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What to do During Every Training Session

One thing that I’ve learned in my time as a trainer is that people don’t optimize their time at the gym. People walk aimlessly through the gym not knowing what to do, where to go or even if they are making progress or not. This makes little sense because the number one excuse I get from people on why they don’t work-out at all or more than they do is time. I understand the excuse however because everyone has things going on and busy lives so that is why you should put in the effort to optimize the little time that you have. I have three easy tips to do every time you go to the gym to make the most out of it and that is to track your workouts, time your rest intervals and warm-up and cool down properly.

Tip number one is to track your workouts which I’ve noticed as of late has become more prevalent. Tracking your workouts is important for two reasons. One is that you want to be able to look back and know what kind of workouts your doing on what days. This is especially important if your not going to the gym the same day everyday of the week. This allows you to know what day is leg day, upper body day, cardio, etc. This just keeps yourself accountable, for example if you know your liable to skip leg day every once in awhile. If your not tracking your workouts you can lie to yourself and say “Oh I missed a few leg days this month” when really you only made it to a few during the month. Second reason and more importantly is to track progress. With resistance training a very important concept is called progressive overload. Progressive overload is the idea that the longer you train you have to make your workouts harder. You can do this by increasing your sets, reps, weight or decreasing your rest intervals. Your body and more specifically your muscles are very adaptable so if your lifting the same amount of weight for months at a time your body is going to adapt quickly. During this time you're not progressing, you’re just maintaining the little bit of progress you have made and at a certain point wasting your time. I want to give you an example of what this could possibly look like and show it will optimize your workouts.

Barbell Squats: 5 set

  • 5 reps @ 135 lbs

  • Rest 1 min

Hamstring Curls: 3 sets

  • 8 reps @ 50 lbs

  • Rest 1 min

Lunges: 3 sets

  • 8 reps/side @ 50 lbs

  • Rest 1 min

Hip Bridge: 3 sets

  • 8 reps @ 50 lbs

  • Rest 1 min

Hip Abduction Machine: 3 sets

  • 8 reps @ 50 lbs

  • Rest 1 min

This quick little example of a possible leg day is something I recommend you do every time you go to the gym. As you can see it is not a lot of information but all the pertinent information you need to track progress. You have the name of the exercise, number of sets, number of reps, rest intervals and weight used. You could also add other information if you want such as your warm-up routine, how you were feeling during that workout, how your recovery after the workout went and so on. This is much more reliable than trying to remember all these details and gives you something to look back upon to see your progress. I used to never write down my workouts as a novice exercise mainly because I didn’t know any better. Once I started to get into training and building up a client base I noticed there is no way I was going to remember all these details for my clients. Moral of the story is documentation is key.

Tip number two is time your rest intervals which is a big pet peeve of mine in the gym. It annoys me to no end when someone is just sitting on a bench or a machine for multiple minutes at a time staring at their phone barely paying attention to what is going on. This is not good because rest intervals are very important for what your goal is. The four primary goals of resistance training are either endurance, hypertrophy, strength or power and usually done in that order when starting from scratch. For endurance rest is ≤30 seconds, hypertrophy rest is 30-90 seconds, strength rest is 2-5 minutes and power is also 2-5 minutes. Rest is all about letting your energy pathways restore in your muscles and this takes time so dependent on your goal you want to limit that or let it fully restore. Let’s assume a majority of people in the weight room have a goal of hypertrophy because that’s most people want to look good aesthetically. That rest interval is only 30-90 seconds which is not very long, you can easily kill 3-5 minutes looking at Instagram or talking to your buddy at the gym and if this is constantly happening the total volume and intensity is not at the level you need to get the responses you are looking for. Or the opposite happens when someone is working on a personal record in a big lift like the squat or deadlift and get anxious and want to do their next set right away when really you want to rest for closer to 5 minutes to let your energy to restore. I believe this is a big reason why people don’t see the results they are looking for, they are not working at the right intensity.

Last tip I have and is a very crucial one for longevity is warming up and cooling down the body properly. Your body is a machine, you have to grease up the gears before going at full throttle. This is a common practice at the gym that I work at, especially in the morning mainly because it is a lot of older folks and back in the day there was no such thing as warming up. They will walk in and jump on the row machine with a solid amount of weight and grip it and rip it. This increases your chance of straining or even tearing a muscle significantly. Of course that is a worse case scenario because you work out to progress and now you have regressed significantly and it is something you could have avoided. With resistance training there is always a chance of injury but you want to reduce that as much as possible and be safe. It feels like to me to be an intuitive thing but I know even trainers and group instructors that still don’t have their clients warm-up. Another problem is warming up improperly which again I see gym goers and trainers alike do. Another idea left over from back in the day is holding static stretches before lifting weights. There are many studies that have been put out that show doing static stretching before exercise will reduce performance and increase your chance of injury. This is due to the lengthening of the muscle fibers right before constant contractions of the muscle. Another reason is that when you do static stretching you are not increasing your heart rate or increasing blood flow to the muscles you will be using. This is especially important when doing more cardio based exercise such as steady state cardio or interval training because these are at higher intensities. Another important component to your workout that nearly everyone skips on is the cool down. As the name entails your letting your body literally cool down because when you exercise your body temperature increases. You’re also reducing your heart rate and breathing rate gradually which reduces blood pooling in your extremities as well as helping remove waste by-products caused from exercise. Last benefit is returning muscles to their optimal length-tension relationship because when you lift weights your muscles get tighter. Over time if you never stretch this can cause postural deviations and limit your range of motion in certain lifts. So you do static stretches after you lift to prevent that. Going back to your warm-up, that’s why you don’t hold static stretches before you lift to length the fibers to throw off that optimal length-tension relationship. If you are not doing your warm-ups or cool downs properly this greatly increases your chance of injury and therefore not optimizing your time and possibly taking you out of the gym for awhile. Don’t mind the people that give you a hard time or look at you weird when you take your time to do these steps because you increase your longevity significantly. 

To recap the tips you want to do every time you train they are write down your workouts, time your rest intervals, and lastly warm-up and cool down properly. Follow all these tips and I guarantee your training sessions will go more smoothly and you will get more out of them. These points are so much more important than any exercise, pre-workout, or piece of equipment that some Instagram expert will tell you you need to reach your goals.

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