You did it! You made the decision to work out; put the time aside; bought new gear; made a commitment to better yourself; ready to workout. Only thing is, this scenario constantly repeats itself and yields the same result – nothing. Isn’t it enough to just show up? The answer is unequivocally NO but that’s for another discussion another time. Let’s say though that you are committed and exercise is something you do fairly regularly yet you are still not getting the results you were looking for. Without getting into a discussion of how other considerations like nutrition, stress, sleep, etc. affect your goal outcomes, let’s first take a look to see how you could be getting more out of your workout.
Don’t Go In Cold. I will confess that I was very guilty of this in my younger, indestructible years. Go to the gym and get right into working out – may be a couple of lame stretches but hardly preparing myself for the workout. Some will question why a warm-up is even necessary or what exactly counts as a warm-up. There is nothing more to understand other than it is what your body needs. Exercise is a physical stress, but a good stress or eustress. Whatever it is you do for exercise, it is going to be something different than what you do on a daily basis. (No, household chores do not count as exercise.) The body, specifically the heart, muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin…do I go on…needs to be better prepared neurologically and physically to go from 0 to 60 (or whatever speed you are moving it) to handle the new stress they are about to encounter. Dynamic movements (they used to be called calisthenics) are best followed by simply getting the body moving such as light walking or cycling. Stretching is not warming up and not something you should do as it has been shown to actually be a hindrance to physical activity. More on that later. Like warming up a car before driving it away, your body will respond better to what you have planned when it is primed to go.
Fuel Up. Most would agree that they would never take a road trip without properly fueling their car yet they will get a workout in, which requires some energy, without properly fueling themselves. Chances are that if your workout fueling plan is bad your nutrition in general is most likely not that good either. A workout doesn’t require a major meal but it does necessitate a little boost if the plan is to actually workout. Muscles store energy locally in the form of glycogen which can be broken down into glucose when called upon to be used as fuel. But as the time or intensity of the workout progresses, more energy may be required and NO that energy is not quickly made available by stored fat either. The general rule of thumb is to provide some energy (calories) from either a carbohydrate and/or protein no less than 45 minutes prior to exercise. Your body will thank you for it and you will reap the rewards of the workout you actually made time for.
Whatever You Avoid, Go After It. One of the many lessons I’ve learned and later appreciated in this life is that your hardest teachers are usually the best. Same can be said about exercise. Most have a favorite exercise and most definitely they also have an exercise(s) they loathe or even hate. In my experience, the hate comes from the hard and the hard is what makes the exercise great. Case in point, big exercises that train the legs. Training the legs (with the hips representing 2/3 of the muscle mass in the body) is hard when done correctly. Large muscle groups need more blood, which means a higher hear rate, which means labored breathing, which means searing discomfort (I’ll refrain from saying pain here), etc. When trained properly, the legs/hips create more of a stimulus to change (increase muscle, decreased body fat, etc.)than any muscle group in the body. So squat, deadlift, lunge, press, and their many variations and use actual resistance. Attack all exercises within reason at some point to challenge not only the physical but the mental as well.
Stop Wasting Time on What Has Been Unproven to Work. No matter what gym or health club I have worked or visited the view is always the same. People walking aimlessly doing their “cardio” while watching TV; boys lifting weights but spending more time looking at themselves then actually working; girls picking up little weights trying to “tone” their arms; both sexes wrecking themselves working abs ; etc. Here’s a reminder. Unless you’ve got plenty of time, doing cardio while watching TV will take 2-3 hours to see some results. Intensity has a lot to do with it. Unless you are training to be a strongman, rest intervals between sets of weights should be short. The longer you take, the more time that is wasted into actually stressing the muscle to change. Little weights cause no change. If you want physical change, you have to lift a resistance that makes the muscles actually “work”. All the abdominal exercises in the world will not, I repeat, WILL NOT magically burn the layer of body fat between your skin and the abdominal muscle underneath. You’d be better off spending as much time working harder in all aspects including and most importantly, paying attention to your diet.
Take Care of Your Body. If you abuse your body in and out of the gym, there is no nutrition plan, workout plan, or supplement that is going to make wrong right. Listen to it when it is trying to tell you something is wrong and don’t fall into the trap of thinking “well I use to be able to do this.” Stretch muscles to alleviate tightnesses and improve range of motion AFTER a workout. Don’t get caught up in trendy workout plans and gimmicky programs. If you’re still not sure on what to do, seek the help of a professional. (That does not include celebrity trainer endorsements or YouTube.) Most of all, make your workout unique to your goals, not someone else’s. Finally, never under estimate the power of sleep. It could be the deal breaker if all pistons are firing but your sleep patterns are erratic at best.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.