With the coming of the new year, I applaud the flood of people in the gym who have goals of better fitness, losing weight, and improving their overall health. People just starting an exercise program who are willing to stick it out, will likely see faster and more obvious results than those of us who are years into our training life. I have been lifting close to 20 years. Adding 20 kg to my squat is going to be a lot harder than adding 20 kg to the max of someone who just started lifting. I am excited for them and hope their commitment to fitness this month will last a lifetime.
While the gym rush has obvious goals, obvious things they want to work on, where does that leave those of us who maintain a high level of fitness year round? Sure we all have performance goals regardless of our fitness level, but what are some ways we can give our training a boost besides just committing to work out more consistently? Here are three ideas to supercharge your performance this year.
#1 Train with Intent
Before beginning a workout, spend 3-5 minutes focusing intently on your goals. Why are you about to do what you are about to do? What are you training for? Maybe a race, maybe a cage fight, maybe selection… Whatever your objective, spend some time visualizing your goal, and processing what steps you need to take to get there. Why am I about to punish myself in the gym? Why am I doing this ridiculously challenging ruck? It is easy to enjoy winning, to enjoy achieving your goals; but being able to enjoy the journey, being able to enjoy the struggle that will ensure your success, is the key. When you have the mindset that allows you to relish the uncomfortable tasks ahead of you, it will be hard to keep you from meeting your goals. Knowing you are about to train harder than the competition, that you are willing to do what most others won’t, that each workout is another step towards certain success, can give you a huge mental edge and make your workouts infinitely more productive.
#2 Focus on Movement
Your body is a highly capable machine. It is designed to function as a unit, performing complex tasks through the synchronized, cooperative movement of hundreds of moving parts. If you are still doing chest and triceps on Monday, back and biceps on Tuesday, and legs and shoulders on Wednesday, you are missing the boat. Very few actions in real life require just your deltoids, just your hamstrings, or my favorite “the inner chest”. Seriously, I get asked by more people how to train their inner chest (where the pectoralis major attaches to the sternum), than how to run a faster 100 meter sprint. Isolation movements don’t really exist. Abducting one arm in a lateral raise doesn’t simply work the deltoid muscle of the working arm. The opposite obliques and transverse abdominus stabilize the core, the suprispinatus initiates the movement while the infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor stabilize the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa. The trapezius engages to elevate the scapula. Even beyond the muscular involvement, the fascia is a web of innervated contractile connective tissue that ties everything together to coordinate the systematic engagement of everything required to make any given movement.
If you are used to a typical bodybuilding style training split, try full body workouts for a few months. View your workout as a series of movements to train rather than individual muscles. Training hip extension is going to translate better to performing like a warrior than strengthening your hamstrings on the leg curl machine. Every week, address these MOVEMENTS at least twice a week:
Hip Dominant – Dead-lift variations, lunges, kettlebell swings
Knee Dominant – Squat variations, step-ups
Rotation/Resisting Rotation – Medicine ball chops, sledge hammer swings, kicks, punches
Horizontal Pull – Row variations, rock climbing
Horizontal Push – Push-up variations, bear crawls, bench press variations
Vertical Pull – Pull-up variations, rope and rock climbing, medicine ball chops and slams
Level Changes – Lunges, dead-lifts, squats, step-ups, burpees
You’ll notice many exercises fit in multiple categories. These exercises most realistically relate to the daily movements of the combat athlete. Use them frequently.
This year, focus on big, compound movements. Dead-lifts, squats, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups are great examples; keep doing these for sure. But, for the sake of doing something new, flip some tires, swing a sledge hammer, push a car, carry heavy things for distance.
#3 Make Recovery a Priority
If you are going to train harder than the competition, you need to spend adequate time on recovery. Too many very fit people train all-out all the time and give little thought to recovery. This works for a while, and better when you are young, but eventually it will catch up with you. It is not the workout that makes you stronger, not the workout that improves your endurance; rather, it is recovering from the workouts that take you a little bit past your abilities that brings you back stronger and better. When you are constantly stressing your body and your mind with rigorous workouts, you need something in your life to balance it out. Sleep is of utmost importance. Good nutrition is necessary. Massage is amazing. Ice baths, self myofascial release (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, etc), stretching, all are great tools that can help counteract the workouts that are breaking you down, and help progressively restore your body to create a new, stronger, faster, more durable you. Need a good place to start? Try foam rolling your legs and hips prior to your training session at least 3 times a week. Chances are, within a week you will feel better and within a month you’ll be breaking lower body strength plateaus. Train smarter and recover harder.
It is possible you are already doing all of these things. If so, keep it up, you are ahead of 90% of the people on the planet. If not, quickly incorporate ANY of these tips you are not currently using, it will have a huge impact on your training and performance. All the best in 2016!
Arlo Gagestein is a gym owner, a NSCA Strength and Conditioning Specialist and author of the books Warrior Core: Core Training Secrets for the Modern Combat Athlete (www.warriorcorebook.com) and Battle Tested: How to Train Like Your Life Depends on It which will be released on Veterans Day 2016.