One Of Those Days

Ever had one of those days where you just couldn't get into the flow of your workout? Or worse yet, you don't even make it to the gym? It's happened to all of us before. The mind is willing, but the body just isn't ready (or vice versa).

The truth is, you can influence how you perform in the gym several days before you ever work out! I'm going to cover the things you can do from a few days before, up to the things you should be doing during your workout to maximize your performance each and every time you hit the iron.

Before we go on, let's take a survey here: How many of you have skipped workouts in the past year? The past month? The past week? If it's more recent, what was the exact cause for missing your workout?

Sure, there are legitimate reasons for missing workouts (illness, emergency, family obligations), but I'm talking about either just being too lazy to workout or not being motivated to work out. (And yes, there's a difference!)

My goal with this article is twofold:

What I'm going to do is outline what I do to maximize my performance in each and every workout. I've also used this scheme with many clients and athletes with excellent results. Simply put, more productive workouts lead to more muscle, less fat, better performance, and overall improvements in your strength and physique.

Let's jump into this and see what you can use to have better workouts more consistently!

Key #1: Visualization

I'm sure some of you are going to flip out and say that this is hocus-pocus. But I'll also guarantee that a large percentage of successful lifters and athletes use some sort of visualization technique.

I remember in my younger years reading an article about Robby Robinson and his deadlift workouts. Robbie talked about getting prepped for this workout a day or two in advance. He'd go through the lifts in his head, think about what weights he wanted to use, and imagine himself grinding out flawless reps that would give him the physique he wanted.

Robby Robinson

I also remember reading about how Clyde "The Glide" Drexler would use visualization before every basketball game. He'd visualize the moves he wanted to make, how the game would come to him, and most importantly, him succeeding!

Clyde Drexler

I firmly believe that visualization is a powerful tool that'll help you improve your performance. There are tons of articles out there on visualization, but one of the most important things you need to do is make it as realistic as possible. Imagine the scene in the gym, what it's going to smell like, the music pumping in your ears. Feel the knurling on the bar and imagine how light it feels when you get as tight as possible. It sounds silly, but this kind of visualization can definitely improve your training!

Next, make sure that you envision yourself succeeding. I've mentioned that point twice now and for a reason. Many people are so caught up on certain numbers or goals that they're actually beaten before they enter the gym! They simply can't imagine themselves being that strong or having the body they really want. You must do everything possible to eradicate this negative self-image and re-write it with a new, more positive one.

For big workouts, I'll typically start thinking about it the night or two before going to bed and again upon waking the day of the workout. For powerlifting meets, it's basically all I think about for the entire week. Just remember, you're not stressing over it, just constantly envisioning a successful performance.

Key #2: Review Your Goals

Whenever I need an extra boost of motivation, all I need to do is check out my current goals and I'm ready to rock. Am I stronger than the average member of society? Sure. Am I as strong as I want to be? Hell no. Have I achieved all my lifting-related goals? Not even close. But I'm on my way.

You do have goals, right? If not, that alone could be the reason you haven't been having great workouts, or simply skipping sessions altogether. If we don't have goals then what are we training for? Just to "be healthy?" If that's the case, you wouldn't be reading this article.

If you don't have goals, take the time right now to write some up. I want you to write at least three goals, all of which are:

Then, get your action plan together.

The Action Plan

Now, here's where most people go wrong: they stop after setting a goal. A goal is great, but it doesn't give you the road between here (where you are now) and there (where you want to be). This is why you need an action plan!

Basically, an action plan describes exactly what you need to do to achieve your goals. Here's an example of a strength goal and action plan:

Goal: Squat 500 pounds by December 31, 2006 (currently squatting 450).

Action Plan: Increase leg strength via more glute-hams, lunges, Bulgarian squats, and step-ups. Strengthen core with more heavy ab work (windmills, weighted pillars, heavy side-bends, weighted crunches, etc.). Perform a leg-strengthening ME exercise two times a month. Perform speed squats at least three times a month to focus on improving speed and technique.

Now let's look at a physique-related goal and action plan:

Goal: Decrease body fat by 3% by December 31, 2006.

Action Plan: Eat meals/snacks every 2-3 hours (set watch if necessary). Eat some protein with every feeding and perform cardio at least three times a week. Measure with calipers every two weeks to determine progress and reassess how things are going.

These are somewhat general examples, but they should give you an idea of how to not only set goals, but how to setout a plan to achieve your goals time and again. Having a solid program that's geared toward your goals will give you the confidence to train your hardest and know that the results will come.

Key #3: Stimulants

Stimulants are good, especially if you want to have a great workout. I don't subscribe to using them year-round or for every training session, but for big workouts where you want a kick-in-the-pants, they can be invaluable.

What kind of stimulant should you use? That's really up to you. For the past year I've been using Dr. John Berardi's recommendation of green tea pre-workout. It's got just enough caffeine to dial me in without making me over-anxious. I also love the health benefits associated with it, so I'm always trying to figure out ways to get more green tea into my diet.

What I'll do upon waking is eat breakfast and brew a nice hot cup of green tea. After breakfast and while drinking the tea, I'll listen to some key music (discussed below) and visualize the performance of my session. Basically, I just want 10-15 minutes to get myself dialed in and ready to train.

Finally, I firmly believe that the heat from the green tea helps promote an increase in core temperature and reduces time needed to warm-up.

However, if it's a really big session or competition, I want that edge over everyone else. In this case I'll go with some sort of very potent coffee (such as espresso) or Spike.

Key #4: Warm-Up!

So now we've visualized our workout, reviewed our action plan and goals, and infused some stimulants into our system. Now it's time to get going. Even if you're feeling lazy and don't want to workout, try this:

Go to the gym and tell yourself, "I'm just going to warm-up. If I don't feel better and ready to train after I warm-up, I'll go home for the day."

I've used this trick with myself and with my athletes, and I'd say it has a 99% success rate. Really! You get moving, the stimulants start to kick in, the endorphins start flowing, and all of a sudden the last thing you want to do is go home and sit on your ass. It's a beautiful thing.

Now, let's get to the most efficient/effective ways to warm-up!

Passive Means

First off, if it's cold out, you better bundle up and get some freaking clothes on. If not, you're either going to have a terrible session because you never feel "warmed-up" or you're going to injure yourself.

One of my favorite means of passively warming-up is heat liniment. All you do is buy the hottest stuff you can stand, rub it on your joints/muscles, and wait for it to do the trick. In just five minutes it's going to feel like you've been teleported to balmy Las Vegas in the dead of summer.

Another great option here is compressive garments such as knee sleeves, biking shorts (under your real shorts please!) or elbow sleeves. These items are great for keeping tissue temperature up around your joints, especially if you're taking long periods of rest between sets. I've been wearing the Rehband knee sleeves for two years now and I'll never squat again without them. They really are that good.

If you have a short drive to the gym or are in a hurry to get started, you can even apply the liniment and/or compressive garments while at home to save time. Trust me, by the time you hit the gym, your body will be steaming hot!

Active Means – General Warm-up

There's been a lot of discussion about warming-up lately, and rightfully so. Not only is it an underappreciated topic, it's also a misunderstood topic.

I know that some are from the camp of "If a bear attacks you in the woods, you don't have time to warm-up!" Well, I tell you what, if I meet a bear in the woods I'm not going to squat, bench, or deadlift him, and if I pull a hamstring running from him I'm not going to care; I'm still going to run. After all, in an ideal world, wouldn't we be warmed-up before running into old Smoky?

Seriously, warming-up is important. If you value the long-term health of your muscles, joints, and body in general, I hope you're warming up before you put a couple hundred pounds on your back and squat it below parallel. The only real question is, what's the best way to warm-up?

Scientific research leads us to believe that a dynamic, movement-oriented warm-up going through full ranges of motion is the best option available. Eric Cressey and I outline over thirty exercises in our Magnificent Mobility DVD. It's the only resource you'll need on the topic.

Active Means – Specific Warm-up

Here are some general rules I like to adhere to:

Use the general and passive means to improve core temperature. This shouldn't be done using your core lifts!

Perform some light and gradual warm-ups with whatever your "core" exercise is for the day (squat, bench, deadlift, chin-up, etc.).

Perform enough repetitions to groove the technique and performance of the lift, without tiring yourself out.

This isn't rocket science, but I often see people who do endless warm-ups with weights too close to their work sets. By the time they're actually ready to perform said work sets, they're toast!

When in doubt, think of it like this: The passive means and general warm-up are what physically increase core temperature and "warm you up," while the specific warm-up is more for grooving technique and getting you mentally ready to move some heavy iron. Hopefully this clears things up a bit.

Key #5: Music

Music is one of the most potent motivators you have in your arsenal. For those of you training in a commercial facility, I have one word for you: iPod.

Up until this point in my life, I've never had to train in a true "commercial" facility. While a small part of me dies each time I train there, I've learned to survive by scowling at all the people who look my way and turning my iPod up to ear-drum shattering levels.

Now, while I'm admittedly not as hardcore as some of you out there, I still appreciate the training effects of solid heavy metal music. If you're looking for decent training music, here's just a small sample of groups that can help you out:

Again, this is just what works for me, but I know that these musicians alone have gotten me through a large number of my training sessions in the past few years. Good music equals good workouts.

Key #6: Make It Routine!

This could be the most important bit of advice. The more I read about great athletes, the more I understand about how much they revel in developing and following a routine. You'd be wise to do the same.

No matter what keys you choose to apply from above, if you make them into your own individual routine, your body will know exactly when to perform each and every time you ask it to. Simply put, you should strive to make your pre and peri-workout ritual the same each and every time you train. Consistency in your routine pre-workout will lead to consistent performance during your workout.

Summary

Hopefully I've outlined a few things that you can put into your training toolbox to get more out of your workouts. It's nothing groundbreaking, just solid advice that can help you achieve your training goals, whatever they may be.

If you take nothing else from this article, know these two simple facts:

Now get your ass to the gym and have a great workout!