Tips & Tricks on How to Get the Most Out of Your Workouts

Have you ever wished to intensify your workouts? No, not necessarily by running more miles or squatting more; rather, by incorporating shrewd, practical workout advice to maximize the benefits of the exercises or routines you already practice. These actually don’t have to be significant changes: You can maximize the benefits of each perspiration session by making even minor adjustments to your exercise routine. These exercise suggestions can help you go to the gym prepared to crush your goals and make the most of your time there, whether your goal is to increase your muscle mass, increase your cardio fitness, increase your endurance, or simply move more easily and comfortably throughout your daily life.

SELF consulted five elite trainers for tips on getting consistently great workouts. These workout tips can truly help you up your fitness game. They range from simple mental tricks like hyping yourself with positive self-talk to physical actions like tapping your muscles for better activation.

1. Stop for a second and just relax.
Getting in the correct frame of mind is the first step to a great workout. Really! You might not be giving it your all if you’re thinking about your to-do list or the turmoil on last night’s Bachelor. “Before a workout, I focus on my breathing to reduce any stress from work or my commute that may be sitting with me, giving me negative feelings before hitting the gym,” Equinox trainer and martial artist Phoenix Carnevale tells SELF. You can even use a breathing exercise video on your phone to quickly return your attention to the present.

2. Boost your own ego.
Remind yourself that you can handle this when you’re feeling concentrated. To stop myself from giving up or being excessively critical, I start with positive self-talk, says Carnevale. “I remind myself that the time is now.” According to Angela Mader, trainer and founder of Fitlosophy, you can also set aside some time before your workout to reflect or write in a journal about something you admire about your body and what it is capable of. Maybe it’s because you have powerful legs that can squat with excellent form, or maybe it’s because your core has developed to the point where you can perform a push-up with your knees raised. This way of thinking will get your workout off to a grateful, upbeat start, whether you write it down on paper, type it in the Notes app on your phone, or just repeat it to yourself a few times as a motto. Additionally, keeping a positive outlook during exercise may truly improve performance: Positive self-talk has been linked to increased athletic performance, according to some studies.

3. Play upbeat music.
It’s not necessary to only use positive self-talk to set yourself up for success. Amelia DiDomenico, CPT, owner of Amrose Fitness, tells SELF, “It always comes down to sound for me. Repeating her favorite songs a few times during her training session is one of her best workout recommendations. Making a playlist of your favorite songs will not only make you feel good, but it may also help you work out more effectively. Various small research efforts have found positive associations here, such as a 2020 Perceptual and Motor Skills study, which concluded that people who listened to “preferred music” (music they liked) during their warm-up had improved exercise performance compared with listening to no music—but listening to nonpreferred music (music they didn’t like) did not boost performance.

4. Take away all obstacles.
Putting your phone on airplane mode will prevent you from interrupting your exercise, advises Carnevale. “It can be very tempting to respond to messages and emails or check social media, but it takes up a lot of time and makes people lose focus,” she says. Being egotistical Focus on yourself during your exercise because that’s when it’s okay to be self-absorbed. Taking occasional phone breaks will undermine your goal, which is the opposite of what you want, especially if you are trying to improve something like your stamina. (Of course, in order to do this effectively, you might need to do some preparation work, like downloading any “best workout music of all time” playlists beforehand to your phone.)

5. Create a detailed strategy.
Jared Kaplan, the founder of Studio 26, tells SELF that having a clear strategy is your secret weapon and that knowing what you’re doing and why is half the battle. You’ll feel more prepared for your exercise and on track if you arrive at the gym with a plan of attack because aimless wandering is time-wasting. For starters, take a look at this balanced and successful weekly exercise schedule.

Carnevale also advises being familiar with the architecture of the gym so you don’t waste time looking for, say, kettlebells when it’s time to perform some swings. (Scrambling to find a piece of equipment mid-program is a surefire way to lose your workout’s momentum.) It’s a smart idea to allot extra time before your exercise to familiarize yourself with the facility and make sure all of your equipment is available if you’re just joining a new gym or attempting a new workout.

6. Be adaptable.
Although someone is currently using the bench and doesn’t appear to be finished anytime soon, your software indicates that it is time for bench rows. Move on to the next exercise and return later rather than hanging around for it to free up. The same holds true for any cardio apparatus you use. “Stair climbers all occupied? Find a set of steps or use an incline on the treadmill, advises Mader. Yes, having a plan is a good idea, but you should also be adaptable because you don’t want to lose the positive momentum you’ve gained in the middle of your exercise!

7. Foam roll before you begin your exercise.
“Knots” in the muscles that can limit movement can be broken up by foam rolling,” says DiDomenico. Because you’re “releasing” stiffness and knots in your fascia, or connective tissue, this is also referred to as self-myofascial release. According to a 2018 Sports Medicine – Open study, which SELF previously covered, foam rolling before a workout reduced the amount of effort required for a muscle to exert a given level of force during the exercise.
Foam rolling is highly recommended by experts for increasing mobility, and the more mobile you are, the more enjoyable your exercise will be. (and the better your results will be too). You’ll be able to go deeper into activities like squats and lunges if your mobility has improved. In order to make the progress you’re working toward, you can ensure that you’re using the correct form and that the right muscle fibers are firing by going deeper.

One warning: Since foam rolling causes your muscles to relax, it’s crucial to re-engage them before starting your exercise. As a result, Alicia Jamison, a personal trainer at Bodyspace Fitness in New York City who is NASM-certified, advises reactivating the muscles you intend to use in your exercise after foam rolling. Simple bodyweight exercises or light resistance band activities can be used for this. According to Jamison, resistance bands are a good option for this type of warm-up because the tension in the band helps progressively activate your muscles as opposed to moves performed without a resistance band, which may be more shocking to your body.

8. Activate your muscles by tapping them.
Make sure the muscles you’re targeting are completely engaged for the best workout. What’s a simple method to accomplish that? Touch them. According to Jamison, receiving this kind of outside input aids in the localization of your nervous system. Therefore, spending a few seconds to lightly tap the muscle group with your fingertips can help you achieve your goals, whether you want your biceps to contract for a curl or your glutes to fire up during a deadlift. According to Jamison, you can do this before beginning an exercise or after performing a few repetitions.

9. Verify that you are not overly famished.
It’s not a good plan to show up to the gym ravenous. As previously reported by SELF, not eating enough before an exercise can have a negative impact on your performance and generally make the workout unpleasant. And according to the Mayo Clinic, low blood sugar from skipping meals too often can result in a variety of problems that can interfere with your exercise, such as changing your natural heartbeat rhythm and making you irritable (hangry, anyone?).

So it’s crucial to eat well before exercising if you want to get the most out of it. While the specifics of what and when you should eat depend largely on your personal circumstances, the following general advice can assist you in choosing the right pre-workout foods and eating routine for your particular needs.

10. Maintain simplicity.
You can get a great workout without performing a ton of various exercises. Jamison claims that it’s frequently preferable to make things straightforward. Limiting the amount of equipment you use (think two types of equipment, or even fewer!) and the number of moves in your workout (try about three to five exercises as a main set repeated two to three times, plus a warm-up), you won’t waste time moving around the gym or setting up loads of new equipment between circuits. As a result, you might spend less time resting, which Jamison says is “generally a good thing,” particularly if you want to gain strength or stamina.

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