6 Tips To Get You Training Smarter In The Gym
TIPS FOR SMARTER TRAINING
Proper strength training has less to do with the amount of weight you lift, and more to do with how you lift. Observing these best practices will help you build muscle and reach your training goals faster. Perfect practice makes perfect, and over time these actions will become habits.
STRIVE FOR SYMMETRY
As you train, make sure that both sides of the body are pushing or pulling evenly, and that your weight is distributed evenly. Start with your weaker side and then move on to the stronger side, and perform the same number of reps that you did on your weaker side.
WATCH YOUR FORM
Paying close attention to your body during each exercise can result in better progress and fewer injuries. For example, keeping your core tight will not only help you build beautiful abs, but it will also help protect your back. Keeping your spine neutral will help take pressure off of your back, and ensure years of injury-free training. Keeping your feet flat and even, and keeping your wrists straight when pulling or pushing weight, will ensure your body is always in balance as you train.
VARY YOUR GRIPS
A slight change in grips can change an entire exercise. For example, switching your grip from an overhand to an underhand grip on a row can mean you go from targeting your back to targeting your biceps. By incorporating a variety of grips into your training, you’ll hit muscles from all angles and better improve your strength and overall aesthetics. A great example of this is bench pressing, varying your grip width on the bench can have dramatic effects on your training. A closer grip is known to work the triceps more, a wider group puts more strain on the shoulders and especially the pectoralis major muscles on your chest. Check out this guide on how to bench for more info on that. You also can adjust your grip widths to further increase the variety in your lifts, which also will help you avoid plateaus while still keeping workouts challenging.
EMPLOY CONTROLLED CHEATING AND SELF-SPOTTING
Controlled cheat reps are a great way to train muscles through their strongest range of motion: the negative. With this strategy, you use momentum, gravity, or power from otherwise non-contributing muscles to help you power through the concentric portion of the rep, while still controlling the more important negative portion of the rep. This allows you to get a few more forced reps in at the end of a set, which can ultimately lead to more size and strength gains. Choose your cheat reps wisely, though; this strategy works best on isolation movements like pull-ups, the standing shoulder press, or seated rows, but should not be used during movements like the squat, deadlift, or bench press.
Self-spotting can be used to boost the last few reps in a set by assisting a rep with a non-working arm. For the upper body, you can use a free hand to help with the last few reps by spotting the concentric (negative) portion of the rep. For the lower body, you can self-spot a leg press by pushing your hands against your upper leg. Pulling up on the handles of the seated calf raise also will help you squeeze in a few more negatives. Self-spotting works well for certain isolation movements, like single-arm biceps curls, the leg press, seated calf raise, or single-arm triceps extensions.
Note that these strategies are useful, but shouldn’t be relied upon for every workout. Aim to add them in once or twice a week, or when you might be struggling to complete sets.
DON’T OVERSTIMULATE YOUR CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (CNS)
The body can’t handle high volumes of training day after day, and the central nervous system takes about twice as long to recover as the muscles do. For natural athletes, recovery is a bit slower than it is for enhanced athletes, so techniques like training to failure should be limited to finishers, or used only on isolation exercises to limit central nervous system (CNS) fatigue. To further avoid CNS fatigue, pay careful attention to how you feel before, during, and after you train, particularly after you’ve completed two to three tough training sessions in a row. If you feel foggy, have trouble sleeping, experience nagging aches and pains, or if the weights feel heavier than they should, consider going easy for a few days. Plan a deload week every four to six weeks to help your body recover fully and to help keep you in top lifting form. A deload week is a week of lighter activity to allow the body to recover from heavy training. Nagging aches and pains and overall fatigue can be eliminated with a deload, which might include circuit training in the gym supplemented with light weights, stretching, and active recovery through activities like walking and swimming. Remember that rest repairs muscle, while the gym tears muscle down. Listen to your body and work toward stimulating the muscles to grow. (It’s a good mental break, too.)
STAY SAFE IN THE GYM
When you’re in the gym, always use clips and collars when securing plates onto bars, and never perform any exercises without a clip positioned snugly at each end of the bar and against the plates. Additionally, when loading plates onto an Olympic or EZ bar, never overload one side of the bar, and always match the weight from one side to the other as you load the plates. Finally, and importantly, never perform any exercises that require a spotter, if you don’t have a spotter to assist.