Very few people have all the time in the world to train. Most have an hour or two a few days a week at most, so we want to get as much out of our time as possible. Now, the primary focus for most in the gym should be to get stronger – I’m not saying that’s the only thing you should be concerned with, but by default that’s generally why we’re here and what you should be focused on for reasons beyond the scope of this article. So let’s look at a few common errors when it comes to rationing our time in the gym:
1. The Over-Warm-Up
So if we’re going to use our hour of training wisely, the majority should be focused on heavy effective training, correct? So why do so many people spend 30-40 minutes warming up, doing 15-20 different mobility exercises? I get it if you’re an old beat up veteran lifter. But those people aren’t reading this. The people reading this haven’t developed a laundry list of injuries from squatting tons and tons of weight over the last couple decades, so they don’t need more than 10 minutes of work to get warm and moving properly. Fact is, most of those vet’s will tell you the reason they have to do so much mobility work now, is because they never did any in the first place. Anyone remember the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” Notice the measurement: “An ounce of prevention...” If you do have mobility restrictions you need to work on, work on them at home between sessions, the gym is for getting stronger -that will benefit you the most by default. Doing too much mobility work before a session tends to have a relaxing effect on the body, which is exactly the opposite of what we want before training – we want the body primed. So do enough to get your shit straight, but don’t over-do it. The best way I’ve found is to do a few movement drills similar to the main movement for the day, before you start it (i.e. Light Goblet squats, Split-leg Squats and Band Good Mornings before squatting), and then do a mobility exercise for tight joints and restricted ranges of motion between warm-up sets so you get active feedback. This is definitely a very primitive way of warming up, but not everything needs to be designed by NASA; sometimes a couple rocks and a stick work just fine.
2. Focusing on the Wrong Exercises
In the world of Strength, the Barbell is King. There is no way around this fact. I don’t care how many people you see throwing around Kettlebells, swinging clubs or doing some fancy shit on the rings. Nothing works better than a barbell for developing real strength throughout the entire body. It is incrementally loadable, and can be used to load basic movement archetypes to continually stress the body in a progressive manner to create adaptation. So, that being said, we need to focus on Barbell movements. Simple. So why do people spend most of their time with Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Cables, Machines or “Unconventional” equipment? Well, probably because it looked cool, they’re missing the point, or a combination of the two. Now if you’re not interested in getting strong, and you just want to exercise and have a fun workout when you go into the gym, that’s fine – do whatever you want. But if you want to get stronger and faster, and you want to do it efficiently, you’d better be spending most of your time on big compound barbell movements. They make up the meat, potatoes and veggies of your training. The dumbbell work, cable work, and isolation movements are akin to the sauce and seasonings. Invest your training time wisely and get a better return.
3. Too Many Horses
Everyone wants to be strong as a powerlifter, run a marathon and look like a bodybuilder. I won’t say that’s entirely impossible, because Alex Viada did it, but as a general rule: It’s not going to happen. I’d say he’s probably an exception. So trying to get better in all those areas at once is like trying to ride three horses in different directions. Focus on one for a few months (or years – training is not a sprint), then move to the next, then the next, and then repeat the cycle. But don’t try to cover every wall in your shit at once. Have some intention and attack a specific goal for a specific amount of time and then move on once you’ve achieved it. This will build a rounded athlete over time, and stacking your training in this way can have a synergistic effect if you plan it properly. Being stronger and carrying more muscle mass will help you get leaner faster, being lean will help you increase your conditioning, and increasing your conditioning means you’ll be able to recover from more work in the weight room when you attempt to get bigger and stronger again. Repeat this process for 10-20 years and I’m sure you’ll be happy with where you’re at.
Always remember that time is your most precious commodity as it is the only commodity that you can never replenish, so invest it wisely if you wish to achieve your goals and live a fulfilling life. Critical thinking seems to be out of vogue as of late, so hopefully we can bring it back to light and get people headed in the right direction: Forward.
Grind. Evolve. Thrive.