help you. For instance, let’s say you are doing a lat pull-down. This exercise is designed to target your lat muscles, but it’s straightforward to make the biceps do the brunt of the work. And while the training will hit your biceps no matter what you do as they are an antagonist muscle group, you don’t want the biceps to be doing all the work. If you were looking to get a workout for just your biceps, you’d be better off doing bicep curls instead.
By focusing your mind on the lat muscles squeezing, however, and the rest of your muscles relaxing, you can put the attention back where it needs to be, getting the results the exercise as designed to.
You’ll likely find that you can achieve this mind-muscle connection easier on certain exercises than others. That’s perfectly normal, and everyone has some muscles they can think about and target better than others.
Just keep working at it, and soon you’ll be a pro at targeting every muscle group in the body. Consistency is key here. The more you think about it, the more natural it’ll come. At the very start, you might find that you have to really focus on the mind-muscle connection and even with all that focus you still don’t quite get it. But stick with it. It will pay off.
If you’re struggling hard to achieve it, some tips that can help include:
- Lighten your weight load. Very often if you aren’t able to accomplish a mind-muscle connection, it’s because you’re lifting too heavy of a weight and you need more than the target muscle to be working to get the weight up.
- Focus on isolation exercises first to master the concept. Because compound exercises by nature use more than one muscle group, it can be harder to achieve a good mind-muscle connection with them compared to isolation movements.
- Consider a pre-workout supplement. Many of these products do contain neuro-enhancing ingredients that are designed to give your brain a boost during the workout session and may make achieving a mind-muscle connection more natural.
Chances are, back when you started your workout program, you set a few goals for yourself. You might have wanted to drop 10 pounds, slim down your waist, be able to do 20 push-ups, and run a mile in under 10 minutes.
These are all great goals to have and are based on both aesthetic factors and performance factors, which is very important to keep you going. Great work!
But you aren’t done yet. If these are the goals you have going into each workout session, you only see the big, long-term picture. For many, that isn’t exactly what you’d call maximally motivating. If you often find that you are feeling like skipping the gym because you still have quite a way to go before you reach your goal, you know what I’m talking about here.
Instead, what I want you to do now is to break those goals down into mini-goals. You should be setting one goal for each workout. Note this doesn’t need to be a substantial lofty goal – it can be something as simple as performing one more rep of shoulder press than you did last week. That’s it! Or perhaps it is doing three more minutes of cardio training over and beyond your previous session.
The main objective with this is to choose a goal that allows for a minor progression in your workout routine and one that will give you a reason for hitting the gym that day.
This way, you have that mission. You have that purpose. You can achieve success. With each of these mini-goals, you reach each day, you’re going to notice you’re feeling better. You’re feeling more confident that you can achieve your long-term goals and more on top of your game.
It will do a fantastic thing for your self-belief if you. Trust me on this one. It may seem small and silly, but do it for a few weeks, and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
It only takes a few seconds to do to this – you can do it while you drive to the gym if you want, but it can make all the difference in the world.
Listen To Music
Another tip I often give people who are struggling to stay motivated and perform optimally in the gym is to find some new workout music. It’s been proven that those who listen to their favorite, upbeat workout music tend to perform better and show fewer signs of fatigue than those who aren’t listening to workout music.
You might already be listening to music so think you don’t need to pay much attention to this tip, but ask yourself this: When was the last time you changed that music?
Just as your workout can get stale and boring over time, so can your music. It might be time to update your playlist and shake things up a bit. This can re-awaken your workout, get you putting in more effort since you’ll feel more energized and even get you more excited about hitting the gym.
Music can be a compelling thing, so be sure that you aren’t overlooking it.
Time Your Rest Periods
It’s vital that you are paying close attention to how long your rest periods are lasting between your sets. If you’re like many people in the gym, you tend to wing it. You stop the set and rest for as long as you feel like you need to before you continue once again. You feel like you need to feel reasonably recovered, but not completely recovered and then it’s go time once again.
While this approach is fine and can work and help you see some results, it’s not optimal. When your program was designed, chances are it was designed with particular rest periods in mind. How long you rest between your sets depends on a variety of factors. Some of these include:
- Where you are in the workout session – the beginning or closer to the end
- What the specific exercise you’re doing is. You’ll need to rest far longer on a squat say than a bicep curl
- How much weight you’re lifting. Heavyweight exercises require more rest than lighter weight ones
- What your primary goal is. Fat loss typically calls for shorter rest periods than muscle building.
- Your current level of fitness. Beginners may need more rest time than advanced trainees.
- Whether you’re doing advanced training techniques like supersets or drop sets in your workout program.
- Whether you want to see cardiovascular conditioning results as well, which would then call for more of a circuit training approach where you would shorten down your rest periods considerably.
So as you can see, choosing a rest period is not a black and white concept. Some real thought has to go into it to help ensure that you are making the right decision. Likewise, if you aren’t obeying your rest periods, you aren’t respecting the integrity of your session. You may be doing the right exercises as called for, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to see the optimal results.
The moral of the story is to get out a watch and time those rest periods. This is the single best way you can ensure you are going to see the results you are hoping for.
Or, watch the clock on the wall if you prefer.
Get New Gear
Finally, the last thing you can do to take your workout up a notch when you hit the gym is and get some new gear. There are many different workout products that you can use to change up your workout, add more challenge, or change the nature of how you perform exercises.
For instance, you might invest in a pair of squat shoes if you’re starting to get more serious and want to get more out of your squatting exercises. These will position the body slightly differently and allow you to press up more weight, thus see faster results.
Or, you might pick up some weight lifting straps so that when you are doing your deadlifts or bent-over rows, you aren’t being limited by your grip strength any longer. As you continue to make progress, you will reach a point where this may be a necessity if you hope to get any stronger.
Have a look at your local fitness store and see what you can find. If you aren’t quite sure, consider asking a trainer if they have any recommendations for you.
So there you have five ways to get more out of each workout you do. If you use these methods and keep your mind focused on your workout and seeing best results, not just hitting the gym and ‘getting it done,’ you will be on track to making excellent progress than you have in the past.
Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 15 years now, and has helped others of all ages lose weight, build muscle, and improve their physical performance. She’s been featured in Bodybuilding.com, Muscle & Strength Hers and Oxygen magazine.