You’ve probably gotten the memo by now that exercise is good for you. Whether you’ve decided to take advantage of exercise’s benefits might be a different story. Perhaps you’re afraid that you can’t commit enough time to exercise to make it worthwhile. Or it may be that you feel that you can’t afford the cost of gym membership, equipment, or family care while you’re at your workout. If these reasons, or others, are keeping you from taking advantage of the healthful benefits of exercise, keep reading as you’ll find that you may not have to sacrifice as much as you fear.
How about if you’re an exercise fanatic? You’re probably feeling pretty smug right about now. Exercise is so much a part of your daily routine that you become despondent when the gym is closed for holidays or bad weather. If someone or something interferes with your workout schedule, you complain bitterly until you’re able to find a way to sneak out for a quick fix on the treadmill. If the sneaker fits, keep reading anyway, as you’ll more than likely find some of your most cherished exercise traditions are in need of tweaking.
Here, then, are some ways that you need to improve your actual workouts or your workout beliefs:
DAY OF YOUR WORKOUT
Your workout doesn’t start when you walk into the gym—it begins when you wake up in the morning and continues throughout the day. Preparations go beyond just packing your gym bag. They start with eating the right things at the right times to increase your body’s productivity at the gym. In addition to your usual nutritional goals, you should observe these tips to power you through your workout
1. Eat slow-digesting carbs before workouts
Researchers at Loughborough University (U.K.) discovered that when athletes ate slow-digesting carbs such as whole grains for breakfast and lunch, they had lower insulin levels and burned more fat during the day. The athletes also had more endurance and burned more fat during exercise compared to those who ate fast-digesting carbs such as white bread or plain bagels. Be sure that all the meals you eat before your workout, including the one immediately before, include about 40g of slow-digesting carbs such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, fruit, buckwheat (see tip No.4), or whole-wheat bread.
2. Avoid higher-fat meals for up to four hours before workouts
A University of Maryland School of Medicine (Baltimore) study reported that a high-fat meal blunts the ability of nitric oxide (NO) to dilate blood vessels for up to four hours. That means less blood flow to muscles and less of a muscle pump, which is even more costly if you’ve invested in an NO supplement. In the four hours before your workout, avoid eating large amounts of fats, such as the obvious fast-food fare and packaged foods (even if you’re in a mass-gaining phase).
3. Eat a green salad with your last whole-food meal before the gym
The same University of Maryland researchers also discovered that consuming a small green salad with a high-fat meal prevented the adverse effects on blood vessel dilation, likely by enhancing NO. About two hours before you hit the gym, include a green salad with low-fat dressing with your meal
IMMEDIATELY BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT
Whether you train before work or in the evening after work, there are certain things you can and should do to gear up for the battle ahead. Again, nutrition plays a part, but your supplements are what will put you over the top. Taking the right supps during this crucial window helps get your body in a position to grow from today’s session.
4. Eat buckwheat as part of your pre-workout carb intake
Buckwheat, found in buckwheat pancakes and soba noodles, is a fruit seed that’s often used as a substitute for grains. It digests slowly, which helps increase endurance and fat-burning. Buckwheat also contains a flavonoid called chiroinositol, which mimics insulin. A cup of cooked soba noodles before workouts can help get more pre-workout creatine (see tip No.5) into your muscle cells without blunting fat loss, which can occur from high insulin spikes.
5. Take 20g of whey protein and 3-5g of a creatine supplement
Researchers from Victoria University (Australia) reported that subjects who consumed a protein and creatine supplement immediately before and after workouts over a 10-week period increased muscle mass by 87%, bench press strength by 36%, squat strength by 27%, and deadlift strength by 25%, and decreased bodyfat by 3%, more than a group taking the supplement before breakfast and before bed.
6. Take 200-400mg of caffeine 1-2 hours before your workout
Research shows that caffeine taken pre-workout increases fat-burning and endurance and blunts muscle pain during training, which means you can do more reps. A more recent study, from the University of Nebraska (Lincoln), indicates that subjects who took a caffeine supplement before their workouts immediately increased their one-rep max (1RM) on the bench press by about 5 pounds. Studies show caffeine supplements work better than caffeine from coffee.
7. Take 3-5g of arginine 30-45 minutes before workouts
One study reported in the journal Nutrition that trained subjects who took arginine supplements for eight weeks increased their 1RMs for the bench press by almost 20 pounds more than those who took a placebo.
8. Add 2 teaspoons of cocoa extract to your preworkout protein shake
University of California, Davis, scientists discovered that a flavonol called epicathechin in cocoa boosts NO levels and blood vessel dilation. If you’ve taken your NO and had a preworkout salad, this will keep NO levels higher longer.
DURING YOUR WORKOUT
You don’t want to be a going-through-the-motions kind of guy in the gym. If you’ve gone through the trouble of suiting up for a workout, you’d best be getting after it hard. These tips are all designed to help you maximize intensity and strength today to help you look better tomorrow.
9. Use forced reps on your last sets
A Finnish study found that when subjects performed a workout with forced reps (a spotter helped them get through their sticking points to get a few more reps), their growth hormone (GH) levels were almost 4,000% higher than without using forced reps. For the last set of each exercise after reaching failure, go for 2-3 extra forced reps, but utilize these sparingly to prevent overtraining.
10. Don’t train to failure on every set
Australian scientists have reported that training with one set to failure increases strength better than taking no sets to failure. However, when subjects did more than one set to failure, strength gains were lowered by almost half compared to the subjects doing just one set to failure.
11. Keep your focus on the muscle you’re training
British researchers discovered that subjects who focused on their biceps while doing biceps curls had significantly more muscle activity than those who thought about other things. More muscle recruitment can result in more muscle growth in the long run. Be sure that for every rep of every set during your workout you’re thinking about the muscle(s) being trained, instead of wondering where that blonde wearing the short shorts went to do her bent-over rows.
12. Vary your rep speed
In another Australian study, subjects performing fast repetitions (one second each on the positive and the negative portions of the rep) gained more strength than subjects using slow reps (three seconds each on the positive and negative) because fast-twitch muscle fibers have the greatest potential for strength increases. But the slow-rep subjects gained more muscle mass than the fast-rep subjects, likely due to the muscular time under tension and increased microtrauma. A good mix of both is the best way to maximize strength and size. Try changing from your regular controlled rep speed to 2-3 weeks of fast reps followed by 2-3 weeks of slow reps.
13. Train with several partners
Research shows that when trained lifters attempt a 1RM in front of a group of people, they’re stronger than when they lift in front of just one.
14. Listen to music
A study done at the Weider Research Group found that when trained bodybuilders performed a shoulder workout while listening to music, they were able to complete an average of 1-2 more reps per set for all sets of all exercises. So for another source of motivation, create a playlist of your favorite songs that jack up your adrenaline and bring it to the gym.
15. Don’t train too heavy for too long
Yes, training with a heavy weight that prevents you from getting more than 4-5 reps is good for strength and overall mass when done in conjunction with lighter training that allows you to get 8-12 reps. Yet too much heavy training may work against muscle growth. Baylor University (Waco, TX) scientists found that when athletes trained using their 6RMs, they had higher levels of active myostatin (a protein that limits muscle growth) than when they did the same workout using their 18RMs. Keep to your heavy rep ranges for no longer than 6-8 weeks, then switch to a lighter-weight, higher-rep scheme to keep your myostatin levels in check.
Ready to hit the gym? With your well-fitting and comfortable sneakers, the iPod turned to moderate volume (and saved for the workout), and a program of varied and enjoyable activities (saving the best for last), you’re ready to “Beast Way To Improve Your Workout”. Before long, your workouts will become an effortless part of your routine and you’ll wonder why you ever needed these rules in the first place!