R. Cameron Gardner M.S. ACN, CSCS
Day in and day out we are bombarded with “gym experts” and “trainers” who seem to have all the answers to get you big, strong and ripped. In reality, the same basic principals have stood the test of time, in all genres and arenas. Here I will highlight the keys to getting the most out of the time spent in the gym.
1-Fuel your workout
I hear many horror stories of athletes and clients waking up rolling out of bed and going to the gym without eating or having some kind of appropriate shake.
Despite what you may have heard, carbs are what fuel strong, productive workouts. Having a meal of protein, carbs, and a little fat about 90-120 minutes before your workout will assure stable and sustained blood sugar and a steady stream of amino acids. In the big picture you want to assure adequate muscle glycogen in the muscle, days prior to your training session.
2-Choose basic compound exercises with high recruitment potential
These include barbell and dumbbell exercises, squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, bench press, chins, pull-ups, dips, rows, etc. The principle of training economy states you want the biggest bang for your buck for the time spent in the gym.
One quick look at IG explore and you’ll find people performing the most insane, unproductive variations of exercises just for a like or shock value; doing anything to stand out. In reality, the basics have stood the test of time for both professionals and rising stars alike.
3- Appropriate Rest intervals
I see lots of intra-set jaw work lately…i.e. talking! Having a proper work to rest ratio is important but you also want to maximize time spent in the gym so you have more time outside of the gym.
For strength and size, you want to allow full ATP-Creatine phosphate regeneration between sets which occurs in about 2-3 mins. Anything longer than that and you’re wasting your time and losing CNS activation and upregulation, which is the boost or priming in CNS activity seen from handling heavy weights. Certainly, there are some arguments to be made for shorter rest intervals to maximize metabolic damage, increase blood flow (aka the pump), and metabolic capacity adaptions so a drop set, superset or high rep set thrown in at the end can be beneficial.
I see a few standout issues with clients and workout performance.
The first client is one who doesn’t push themselves hard enough. They send me the workout logs and if 4 sets of 8 was prescribed they tell me they did 4 sets of 8. FOR Everything. How is that possible if you are truly challenging yourself each set? There has to be some drop off, unless you are powerlifting and staying under a certain RPE.
The other glaring thing I see is something like this.
Bench press 205x10, 215x10, 225x10. If you can do 225x10 on your 3rd set you sure as hell aren’t pushing yourself on the first 2 sets; there are submaximal unchallenging sets.
I have clients tell me “I added some extra stuff at the end because I felt like I could do more”. If you feel this way, you probably didn’t get all you could from each set and ended up with a lot of fluffy sets.
5-Track Progress/Keep a log book
You’ve heard this over and over, but generally speaking if you’re getting stronger or handling progressively heavier weights, chances are you’re also causing hypertrophy and gaining muscle. We all see the same guys and gals in the gym year after year using the same weights, doing the same flat bench or squats sets of 3x10 with 225. They ALL look the same!
If you don’t present the body with a new stimulus you won’t get new results. The body responds to stress because of General Adaptation Syndrome or GAS response. The only way to truly track progress is to use a log book and write down every set/rep and every exercise you perform or at the very least key main exercises. Track your week to week progress and every workout aim to beat the previous workout’s numbers. Understand the body doesn’t always recover in a linear fashion and there are ebbs and flows in the body. When you log, you can learn a lot about how you recover and which exercises augment the strength of other ones and what impairs progress.
These 5 keys should be able to help both beginners and advanced trainees alike to kick their workouts up a notch. Beginners- this may be the first you’re hearing any of this. Experts-if you’ve seen some of these concepts before, then it’s consider this a good reminder. Anyone can implement most, if not all of these tips and tricks in your next workout!