1. Stop Using Weight Machines!
Weight machines are sexy, sleek, shiny, and smooth. Perhaps that is why gym owners and lazy personal trainers have fallen head over heels in love with them.
Gym owners pack their gyms with these eye catching devices so that they could get more people into their gyms without having a large amount of trainers on staff. Those gym goers who do utilize personal training services often get a highly paid escort who walks them from machine to machine and adjusts the setting for them. Do you know how to spot a good trainer? One who never takes their clients to the weight machines!
Without getting too biological on you, your muscles do not work in isolation – they work in a chain of movement. The most evil of machines, the leg extension machine, is a prime example – it is just not a natural movement. It has absolutely nothing to do with how our legs are used in everyday life – for walking, climbing, and descending.
Don’t get me wrong – machines do have their place in the fitness world. However, they are most beneficial to two populations – bodybuilders who are looking to correct a deficiency or weak point, and physical therapy patients who are trying to rebuild strength and regain range of motion. They are not meant for people looking to lose fat!
People looking to lose fat need to utilize free weights, body weight exercises, and various other equipment like medicine balls, resistance bands, and balance trainers – essentially training movements not specific muscles.
2. Stop Using the Handles on Cardio Machines!
It cracks me up every time I see someone who is using a treadmill and is holding on to the bar in front of them for dear life with a white-knuckled grip. Maybe you’ve seen the people who are draped all over the stairmaster or stepmill with their arms, and their heads facing down while their back is unnaturally curved. There are even those who hold on to the siderails on the stepmills or elliptical machines and push up with their arms (or my all time favorites are the people who contort their arms so that their wrists are facing forward!)
What do these people all have in common? They are wasting their time! Bars are meant for balance only – not as a crutch to use when the going gets tough during exercise. When you walk or run outside, do you have anything to hold on to? Unless you run while pushing a shopping cart (very odd!) or stroller (if you must), let go of the handles. You’ll expend more energy and use more muscle, thus getting a more efficient and effective workout.
I know what you’re thinking – “What about the elliptical machines with the handles that pump back and forth? Don’t I get more of a calorie burn from them?” In short, no. Pumping your arms back and forth without touching the handles will of be far more benefit to burning fat.
3. Never Workout Without Recording Your Results as You Go!
Whether you use a good old fashioned paper and pencil, or a tricked-out PDA, keep track of your workouts EVERY TIME you go to the gym.
Every time in the gym, you should be focused on doing a little bit more than you did the last time – a Kaizen approach to fitness. Let’s say you did 3 sets of 5 chin-ups in your last workout – you should strive for 3 sets of 6 chin-ups next time out. If you fail, that’s ok – the quality of your workouts will be affected by many variables like nutrition, amount of sleep, outside stress, etc. Even if you did one set of 6 chin-ups followed by two more sets of 5, you’ve bested your personal record. And how would you know that? Because you were keeping track!
I have detailed workout journals that span years. Not only do I note the sets, reps, time, etc. but also any other notes that would have come into play (e.g., “gym crowded – forced me to substitute Exercise X for Exercise Y; poor sleep the night before; feeling nauseous). This helps you to put some context around your performance. Your solution does not need to be fancy – a notebook is fine, though there are software packages you can use. No matter what you choose, make sure you utilize it every time you work out!
4. Never Workout Without Music!
Did you ever pay attention to the soundtrack of your favorite TV show or movie? Did you every wonder why certain songs were playing at certain times? Music evokes emotion, and emotion can carry you through even the toughest of workouts. I’ve had workouts totally come apart when the battery died on my iPod Touch!
Several studies have been conducted to show the effect of music on workouts. One study showed that upbeat, hard-driving music can increase your strength and intensity, while another study revealed that music has been shown to increase pain tolerance during a workout.
Putting on a pair of headphones also helps you to block out all of the distractions that loom at the gym (as previously noted). Sometimes, just hearing the opening beat of some of the tunes on my iPod gets me revved up – especially since I workout first thing in the morning (more on this in future issues of the newsletter).
Some of my favorite tunes on my workout list include a variety of genres:
- “Did it On Em”- Niki Minaj
- “ Sky Is The Limit”- Lil Wayne
- “I Told The Storm”- Greg ‘O Quinn & Joyful Noize
- “Through The Wire”- Kanye West
- “Hustle Hard (Remix)”- Ace Hood, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne
Make your own workout mix and get moving!
5. Stop Socializing at the Gym!
Every gym has one – I call him “the Mayor”. He’s the one who knows everyone and feels the need to come over and talk about just about anything. He’ll do his very uninspired set on one of the weight machines, often grunting loudly or distorting his face to get further attention, and when he finishes says “Whew!” loudly to no one in particular. The poor soul who acknowledges him will then be subjected to a 10-minute discussion on the economy, the presidential race, the stock market, or whatever strikes his fancy. He may even horse around with the personal trainers, who are now not watching their clients as they perform their sets.
You should avoid the Mayor at all costs – he will derail your fat loss efforts in an instant! In fact, you should avoid all interaction during your workout, with the exception of asking someone if they are using a particular weight or rack. If you’re following my advice above and working out to music, this is really easy to accomplish – just turn up your tunes and tune out the others.
6. Never Workout Without Consuming Protein Afterwards (and Sometimes Before)
I train first thing in the morning, so sometimes I drink a protein shake prior to heading to the gym, sometimes I don’t. There is a lot of debate over working out in a fasted state that I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that consuming protein before your workout has been shown in research to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat, so it is a good idea to have a protein shake before a workout, especially if you’ll be working out later in the day.
You should always consume protein after a workout, preferably a protein shake made from whey protein isolate. I will go into much greater detail in subsequent newsletters about reliable brands, tasty recipes, etc. How much protein? Take your current body weight and divide by 5.5 – that is how many grams of protein should be in your post-workout shake. What about carbs? The conventional wisdom says that the number of grams of carbs in the post-workout shake should equal the number of grams of protein. BUT…what I have found through my research and practice is that post-workout shakes are more effective for fat loss if they are kept low in carbs. One of the aspects of protein consumption that will be covered later is exactly how many grams should be consumed in a day, and questions about safety concerns from ingesting large amounts of protein.
7. Stop Stretching Before Your Workout
Do you know how many people walk into the gym from the street and immediately start to stretch? Do you know how counter-productive this is?
First, there are two kinds of stretches – static and dynamic. An example of static is when you throw your leg up on a parallel bar or rack and bend at the waist until you feel a slight pull, then hold for a period of time. Static stretching before workouts is a very bad idea. Static stretching forces the muscle to relax, this making it weaker. When a muscle is weaker than its counterpart (for example if your hamstrings on the backs of your leg are weaker than your quadriceps in the front of your leg) it causes an imbalance that could lead to strains, tears and pulls.
Dynamic stretching is the way to go to get loose before your workout. We’ll cover this in greater detail in the future. For now, save your static stretching for any time other than before your workout.