Here's what you need to know...
- Some people spend so much time doing fancy warm-ups they forget to lift something heavy and break a sweat.
- Start a program and finish it. Stop program hopping.
- The basics are going to get you there the fastest. Squat deep, bench without the butt leaving the bench, and deadlift double bodyweight (at least).
- Don't let your diet undo all the work you put in at the gym. You can't "out-cardio" a crappy diet.
- Take advantage of your rest periods by doing something more productive than texting or finding a new song.
There are plenty of things you can do wrong in your training, but if we could get people to fix these problems, the world would be a stronger, fitter place.
1 – You're Forgetting To Actually Train
A timer goes off the moment you enter the gym. Think of it as one of those countdown clocks on an explosive device in an action movie. Each of us has a different total amount of time programmed in, but regardless it starts when you walk in.
What you do in the first ten minutes of training will tell me just about everything I need to know about what you do right and what you do wrong. I used to tell people to front squat first. This is still good advice, but I was hoping that a hint of urgency would ignite some people to think about the importance of getting into the gym and going to work.
With this new era of corrective work, I see people writhing on the walls with lacrosse balls against their spine, flailing on the floor with foam rollers, and following a packaged program guaranteed to realign their Virgo across Scorpio. Then, twenty minutes of easy treadmilling, some dynamic mobility, and let's finish with some stable stability or whatever.
One hour after entering the gym you can proudly acknowledge that you did practically nothing. And then it's time to go.
In addition to the countdown clock, think of your gym time as a sandbag. As we enter, we cut a small hole in our ability to train and the sand starts pouring out. When empty, we have nothing left. In other words, if we waste all that "sand" doing silly stuff, there's no sand left over for the stuff that actually makes you stronger, fitter, or a better athlete. This isn't saying some of those tools aren't useful, but do you need all of them, at once, before every workout?
Many of us are tricking ourselves into thinking that we're training when really we're just wandering in off the street and wasting time. Stop it.
2 – You Have Workout ADD
The fix for problem #1 is to follow a program. I have one rule regarding programs: I don't care what program you're doing, just finish it. Start it and finish it.
I have a program called Mass Made Simple. Fourteen workouts over six weeks. I ask you to give up two to three hours of your time each week to lift, press, and squat until you can squat bodyweight for fifty reps. Start it, finish it.
Maybe mass isn't your issue right now, but what is? And don't say "fat loss" either, as the bulk of people training (ha, bulk!) will give that answer. The trouble is, even though they're presumably focusing on fat loss, they rarely make any progress.
Why not focus on something else and see if fat loss drops along with improving some other quality? Most programs are about six weeks long, so if it's a disaster, it's only six weeks out of your life. If you've been training for ten years, how many six-week periods are there in your training history? Never mind, I'll answer for you: about 86.
Can you stand to build a better butt from hip thrusts and squatting? Do you need to improve a single weak lift, usually squats or deadlifts? Nearly every day, T Nation provides you with programs. Pick one and follow it.
Show up to the gym with your workout in hand. Have it printed out and folded into your journal. Follow it. Finish it.
3 – You're Not Mastering the Basic Lifts
Strive for mastery while you train. I know you think you're impressing the girls by loading up the leg press and slamming the weights up and down over and over. Want to know what they really think of this? I asked them. They think you're an asshole.
Learn to lift correctly. Master squatting deeply and appropriately. Today, it's easy to find clinics and workshops from the best and brightest on how to live and move better. In a typical city, there are often several competing workshops on any given weekend.
Your job is to squat deep, bench without the butt leaving the bench, and deadlift double bodyweight (at least). The basics are going to get you there the fastest. And, as a reward, you will be bigger, leaner, and stronger.
4 – Your Diet Is "Undoing" Your Training
You can't out-cardio countless grams of crappy carbs. I know that vegetables, fruits, and quality protein are more expensive than wheat and corn products, but cows get fat by grazing on the grain. Don't be a cow.
There are 168 hours in a week. If you train during five of them, that leaves 163 hours to possibly undo anything you achieved in the gym, so how about giving at least a passing nod to eating right? I suggest that learning the basics of cooking – as simple as learning to use a knife, a slow cooker, and a grill, along with some proactive shopping – will do as much for you as the next great "secret" training protocol.
5 – You're Wasting Your Rest Periods
Reconsider your definition of "rest." Personally, I never time rest periods and try to use the time between lifts to do my mobility work, my flexibility work, and my correctives.
The problem with gyms today, among other things, is that there are multiple televisions affixed to the walls. Add to that your magical super phone and the dozens of other things that distract us from training. Listen, when you're in the gym, train.
And please don't make a mix of your favorite songs. Years ago, I was told that the Soviets discovered that "noxious" music actually increased the ability to train. Hey, maybe it was a lie, but I think it's a great idea. If you hate country, listen to country. I hate pop music so hearing it over the speakers in a public facility makes me train harder. Hate and extreme aggravation are great motivators.
So maybe, instead of reshuffling your "intensity mix," lie on the ground and work that stretch you know you need. Or, as the great bodybuilders used to do, superset most of what you're doing so you never truly rest. I'm a big fan still of supersetting for any sports goal. Obviously, you'd avoid doing this with the Olympic and powerlifts, but try these:
- One-arm press with TRX pulls
- Curls (any kind) with triceps extensions (any kind)
- Bench press or push-up with rowing
Also, squats and swings work well together and make a great metabolic conditioning workout. I enjoy doing 10 or 15 swings and then popping the bell up for 5 or so goblet squats. Try this for a total of 100-150 swings while listening to the latest crappy pop song.
- Take the towel off our neck, Rocky.
- There's no reason – ever – for a headband or doo-rag (more like a "don't rag." Oh snap!)
- Wipe off any bench or pad after you use it.
- Put away the weights, even if you didn't leave them lying there.
- Squat in the squat racks. Nothing else.
- Don't scream when doing something that's causing a burn... unless you're literally on fire.
- If you're going to wear a tank top, look more like a tank and less like a tool.
- Be nice to the staff.
- Learn to squat deep. Nothing gives you more gym cred than a deep, appropriate squat.