By Angie Hurley, CSCS, CAT(C)
Do you always get the most out of your workout?
Stress levels, previous injuries, and lack of consistency/overall fitness can impact our capacity for particular exercises or workouts. Sometimes we need a few reminders to keep us centred on our goals.
Here are 5 tips to get the most out of your workout:
1. Work within your limitations: always adapt and scale movements when possible
If an exercise feels like hard work or causes pain, many of us tend to avoid it. However, oftentimes the key to being able to improve an exercise where you initially experience pain, discomfort, or difficulty is working with a trainer who knows how to adapt and scale that exercise. Just as every movement can be progressed when you are are stronger, they can be scaled to meet your current needs and limitations.
Some ways to scale an exercise include increasing the base of support or decreasing reps, weight, or range of motion, as well as doing isolated exercises for the muscle groups.
To scale a squat, for example, you could try the following:
- Barbell squat – decrease reps
- Goblet squat – decrease weight
- Sumo squat – increase base of support
- Wall sit – decrease range of motion
- Knee flexion/extension – isolation
2. Learn to Breathe!
Breathing techniques vary depending on the type of exercise we are completing. In structural exercises, where we are loading our spine, our breath allows us to brace our core and “fill our barrel” to protect our spine by supporting it with a change in muscle activation and intra-abdominal pressure. This means staying strong and tall in those heavy power lifts. Learning which phase of the movement to inhale or exhale on will help get the most out of each exercise. You want to exhale on the “concentric phase” of the movement, when exerting force, especially through the sticking point where the load is the greatest, and to inhale on the “eccentric phase”, or when unloading / releasing, the movement.
During our stretching and mobility exercises, breathing will increase efficiency and effectiveness. Deep belly (diaphragmatic) or meditative breaths allow you to get more range through increased oxygenated blood flow, decreasing stress, and depressing the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn decreases muscle tone. These breaths also use the biggest respiratory muscles instead of relying on the shallow accessory muscles, putting less strain on the muscles of the neck. Holding your breath while stretching will activate your flight or fight stress response, priming the muscles for reaction not relaxation. For this reason, try holding your stretches for 10-20 deep breaths instead of using a time parameter like 30 seconds.
3. Be mindful of your movement!
Be present. Come to every movement with purpose, focus, and intention. This focus starts once you walk in the door and start your warm up. The warm up is a great time to listen to your body but, if we are not moving mindfully, we can miss what it’s saying. Bring the same focus and intention to each rep, making it the best rep possible.
A huge component of being mindful is to leave your smartphone in the locker, or on the desk for those clients on-call. Did you know that just seeing your smartphone may impact your ability to focus on a task? A 2014 study found that the ‘mere presence’ of a smartphone reduced participants’ ability to perform a cognitively demanding task. Avoid distractions that will cause you to think of the emails, social media notifications, or news headlines instead of factors like the speed of each movement, postural alignment, coaching cues, and getting the next best rep possible.
4. Be prepared!
Preparation means minimizing the variables before the gym to ensure your workout is the best one possible. Think about a specific goal for each workout. Get a great night’s sleep, about 7 to 9 hours for the average adult. Ensure you arrive properly fuelled and hydrated (meal prep can help!) Hydration needs will vary depending on factors like food intake, activity level, and your environmental temperature but, a solid starting point would be to meet the classic recommendation of 8 glasses of water daily. A 2010 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that dehydration by 3% of body weight resulted in significantly less reps performed in a total body workout, higher total perceived exertion for the workout, and a significantly higher recovery heart rate.
5. “Hello, this is your body calling…” Listen to your body!
Know when to slow down, scale back, or rest. Trying to work through a prolonged or reoccurring injury? Be adaptable, because this is your body telling you it disagrees with the set plan. Mix in a rest day, a taper week, or know when to peel things back and focus on the basics. And, make sure to let your trainer know when something doesn’t feel right! Communication is key in any trainer-client relationship. Sometimes, in order to further your gains and avoid injury, you need to go back to foundation exercises such as motor control, balance, stability, and mobility. No matter how hard you work on your “walls”, your “house” will always collapse with a poor foundation.
Kraft et al (2010). Impact of dehydration on a full body resistance exercise protocol. European Journal of Applied Physiology. DOI: 10.1007/s00421-009-1348-3.
National Strength & Conditioning Association. (2016). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th Ed. Human Kinetics: Champaign, Illinois.
Thornton et al (2014). The mere presence of a cell phone may be distracting: implications for attention and task performance. Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000216