This article mentions some tips that people can use in the gym to aid in their training. I don't claim to be a personal trainer, nor an expert on exercise and fitness, I only write this as some things I've learned through personal experience. While my main goal is bodybuilding and gaining muscle mass, I believe that a lot of these can also be applied to those who just want to stay lean and look good.
1. Rep to Failure, Always!
This one really kills people's progress. They hear the term "8 to 10 reps", pick up a weight, and stop at rep 10. Huge mistake! You should always rep to failure, no matter if its 10, 13, 20, or 26 reps, always do the most you can do with each set. Case in point; I met a guy in the gym who was doing alternating dumbbell curls and he did an easy 10 reps. I told him the next set he shouldn't stop until he couldn't do anymore. Sure enough on his next set he did 15 reps with the same weight! When somebody tells you to do "8 to 10 reps", what they really mean is "try to pick a weight where you fail between 8 to 10 reps". For example, if you do a set, and don't fail until rep 17, then on your next set go up in weight. If on your next set you fail at 11, then go up again on the following set. If you get only 8 reps on that set, then stick with the same weight on the next set. Seems like common sense, but I can't tell you how many people I meet make this mistake.
Ok, I'll admit to failing this one big time. "But if I do cardio, then I'll lose weight". Yeah, and you'll also be fat and out of shape. I was so focused on my bodyweight, that I never took the time to really focus on how I looked. Cardio to me was taboo, an obstacle that would prevent me from getting bigger. Well at 242lbs and 18%bf and standing only 5'9", size should have been the last thing on my mind, looking good should have been the first. Finally I got the help of a personal trainer to try and point out what I was doing wrong, Cardio was near the top of the list. For the next few months I did between 45 to 60 min of cardio 5 days a week. I did lose size, 20 lbs of it in fact, but you know what, I had so much muscle striation I now looked 20 lbs heavier. Even better, it was 20 lbs of all fat, my lean body mass stayed the same, and I just felt better from being more cardiovascularly fit.
Conversely, I meet guys in the gym who are already lean and are afraid of losing more weight from doing cardio work. If cardio work is causing you to lose muscle mass, then it's probably a result of poor diet and improper nutrition. Cardio and proper dieting shouldn't burn any muscle, only fat and help prevent fat from developing.
Now that I started cardio work, I'll never go back. I just feel it is too important to exclude from my exercise routine, not only to look better, but also to be healthier. Even if it's 3 days a week for only 30 minutes at a time, it's a lot better than nothing.
3. Don't Over train
You want to train to failure, but more importantly you want to train smart. There is a reason why almost all of the top bodybuilders train one muscle group only once a week, and that is to allow enough rest and recuperation of the muscle to occur before you train it hard again. When I was younger, I used to train each body part to failure twice a week. I'd be sore the next time I came into the gym, but I thought this was all part of getting bigger. Instead all I got was tendentious of the joints and plateaued at every exercise. Then finals came and I was forced to cut back on my training. Wouldn't you know it, I made big strength gains. Under training may be a waste of time, but over training will kill your progress. Train smart; if you still feel sore from the last workout you did, take it easy on this one and let your muscles heal. You'll have a killer of a workout next time.
4. Workout Partner, Motivator or Distracter?
Good workout partners are gold. They'll push you when you feel unmotivated, and can help you focus on the task at hand. Bad workout partners are a waste of your time. These are the ones that focus more on socializing and talking, rather than focusing on getting bigger and stronger. Really bad workout partners will cancel on you and encourage you to post-pone your workouts with them. If you got a workout partner, ask yourself if this person is really helping you progress, or acting as hindrance. It always sucks to have to tell someone that you don't want to workout with him or her anymore, especially if you are going to see him or her in the gym almost everyday and they're your friends. But your main goal at the gym should always be improving yourself, even at the expense of possibly hurting someone else's feelings.
5. Use good form
Can this possibly say any more times? Strict good form helps isolate the muscle you are working and puts all the weight you are using into that muscle. Sloppy form involves the use of other muscles to cheat the weight up, the weight you are lifting is then distributed and shared by all the muscles involved and not necessary working the one you are trying to hit to its fullest potential. This is to say not to cheat. I always cheat a little to pull out the last few reps to failure, but from the beginning through the majority through your set, use strict form.
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