How to Workout: 5 Things You’re Not Doing

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Most people don’t know how to workout. It’s quite straight to the point, isn’t it? Sorry for being so direct but it’s true. People don’t understand that working out is actually a skill and getting in shape requires intelligent planning paired with a lot of determination.

Believe it or not, even the “health junkie” at work that goes to the gym several days a week doesn’t know what he’s doing. And that neighbor of yours that’s pretty lean? Chances are she’s not too well versed in training either. Remember, just because someone looks like they workout doesn’t mean that they know how to. In fact, some people look like they workout and haven’t touched a weight since the Clinton administration.  I know, it makes things very confusing. Just understand this: there’s a big difference between knowing how to get in shape and telling someone how you got in shape.

The issue is that most people choose exercise over training. Exercise isn’t simply what you plan on doing that day ; think of it as to something that you feel like doing that way. It’s relatable to sitting around the house and deciding that you want to go catch the latest flick. Exercise is good if you’re looking to break a sweat and release some endorphins. One the other hand, training is where results are found because each workout is a fundamental part of the overall plan. Unlike exercise, you go through steps A,B,C, and so on until you’ve accomplished your goal.

Since most people don’t follow a training plan, here are some simple things that you’re probably not doing in your workouts that can significantly help.

Use strict rest periods- Whether you’re running, cycling, or lifting weights, all of your rest needs to be monitored. While It gives a sense of discipline to your workout, it will also keep you on point and you’d be surprised at how much work you get done. Rest periods also provide a direct stimulus; rest too short and you may fatigue yourself while reading the paper between sets means that you’re not doing enough. A research study in which researchers used different rest periods found that each rest period had a different affect on resting metabolism (1).  You can even use rest periods in between reps for advanced moves like cleans and squats. Basketball players who used short rest periods in between reps maintained adequate power output during the set, which is important in order to get results (2). But the overall take home point is to bring a stop watch to the gym.

Counting tempo- Tempo refers to how fast, or slow, you move the weight. Most people just blast through their reps without any though to tempo, and the usual result is a pretty ugly looking set. Research has shown that using a temp when you lift can cause a favorable hormonal response that results in the muscle building/fat burning process (3). The issue is that when you count tempo, the weight usually has to be lowered. But remember – quality always trumps quantity.

Not lifting heavy enough- Very few people train with heavy enough weights. Now, you don’t need to be able to lift a semi-truck, and you don’t even need to train for strength, but the weight needs to be heavy enough to stimulate your metabolism. I once worked with a client who insisted that she could curl 20 pound dumbbells…..and only lunge with 5 pound dumbbells. Her argument was that her arms were stronger than her entire lower body. A bit more digging surfaced the fact that she thought heavy weights would make her legs blow up.

Compound Movements- Compound movements, like squats, chin ups, deadlifts, and overhead presses are usually neglected in gyms for the comfort of machines and treadmills. But compound movements are the best bang for your buck exercises – they cause the body to release a whole batch of hormones that help burn fat while training plenty of movements at once. If you’re unsure of how to do these movements, hire a professional to show you how – it will take your fitness to a whole new level.

No plan – Charles Poliquin has stated that “if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” This goes to our point of training versus exercise; having a plan gives you a sense of purpose, creates accountability, and actually gets you out of the gym faster. If you’re unsure of how to develop a plan, consult with a professional.

While these tips only touch the tip of the iceberg, utilizing them will shed a whole new light on what you do in the gym.


[toggle title=”References“]

1. Paoli, A., et al. “High Intensity Interval Resistance Training Influences Resting Energy Expenditure and Respiratory Exchange Ratio in Non-Dieting Individuals.” (2012) Journal of Translational Medicine 10:1,237

2. Lawton, T.W., Cronin, JB., Lindsell, R.P. “Effect of Interrepetition Rest Intervals on Weight Training Repetition Power Output.”(2006) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.20., 172-176

3. Headley, S.A., Henry, K., Nindl, B.C. “Effects of Lifting Tempo on One Repetition Protocol Maximum and Hormonal Reponses to a Bench Press Protocol.”(2011) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25.2, 406-413 [/toggle]


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