I’ve had great workouts, and I’ve had workouts that were just so-so. Sometimes it’s the sleep I had the night before, the meal – or lack thereof – that I ate before, or the routine I was doing.
There are, however, some steps you can take to ensure you have a great workout.
1. Shorten your workout
Limit your workout to a 30-45 minute session. Intensity is king whether you’re after fat loss, building lean mass, improving your athleticism, or a bit of everything. The more intense and focused your workouts are, the more successful you’re going to be.
Know what you’re doing when you get in there and don’t waste time. If you lose steam during your rest periods, try shortening them by 15 seconds.
2. Lift to failure
When I say “failure“, I mean failure within the proper form for the exercise. If you can’t finish the lift with the right form, then you fail.
Even if you’re feeling a little flat, lifting until you fail can give your muscles the boost they need. I’ve gone into the gym on ‘bad days’ and lifted for a rep count, not to failure. My muscles felt weak, drained and flat. As a result I never quite got into the workout. But I’ve had ‘bad days’ where every set was to failure and I ended up having great workouts.
That pain you experience in the last few reps can really wake you up and make a difference in your workout.
3. Get a good night’s sleep
Aim for at least 8 hours a night. Your body needs sleep in order to recover from a workout, but also to prepare for one.
If I don’t get enough sleep, no matter if I drink a cup of coffee or not, my muscles feel sluggish and not into it, if muscles can feel like that.
4. Have a plan
If you don’t know exactly what you’re doing when you get into the gym, you’re already falling a step behind. Have your workout written down, know the exercises you’re going to be doing and go at them hard.
I see people on a daily basis walking around the gym thinking what they’re going to be doing next. It sucks the intensity right out of their workouts. I’ve done it before, I actually used to do it in high school and couldn’t gain a pound – go figure?
Choose a program wisely, but once you’ve chosen it, follow it to a tee.
5. Compete against yourself
Having a lifting partner that’s at your strength level or stronger is ideal, but if you don’t have one – heck, even if you do – compete against the number’s you posted last week.
This means you have to keep track of what you’re lifting, how heavy and the number of reps you’re pumping out with that weight. Carry a notepad around, or record your numbers on your program sheet.
It’s important to know what weights you’re lifting for each exercise, also how many reps you’re pumping out, not only so you can compete against yourself, but so you see your improvements. Improvements you see in the mirror are great, same with the scale, but it feels awesome to successfully add weight to an exercise which you’ve struggled at.
It’ also important to see if you’re beginning to plateau. If you’ve been on the same routine for more than a month, odds are you’re going to sometime soon. If your strength gains begin to dip or plateau, and there isn’t a “plateau buster” built into your program, it might be time to make some kind of change.
That change could mean:
- Taking a week off.
- Changing the exercise.
- Changing the reps.