You take your fitness routine seriously. You eat clean, frequent the gym five or six days a week, and know your way around the weights room. You have the workout basics down pat, but there are some smaller details that even experienced gym-goers can overlook – and they could be sabotaging your progress more than you realise. Incorporate these simple and effective strategies to supercharge your gym sessions and accelerate results!
Wake up your muscles
When you’re strapped for time, it’s tempting to skip your warm up and head straight for the squat rack, but a sufficient warm up will not only help to prevent injury, it will ensure that you are able to maximize power and strength, and properly activate the target muscle group during your working sets. Lifestyle habits, like sitting for prolonged periods of time, mean areas like the glutes, lats, and deep abdominal muscles are notoriously lazy, and without proper pre-activation, can cause other surrounding muscles – like the quads, lower back and traps – to take over.
Before you start your working sets, spend some time foam rolling to loosen up tight areas. Then, perform 3 or 4 high-rep, light weight pre-activation exercises of your target muscle group. The goal is not to fatigue the muscle, but rather serve as a “wake-up call” by increasing blood flow and enhancing the mind-muscle connection. Do this before every workout and you’ll immediately feel, and see the difference!
Weights first, then Cardio
If body sculpting is your goal, cardio should always be performed after your weights workout, never before. A successful weights program hinges on performance, that is, your ability to constantly increase the intensity of the stimulus placed on your muscles. You can’t do that if you’ve already chewed up your muscle’s energy stores (glycogen) by flogging yourself on the treadmill. Your form will likely be sloppy, and you’ll struggle to muster the strength and power needed to break those PR’s.
On the other hand, cardio as a fat-loss tool, relies on effort. Even if your muscles are fatigued from a heavy weights sesh, you can still work up a decent sweat and achieve a high calorie burn.
Never get comfortable
Muscle growth (hypertrophy) is an adaptation that occurs in response to stress, either through exercise or day-to-day functions. Once your muscles adapt to a certain movement or load, your body will see no reason to keep growing. In order to continue building and sculpting your physique, you have to force your muscles to do more work over time. Regularly changing up your weights routine is essential for this to happen.
However, if you’re serious about making gains, you’ll want to go beyond simply switching up your exercises. Increasing the intensity of your workout is key, and you can do this by incorporating a variety of rep ranges, tempos, rest periods and other “shock” techniques. Rather than sticking to the same old “3 sets of 12 reps,” workout after workout, why not try German Volume Training, 100-Rep sets, Ascending and Descending sets, Giant sets, Supersets, Dropsets, Negative reps, Forced reps… The list is endless! Cycle these into your routine to maximize intensity and strength, and bust through training plateaus.
Pass the salt
Sodium has long been considered a nutritional no-no within fitness and bodybuilding circles, largely out of fear that it causes water retention. But for anyone looking to improve athletic performance and build a better physique, sodium is not the enemy; a diet too low in sodium is.
Firstly, sodium is a primary regulator of blood volume. When blood volume is high during a workout, the body is able to deliver more nutrients and oxygen to the working muscle group, commonly referred to as a muscle “pump”. Higher blood volume also results in a more efficient removal of fatigue toxins. However, when sodium intake is low, blood volume is reduced. This makes the muscles appear “flatter” as less blood, nutrients and oxygen is being pumped into to the muscles during your workout, leading to poor recovery, muscle weakness and less than optimal growth.
Sodium also plays a critical role in carbohydrate metabolism. Carbs and sodium are both absorbed through a transporter called SGLT-1 (sodium-glucose-transporter-1). This transporter is what allows sodium and glucose to enter the muscle cells to be stored as glycogen, which is your muscles’ primary fuel source. But here’s the catch – both glucose and sodium need to be present for this to happen. One cannot be carried without the other. Incomplete or slow restoration of glycogen stores after training will leave you feeling fatigued and unable to recover before your next workout.
The simplest way to increase the amount of sodium in your diet is by lightly salting your meals. You can also include high-sodium foods like pickles, capers, canned tuna in brine, seasonings, condiments like mustard and soy sauce, and sports supplements like Intra-workout powders and sports drinks. If you’ve been following a low sodium diet for some time, you’ll want to build up your intake gradually to allow your body time to adjust. Expect some weight gain at first, but don’t be alarmed – it is not fat gain. It is simply the muscle cells filling out, and will level off within a few days.
Training doesn’t produce results – quality training does, and even the savviest of fit women don’t always get it right. Whether you’re struggling to break through a training plateau, or seeking better results in less time, by following these simple steps you can fine-tune your workout and instantly fast-track your progress.