Although you will see many “well built” people in a gym, watching them work out and copying what they do is not necessarily the best strategy. To maximize your workout, good form in every exercise is essential. It also keeps you safe from injury, so ask a professional trainer or go online and take a look at some exercise videos that have been posted by professional trainers rather than just emulating some person at the gym.
It is also very important to warm up the correct way. Not by simply doing some cardio at the beginning of your workout, but also doing range of motion exercises that use the muscles that you plan to work out. Things like arm circles, should shrugs and hip rotations or practice squats without any weight help to get your muscles prepared for the work to come. Doing some balance work at the beginning of your workout also gets your brain in gear for the work to come.
It is important to stretch your muscles after they are warmed up, not just to stay limber but also to improve your strength. If you stretch in between sets of exercise, research has shown that strength increases as much as 20 percent. Another way to build strength is to try to train a little faster, which builds up your endurance and forces your muscles to work harder.
Always maintain good form even though you speed it up! Also to build strength, don’t rely on exercise equipment and machines get some free weights into your hands so that you are not limited by the parameters of the machine. If you notice that some of your muscles are tighter than others, those are the ones you really want to spend the time on while stretching.
Your workout should not be an all-day-long affair. If it is over an hour in length, you will start to produce cortisol — the stress hormone which blocks testosterone which helps you build strong muscles. Also, rest only as long as you need to in between sets of exercises. You can save time by not counting the seconds in between sets if you don’t need that long to recover.
Abs are one of the muscle groups that always has a lot of mythology surrounding them. Sit-ups are a very good ab exercise as long as you don’t brace your feet under something to pull up. Planks and bear crawls are also very good. Doing crunchies on a stability ball ups the ante because you must stabilize your core as well as flex it.
If you exhale forcefully at the top of the movement for crunchies, you force your abs to contract harder. It is not a good idea to use a weight belt when lifting weight because as you rely on the belt to stabilize your abs and lower back, you weaken them. To flatten your belly, suck it in using the transverse abdominus — the muscles under the rectus abdominus — simply pull your belly button back towards your backbone.
Do your ab work at the beginning of your workout in order to warm up your lower back and prevent injury. If you do hanging knee raises as part of your ab routine, round your back up rather than just lifting your knees to your chest. Otherwise you are working your hip flexors rather than your abs.
When you squat and deadlift (properly) you work your abs extensively … especially when you don’t wear a lifting belt. For every set of abdominal exercises that you do, also do a set of exercises that focus on the lower back, so that you strengthen all the core muscles. Oh by the way, you can’t lose fat off your belly by just doing ab work … it is not a big calorie burner. Researchers at the University of Virginia found that is takes 250,000 crunchies to burn a pound of fat.
After a good workout, don’t pop an anti-inflammatory because you expect to be sore. Researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences found that such drugs may actually suppress muscle growth after a workout. A better strategy is to stretch, and then feed you muscles with good quality protein.
Animal protein is an excellent way to replenish muscles after a workout, so eat meat, fish or poultry or have a good quality protein shake. Your post workout meal should be consumed directly after your workout for maximum benefit.
If you are just starting out at the gym, the best possible advice that I can give you is to get a trainer who has experience and education to guide you, even if it is just for a few sessions.
Always check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise in order to see if you have some special concerns that you need to tell your trainer about. Exercise when done correctly is far safer than not exercising. The key is to do things correctly, so “when in doubt, leave it out”!
Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (808) 212-1451 and www.janerileyfitness.com