Workout and Exercise Tips

In a different life, I was a personal trainer by profession and spent nearly all of my free time in the gym, either working, working out or hanging out. That was a while ago but I'm fairly confident that the human body hasn't evolved too far in the interim. I commented in a thread on MeCha to a member who had begun to work out again and I offered some tips.

Rather than just send them to him, I thought I'd make them into a post for wider use.

So here are a few things I learned in my years a the gym. Nothing earth-shattering but a few ways to make better use of your time pushing iron around.

I'll list them out first and then expand on them below.
1. Watch your form.
2. Use your muscles, not momentum.
3. Use a spotter.
4. Keep your thumb with your fingers when doing cable tricep pressdowns.
5. Use pyramid counts for a psychological boost.
6. Watch your lockouts.
7. Warm up properly.
8. Mix it up.
9. Hydrate.
10. Concentrate.

1. Watch your form, good form is more effective and less dangerous to your joints. I've watched people throwing their bodies all out of whack to curl weights and then letting the bar flop back down putting incredible strain on their shoulders, elbows and wrists. Form is important. If you find yourself using momentum to get the weight up, drop the amount of weight you are using down.

2. Don't use momentum to move the weight and don't gravity yank the weights back down. The negative part of the exercise is almost as important as the positive, the negative refers to when you have the weight lifted up or curled up and are lowering it back down for the next rep. Negatives are also a great way to work through sticking points. Use a spotter or two and have them pull the weight up so you can lower it back down as slowly as possible.

3. Use a spotter when you start to get close to your limits or you are getting tired. One really bad bench press can tear your pectoral muscles or even kill you (highly unlikely but it sucks to have to weasel out from under a bench press bar when you gas out).

4. When doing cable tricep pressdowns, put your thumbs on the other side of the bar with all your fingers. It concentrates the effort more fully into your triceps and the movement is that much more effective.

5. If you find yourself dogging and need a psychological boost, do pyramid counts. That is, count to halfway in your set and then count backwards through the second half of the set. It seems simple but it can give you an extra burst of power and energy to get through the workout. I had one member tell me this was the single most useful bit of exercise advice he'd ever gotten.

6. Watch your lockouts. Adjust the machines so that you are not fully extending your arms or legs and then resettling weight in on them with your joints "exposed" is a great way to really mess them up. I used to see this most often on the leg press where guys would press all the way out to lockout and then the sled would drop down an inch or two and compress the guy's knees. Bad, bad, bad. Be careful of your joints, they don't heal like your muscles do.

7. Warm up properly. Cold muscles can snap if you put too much strain on them too quickly. I don't necessarily think that's a ten minute bike ride or even a five minute. My feeling is that some low impact cardio for even a few minutes is far better than none at all. I don't really subscribe to long cool downs but I do like doing cardio after lifting because it saves more energy for the heavy part.

8. Mix it up. Your body gets used to things quickly. Invert your workout from time to time, add in some alternate exercises, break things up by doing an especially hard kind of set called a 21, that's 7 reps of the first half of the exercise movement, 7 of the second half of the movement and then 7 more of the entire movement. If you are not fired up by the end of this then you aren't using enough weight but do start with maybe 70 percent of your normal workout weight since these are so tough.

9. Hydrate. Make sure you drink water before, during and after your workout, especially if you are working out for more than an hour at a time. Without enough water, your body can't properly lube itself for maximum function.

10. Concentrate. Yes, the cute girl on the stairmaster is mesmerizing with her butt going up and down and around and around. But is it worth the ogling to tear your bicep? I didn't think so. Also, don't try to pick up people at the gym, its really, really skeevy and uncool. Unless you ARE the cute girl on the treadmill and then its totally cool.

There are plenty more things to consider when you workout. I listen to music on headphones because it keeps me focused and doesn't encourage others to interupt me. I am at the gym to workout not, not talk with other people. Well, when I did go to the gym, I was there to workout. And the music they play on gym sound systems is either incredibly bad or not strong enough to keep me in my zone.

Oh yeah, one last thing, don't neglect body parts you don't like working out. Nothing looks dumber than a guy with a ripping big upper body and bird legs even if you have to laugh to yourself because he could pound the snot out of you. Also, make use of the gym's staff if you're unsure of how to use a machine. And, last tip, I promise, use a towel to wipe up your sweat when you're done on a machine, cold, other people's sweat is absolutely disgusting to sit in or lay on.

If any of this raises questions, you can either email me or leave a comment. Asking questions is also a lot better than mangling your knees or ripping your bicep.

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