Whether you’re new to fitness, or you’ve been training for years, it’s easy to find yourself in a rut. You show up, go through the motions, get your reps in, and get it done.
This is not a bad approach.
After all, being consistent is probably the number one most important factor dictating whether you experience results with fitness. The problem comes when you find yourself in a deep mental hole, to the point where you start cutting corners in the gym, missing out on being everything you can be. You ask yourself if there isn’t a better way?
In this situation, it’s worthwhile to recall key rules of fitness around which you should design your workouts. By focusing on the things that really matter, it’s possible to put things right with the world, invigorating your drive for renewed strength and fitness. Here are five training principles that can change your life:
#1: Focus on Exercise Quality
In a world where being busy is viewed as a virtue, it’s easy to get sucked into believing that more is better when it comes to training: More miles on the treadmill, more calories burned on the rower, more reps completed, more hours spent in the gym, and so on.
But as great as training volume is for packing on muscle, it has diminishing returns over time. If you never stimulate the muscle with quality, high-intensity reps, you’re leaving fitness gains on the table. Same goes for fat loss or endurance: Junk miles are practically the holy grail when you’re training for a marathon, and you’ve got to get the work in so that you get a nice afterburn when you’re trying to lose body fat, but a lot of people take it too far, seeing the quality of their efforts drop off precipitously.
Instead of wasting time burning calories or logging hours in the gym, it’s time to focus on training quality. Every rep should be the highest quality effort you can muster: Can you honestly say that you aim to generate power and strength over the full range of motion, using perfect technique for the majority of your reps? If so you’ve got this one covered, but for those of you whose efforts leave a bit to be desired, refocus your energy into making every effort count.
#2: Train On Your Feet
There’s a time and a place to incorporate machine-based exercises: Cable machines are excellent for hitting harder to target muscles in the back and upper body, and hamstring curls and the hack squat machine are a useful addition to many programs, however, you should spend the majority time training on your feet.
By designing workouts around ground-based exercises, you ensure you are training the biggest bang for your buck movements that have the greatest transfer to sports and daily life. Properly loaded compound movements also allow you to use heavier loads, elicit a greater metabolic impact, and they engage the core, automatically working all of your six-pack muscles so you don’t need to waste time on sit-ups.
Ground based training also recruits all the little stabilizer muscles, tendons, and ligaments and you don’t hit with machines. Training on your feet makes you functionally fit, and you best of all, you don’t look like a bonehead sitting on the machines playing with your phone in between sets.
#3: Focus on a Few Main Exercises
One of the biggest scams of the exercise industry is that you need a lot of exercises (and therefore a lot of machines) to maximize your fitness. Hardcore trainees have been getting results for years from the classic exercises of the bench press, deadlift, and squat. You don’t need a gazillion ab machines, much less an adductor machine to get the best results.
By throwing in a few additional lifts to round out your repertoire (rows, pulldowns or chins, overhead press, step-ups or lunges, calf raises, curls, dips, and maybe a back extension or glute ham raise), you can hit every muscle in the body and avoid the exercise ADHD that plagues the average gym goer.
This pays off in higher training quality since you have to achieve a high degree of technical superiority of exercises. By focusing on a few main exercises, you hone your technique, allowing you to maximally stimulate a greater proportion of muscle and connective tissue for each rep. Good technique pays off in other ways: You can lift heavier loads when you’re playing by the laws of physics, and having a better training background allows you greater flexibility to go high rep since you’ll have less chance of having your form break down so that you hurt yourself as you fatigue.
#4: Count Tempo
One of the first things that falls by the wayside when you start going through the motions is to abandon training tempo. Tempo refers to the speed with which you raise and lower the weights. Real trainees who know what they are doing will always prescribe tempo, planning the length of time spent on the up and down portions of any lift because this dictates the effects on both the neuromuscular and the metabolic systems.
But most people aren’t even aware of tempo, adopting a 1 second up, 1-2 seconds down lifting speed. Then, when they get bored, they start haphazardly lifting the weight, often using momentum and speeding the tempo up.
For people who are new to counting tempo, start with a 1 second up (concentric) motion and a 4 second down (eccentric) motion. This is a standard prescription that is ideal for novices to increase strength and muscle. Then read up on how to use different tempo prescriptions to achieve various results. Check out this article here on the topic. As your mind wanders during training, refocus on tempo. This will raise the quality of your reps significantly and ensure you are stimulating the muscle in the way you intended.
#5: Do You Have To Or Do You Want To?
There will always be tough days at the gym. Those are the ones that make all the difference. By attacking your workouts with effort and drive, you will change your life for the better and develop self-confidence.
Having physical strength and endurance gives you a reassuring sense of your place in the world. Sure, there are days when you have to dig deep and call on your mental reserves to find that ambition. Those are the days that make you figure out who you are really meant to be. It’s this commitment that allows you to compete with yourself. Instead of shying away from the challenge and electing to be average, approach your training with the courage to discover your real limits so that you can be your absolute best.
Final Words: By keeping these principles in your back pocket, you’ll have ammunition for days when the going gets tough. Returning to the basics lets you re-ignite your deeper motivation and use consistency as the magic bullet that it is to help you take your results to the next level.