You’ve been training for years. Items which were once scribbled upon “to do lists” on your wall have become ingrained into your memory. What used to be an arduous daily routine of cooking, training, and resting has become part of your daily lifestyle, and part of who you are. These are no longer chores, or tasks; rather, they are the things that make you into ‘you’.
You wake up daily, eat a mean breakfast packed with slow-burning carbs and protein for your day. You hit the gym, knock back a few shakes, enjoy a few more solid meals, dense in the nutrients your body needs to grow. You stay hydrated, eat enough fiber, avoid stress, and enjoy plenty of sleep each night, since as we all know, that is when you grow! You have it down to a science – tried and true habit which makes you what you are.
Take a step back. What you’re doing now is good – but not great. Along the way, the habits you have developed have often been out of expediency or efficiency. In the short-term, this may have saved you time and effort. In the long-term, however, cutting these corners may have eliminated some of the original solid fundamentals which helped you to reach this great shape in the first place. You want to build muscle and grow stronger – and you can. It’s time to revisit the basics. Let’s dive in!
Fix that form
We all have our numbers to maintain. At work, it might be sales numbers. At home, it may be making it to pick up the kids from soccer practice on time. In the finance department, it may be paying your mortgage. And in the gym, it’s all about moving more weight for more repetitions, at all costs. Well, there are limits to what the human body can do, and there are going to be times when you’re just not capable of increasing your workload at the moment. At times like these, many lifters will “get creative” with their form, and start using a little “body English” to heave up the weight, using the force of their back and hips to absorb some of the workload that their muscles SHOULD be moving. As a result, they lose strength and muscle gain progress in the name of keeping the numbers rising. Forget about the numbers for a few weeks – stick with perfect form for heavy reps. You may discover new growth and strength gains as a result!
Warm Up… For different reasons
You’ve always been told to warm up your muscles and joints with a few light sets, in order to avoid injuries which could keep you sidelined for an extended period of time. And, if you’re like most gym goers, you have likely, in the name of expediency, learned to cut back on your total number of warmup sets. The reasons may vary – you might just want to jump on that open bench, or you might be short on time. Suddenly, three light sets of bench press becomes one slightly-reduced first set. While you still might have your bases covered (for the most part) in terms of avoiding injury, you might be overlooking an essential reason to warm up. You’ll actually be able to move more weight if you warm up, because more blood (and oxygen) will be in the muscle groups.You’ll be more pumped, with bigger muscles, which are then capable of moving more weight.
Get back to the free weights
Your gym has likely been making the shift that most commercial gyms have, in the past decade. For insurance, cost, and marketability reasons, many gyms have shifted their focus to a format centered around machines, not free weights. It’s easy to sell the latest state-of-the-art chest press or reverse shoulder raise. It’s a little more difficult to be ‘cutting edge’ when it comes to plain ol’ Olympic plates and flat benches. You have to work against the grain and stick with the old-school basics, even if your gym is becoming less accommodating to such demands. Heavy, compound movements with free weights effectively target the major muscle groups of the body and recruit the most muscle fibers, leading to the greatest strength gains. Stick with cleans, presses, deadlifts and squats, and you’ll grow stronger. Even if you’ve shifted away from their use in recent years for whatever reason – it’s time to get back to them!
Put in the extra reps in the kitchen.
It’s time to stop slacking in the kitchen. Sure, you eat *most* of your meals, and you’re good *most* of the time when it comes to nutrition. It’s time to be dedicated to proper nutrition ALL of the time, even when it’s not all that convenient. Spend that extra time cooking up a London broil. Hard-boil and peel those eggs, even if time is short. Throw that rice in the slow cooker, even if you’re running late in the morning. Take the extra time to make sure you’re eating adequate calories. Some long-term lifters will skip the morning shake and choose a coffee instead, in the name of “time management”. Little skips like this will add up, in the long run. Revisit your daily meal plan, looking at it with a critical eye. Throw out your assumptions and return to a time when you hit every meal as if it was your first. The gains you see will prosper as a result!