Here are my top 7 tips to get more out of your workouts, based on my 12 years’ experience as a personal trainer in London:
Focus 100% on your workout, and don’t let anything distract you. If you spend the bulk of your time chatting to fellow gym members, checking your mobile phone, and daydreaming between sets, you’re short-changing yourself.
If you break the flow of your workout, you lose the intensity, and intensity is what forces your body to grow and get stronger.
2. Have a plan
Don’t enter the gym without knowing what you’re going to train that day. Know in advance whether it’s going to be a high intensity interval training session, a cardio session, a chest & shoulder weights session. The more mentally prepared you are, the less you will dither during the hour. Have a plan and execute it with purpose.
3. Have a back-up plan
Sometimes I go to the gym intending to train chest using the benches and dumbbells, only to find (particularly in January) that the benches are fully used, with other people waiting their turn.
In this situation, you need a back-up plan for what you’re going to train instead. Perhaps you can train chest with machines rather than dumbbells, and throw in some pushups between machine sets. Or if you’re not keen on resistance machines, have a plan to train back instead, as long as you didn’t train back in your last workout.
4. Perform every rep with good technique
If you’re lifting weights, get the most out of every rep by performing it slowly and smoothly. Quality over quantity is the key. Pause briefly at maximum contraction to get the muscles really working, and don’t pause too long between reps.
Check your technique in the mirror for instant feedback, or get a personal trainer to teach you the best way to perform each exercise. I had a personal trainer in a gym in north London who was always demonstrating the correct technique for each exercise, then fine-tuning my technique.
5. Ask for help and advice
Make good use of the fitness instructors and personal trainers, ask their opinion on exercise technique, get them to demonstrate an exercise, ask for suggestions on new exercises to keep your workouts fresh and challenging.
6. Cool-down and stretch thoroughly
Don’t workout at full intensity then suddenly stop and head straight for the locker room. At the end of your workout, cool-down to stop blood pooling in the areas worked, and to get lactic acid dispersed.
Then stretch to improve your flexibility and return your muscles to optimum length to counter the muscle-contracting effect of your workout. If you never stretch, your muscle will get tighter and tighter, increasing your risk of injury, and reducing your range of movement.
Most people don’t stretch for long enough, or don’t know how to stretch. Sometimes you can get a better stretch with the assistance of a personal trainer, particularly for hamstrings.
7. Make a note of your workouts
Keep a training diary to record your progress. This will remind you to cover all body parts and aspects of fitness (cardio, muscular endurance, major muscle-group strength such as back or chest or legs, core strength) over a series of workouts, and ensure you’re progressing steadily rather than doing exactly the same thing every time.
Look back over your training diary before each workout. This will help you plan your next session. If you have a personal trainer, make sure they keep a note of each session.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and author of the Fitness4London.com blog.