As a group fitness instructor and an avid gym-goer, I’m exposed to exercise enthusiasts daily. If for some reason I’m away from the gym physically, I’m watching people at the gym on Instagram and seeing posts on Facebook, (if you don’t post about it, the workout doesn’t count, right? ;)) And what I witness daily, are highly motivated individuals– people who have more energy and motivation than I may ever possess.
Don’t believe me?
Example a) Girl does four sprints up the 10% incline treadmill, hops off, performs 10 burpees, chugs some water, does 10 more burpees and then does the whole cycle again.
Example b) Guy does 12 deadlifts, drops the bar, hits some jumping jacks, slow jogs over to a kettbell where he does goblet squats and then does five more rounds of all that
Example c) Girl hits the same treadmill for 20 minutes, stair master for 15 minutes, bike for 15 minutes and then sometimes does is all again!
How do I remember these examples so clearly? Well, because not only have I seen them, I’ve been the individual doing these things!
Today I’m here to explain how working out to see actual progress in fat loss, muscle gains, muscle definition (being toned) or increasing aerobic base doesn’t have to be all that intense, and how you can do it differently (more strategically) to get the best results.
In order to best explain how to get the results you seek, I’m going to share the five most common “mistakes” I see people making. Under each mistake I’ll teach you how you can amend the action for better outcomes.
Disclaimer: I put the word “mistakes” in quotes because there’s nothing wrong with any of these things– they’re all hella inspiring, but for the people seeking stregnth gains, there may be simpler way to achieve better results!
Goal: increase strength. Mistake: Not resting long enough between sets
Long ago this was me. I thought the faster I moved combined with the longer I kept my heart rate up at a higher rate, the more calories I burned. WHile this is true, I also believe that the calorie burn alone would contribute to my muscle definition and strength. I wanted to be toned, so therefore I wanted to burn a lot of calories. I thought resting was a waste of my time.
But, what I underestimated, was the power of building strength in a fat loss phase, and how powerful it is to have more metabolically active tissue, (aka muscle), when dieting. Therefore as I learned more about the importance of muscle and how to build it. My goal truly became to get stronger, and watch my caloric intake, instead of eating whatever I wanted and trying to burn it off.
You see, if you want to build strength, you must increase a stressor/stimulus on the body each week. Let’s take the squat for example.
If you did 55 pounds on a barbell in Week 1 of a program, in week 2, you might want to do 55 pounds for 6 reps instead of 5, or go up to 60 pounds for a few (if not all) of your sets.
If Joe Smith does a set of squats, then runs over (literally) to jump right into a set of deadlifts or push-ups, or squat jumps, (any second exercise, if doing a circuit) and then goes right back to the squat, he is holding themselves back from unlocking his true strength.
When your heart rate is up and sky rocketed you are out of breath to push as hard as you are capable of. When you don’t take 2-5 minutes to recover, your muscles themselves will not give you enough of a rest time to perform the same maximal load again. If you cannot perform any of your lifts with an increased stimulus, you will not get stronger.
I used to simply believe that as long as I moved fast I’d become more toned. The truth is, the stronger you are, the more muscle you have, the easier it is to get leaner (lose fat); and once you do, increased strength means you have muscle to show! So take two to five minutes betweenof rest inbetween sets and increase that stimulus!
2. Goal: increase strength. Mistake: not resting between heavy lifting days; or lifting same muscles back-to-back.
Disclaimer: it is totally fine to lift a muscle group twice in one week, depending on your goals. For instance, when focusing on my own glute gains, I may have two lower body days a week. If you want bigger biceps, train them twice in a week with different exercises. The trick is not to do them back-to-back.
You see, adding on to my first point, in order to get stronger, make gains etc, you must stress the muscle in a new way/ with a new stimulus. If you do squats on a Monday, and you go to the gym Tuesday and do more squats, the only major benefit you’re going to get is a cardiovascular one. You see, there’s no way that your glutes are recovered from Monday, (if you effectively introduced a new stressor), and because of that, there’s no way they’ll be able to handle anything heavier or harder (rep-wise) than they did the previous day. Therefore no gains will be made.
Here’s an example of how you could effectively do squats two days in a row:
Monday: Heavy squat day, including some reverse lunges, front squats and back squats.
Tuesday: conditioning day (for aerobic capacity, sweat/stress-relief): jumping jacks, kettlebell swings, air squats or light goblet squats.
Due to scheduling and the craziness of life, I’ve trained this way before many times; it was brutal, but not impossible. And it was done because I wanted to do cardio that wasn’t in the form of running.
If you are someone who just likes to workout for the mental relief, for fun, etc, you can absolutely do squats of any kind two days in a row if you are not too sore, just don’t expect serious gains to be made. You’ll make the best progress when resting in-between heavy lifting days.
Example training program (*note: you can program a trillion different ways, this is just ONE example):
Monday: Deadlift day (lower body training / posterior chain development)
Tuesday: Rest or conditioning/ cardio
Wednesday: Bench press day (upper body training of some sort)
Thursday: rest or conditioning/cardio
Friday: Squat day (second lower body training, more glute emphasis)
Saturday: light upper body work or rest or conditioning with upper body emphasis (think: rowing, cleans, battle ropes)
3. Goal: increase strength. Mistake: Not logging training/Not tracking progress
Crucial training tip: don’t forget to track what you’re doing. Without being mindful of the work you’re putting in, or following some type of a schedule, it’s hard to know if you had a “good” or “bad” workout.
For instance, once upon a time I was at the gym and feeling super sluggish and out of it. Somehow, I pushed through the workout, and managed to do overhead presses with more weight than I’d ever used. Because I felt lethargic I wasn’t sneaking in sets of high knees or other exercises that Old Garrett used to do to ensure I got sweaty. Leaving the gym without breaking a sweat, I walked home feeling bad about myself and my poor performance, but woke up super sore the next day.
It wasn’t until the next week (when I felt amazing, zipping all around the gym doing extra cardio between lifts) when my strength coach at the time, stopped me and said, “you aren’t feeling it today, are you?” I looked at him like he was kidding.
“Uh, yeah, I crushed that!” I replied. “I feel great!”
He then sat pre-certified trainer Garrett down, and explained to me that I’d probably only lifted half of the weight that day than the week prior. I had no idea, because I hadn’t been paying g attention to what weights I’d been using. All I cared about was being sweaty.
On my high energy day, he explained that I hadn’t done anything to increase the stimulus on anything but my heart rate. “You probably wont feel sore or anything tomorrow,” he said.
And *note,* being sore is not a caveat for a great workout, but, it can reveal a new stimulus on the muscle if the stimulus is quite large. For new lifters (like I was at the time) it’s more common to be sore more often. Sure enough, I was not sore at all the next day.
My point in telling you the short story is that when you track what you do or follow some type of a program or workout routine (for example, Barry’s arm/abs class Monday, butt/legs Tuesday, back/chest Wednesday), the progress will be easier to quantify. Then you will have a better grounds for judging a workout and a legit reason to feel good or bad about your workout. When you own/quanitfy your training regime you’ll begin to know how to hold yourself accountable each time you set foot in the gym.
Get a journal or phone tracking app and start logging!
4. Goal: increase strength. Mistake: quantifying your workout by how sweaty it makes you
As a reminder, a lot goes into how much we sweat each time we workout. There might be a time when you don’t lift much heavier than you have before, and you sweat profusely. There might be days when you hit a 1 RM (rep maximum) and leave without looking like you even went to the gym!
No matter who much you sweat remember two things:
a) always always hydrate! Drink water before, during and after you lift. The muscles need water!
b) Only rate your workout as “good” or “bad” or optimal, etc based on what you track, if you are working towards a specific goal and logging your training.
5. Goal: Wanting to look more toned/defined. Mistake: Doing cardio every day.
Dont get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about cardio. It can help you create a larger calorie deficit, it can provide stress relief. It can boost your mood and be fun, if you love it! However, if you want to get leaner, you will get there more quickly by working on your nutrition first.
If you can wrap your arms around how much you are eating, you will lose fat is you are in a calorie deficit. Losing fat will reveal muscle definition. The more muscle you have, the more defined your body will be, as you get leaner.
When you lift, you are taxing the muscle so that it needs time to recover and carbs and protein to rebuild. Lifting weights will turn your body into a machine that uses the food you feed it to develop the muscle. If you are effectively in a calorie deficit, (meaning your calories are controlled so you consume less than you need to stay the same weight) during the process by which the body rebuilds and repairs muscle and you get stronger from lifting, you will also be losing fat. Losing fat will get you looking and feeling leaner.
If you hold off on cardio, and begin by focusing on lifting, you can add cardio in later, when you don’t want to decrease calories any further. Doing 15-30 minutes a few times a week can keep you in a calorie deficit if in the event that your body adapts to it’s current calorie deficit.
The other option is to do a mixture of both cardio and lifting. Make sure not to go overboard with too much exercise (refer to no. 2 above), you will see best results with a lifting routine, light cardio, plus rest; this helps manage appetite. You see, doing a lot of cardio on to of heavy lifting can make staying accountable to a calorie deficit very tough, unsustainable and exhausting.
To get the lean muscle you crave, lift heavy 2-4 times a week and watch calories first. Add cardio in later, unless you ar feeling it and in that case do it for FUN! (not as an excise to eat more!) 😉
If you have any questions at all, please reach out!! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and as always,