10 Tips For A Perfect Workout
A flawless body begins with the ultimate workout. These 10 expert tips can help you optimize your training from start to finish.
We don’t want you to misread the word “perfect” in the headline. The way the word is used suggests effort, as in making an effort to perfect each of your workouts. “Not so easy,” you might be thinking, but on the following pages you’ll find 10 expert tips that can instantly improve your training, guaranteed. So start perfecting today!
1. Prime The Pump To Get Pumped
Your most important reps happen 90 minutes before you even enter the gym when you lift your fork to your lips. Proper nutrition and supplementation are paramount to optimal results, so 90 minutes out, take 3 to 5 grams of a nitric oxide (NO) booster supplement to improve nutrient delivery to working muscles. Thirty to 60 minutes before your workout, drink a whey protein shake consisting of 20 grams of protein mixed with water or juice, and eat 20 grams of a slow-digesting carbohydrate such as steel-cut oatmeal to give you the energy needed to sustain your session. You should also take 5 grams of glutamine mixed in water for joint and connective tissue health, and 5 grams of branched-chain amino acids for tissue repair.
Power your workout with a playlist: Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., a world authority on music and exercise, observes that “music is like a legal drug for athletes.” This professor at London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education adds that his 20 years of study show that music “can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent.”
2. Never Skimp On Your Warm-ups
You’re short on time and tempted to jump right into the workout. But cold muscles and joints put you at risk for injury and mean reduced results. “Dynamic stretching prior to a workout increases heat in the muscles,” says Anthony Carey, CEO of Function First, a health club and training studio in San Diego, California. “That decreases stiffness, moves lubricating fluid to the joints and increases the excitability of the nervous system so that muscle contractions become better synchronized.”
Try this dynamic warm-up, designed by Carey, which hits the three areas that are most commonly tight: the hips, back and chest.
- 3-D hip flexor: Stand with left foot on a bench, the other leg straight. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in the groin, then reach both hands overhead. Lower your arms to shoulder level and twist away from your right leg. Return to front, lifting right arm overhead. Lean left. Repeat 5x.
- Thoracic spine rotation: Stand facing a wall, feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hinge forward with a flat back until it’s parallel to the floor. Place your left hand on the wall, shift your weight into your left hip and reach underneath you with your right arm, palm upward. Repeat 10x on each side.
- Dog to cobra: Get into down dog pose (legs straight, hips lifted, head dropped between your arms shoulder width apart). Reach one hand to your opposite foot 10 times, alternating sides. Lower your hips, raise your head and lift your chest into cobra. Hold and breathe. Repeat sequence 5 to 10 times.
3. Choose Your Rep Range Wisely
The suggested rep ranges listed in an Oxygen workout aren’t simply standard boilerplate; in fact, the number of reps prescribed is keyed into the overall goal of the program. For instance, building strength is best accomplished with lower rep ranges (three to six per set), while endurance is best achieved with reps in the 12 to 20 range or higher. The sweet spot for a mix of both, along with appreciable muscle development, is right in the middle of those 3. extremes, ranging from six to 12.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
In order to truly maximize results, strive to reach muscle failure in most of your working sets — this means continuing until you can no longer complete a rep using a full range of motion with good form. Regularly reaching muscular failure is the most efficient way to ensure that you’ve switched on the body’s repair and growth mechanisms so it’s able to meet that same challenge next time. The key to failure is weight selection: If your aim is 10 reps, choose a weight that you can only lift nine to 10 times, max — no more.
5. Intensify Your Efforts
Muscle failure might not be as easy to achieve as you’d expect. Implementing a high-intensity technique can help push you past your preconceived limits and incite change and growth. Here are some of the most effective techniques around. They’re intense, so use them sparingly on just a set or two at the end of a workout.
- Drop Set: Rep until failure, then decrease the weight and repeat.
- Superset: Do two exercises for either the same bodypart or opposing muscle groups back-to-back without resting in between.
- Tri-set: Do three exercises for the same bodypart back-to-back without resting in between.
- Giant Set: Do four or more exercises in a row for the same or complementary bodyparts (e.g., upper body, lower body, etc.) without resting in between.
- Partial Reps: When you can’t finish another full rep, continue the set with half and/or one-quarter reps.
- Negatives: Do a slow, controlled eccentric (lowering/extending) contraction of a repetition to work the muscles differently.
Related: Sculpt Your Sexiest Arms With Drop Sets
6. Always Have a Plan B
Unless you train at oddball hours, you’re going to have to navigate around others during your workout. Luckily, your options are only as limited as your imagination. Stay flexible and never get caught up in the waiting game for a machine or bench to open. Go into your workouts with a list of alternatives at the ready for every exercise you do — in fact, make sure you’re doing those alternatives on a regular basis, so all are as familiar to you as your tried-and-true faves.
7. Hydrate Generously
Your body requires water to transport nutrients, eliminate waste, regulate body temperature, maintain blood pressure, lubricate joints and tissues, and aid digestion. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should drink 16 to 20 ounces of water (or an electrolyte-enriched beverage) at least four hours before exercising, 8 to 12 ounces of H2O 10 to 15 minutes before your workout, and 3 to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during training when exercising for 60 minutes or less.
8. Embrace Positive Thinking
Hard-chargers in the gym (and in life) may have a tendency to use negative self-talk when trying to push through a tough set and often refuse to cut themselves much slack when they fall short of a lofty goal. That’s a mistake, according to our expert.
“A lot of people have a very critical voice, so I always ask athletes what they would say to a teammate in the same situation,” says licensed psychologist Trent Petrie, Ph.D., a professor and director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas (Denton). “Most of the time people come up with very positive things to say — ‘You can do it,’ or ‘We’ll get through this.’” You rarely hear them talk to another person in the menial, pejorative way that we talk to ourselves.”
Take-home message: Be your own best coach, and be mindful of your self-talk throughout a workout. It may sound “new-agey,” but positivity breeds success.
For more on the power of words, check out The Script For Success.
9. Stop, Recharge, Repeat
Weight-training workouts are more sprint than marathon, with short bursts of intense activity followed by periods of rest and recovery. But how much rest is enough? Not as much as you may think. As noted in a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Kennesaw State University (Georgia), no differences in hormonal response were found between subjects who rested 60 seconds or 150 seconds between sets. The key to maintaining momentum: Stop just long enough to catch your breath, then get right back to it.
10. Break It Down Then Build It Up
Correct nutrition postworkout — a combination of protein and carbs — will feed your muscles and restock your energy stores. As soon as possible after your final rep, drink another protein shake with 15 grams of whey and 15 grams of casein proteins mixed with water. The whey courses through your system quickly, getting amino acids to your muscles immediately, while the casein takes a bit longer to assimilate for extended nutritional support.
In addition, have 40 to 60 grams of fast-digesting carbs and take another 5 grams each of BCAAs and glutamine.