21 Small Tips That Make A Big Difference In The Gym
1) Be Ultra Careful putting weights back
Once you’ve got a safe, slow routine down, you don’t work out too often and you listen closely to your body – you will not get injured at the gym. I haven’t been injured in over 5 years. However, I’ve had some minor neck and shoulder irritations and they’ve all come from putting weights back without proper form.
I have light scoliosis in my upper back and if I don’t bend properly to pick up a 45 lb. plate and try to turn and walk to the rack I risk kinking my neck. The combination of a rounded spine, jerky movement and turning the body and neck at the same time is no good. With heavier plates you want to pick them up as if you were squatting, keep the spine straight, keep your neck facing forward then turn the whole body towards the rack.
I know worrying about how you rack weights might sound baby-lotion-soft but you only have one body. There’s no sense putting together a safe routine only to f*ck it up racking weights.
2) Go Early
Unless you want to try and get dressed in a clusterf*ck full of sweaty dudes you need to avoid going to the gym at lunch or after work. I try to get there in the early morning, there will still be some early risers but nothing like the lunch rush.
Also when you hit the gym at the right time you’ll have easy access to all the machines and equipment without having to wait for a guy to finish his 9 jerky sets of 55 lbs. on the incline bench press machine. I highly recommend early morning, fasted state, caffeinated workouts – for me that’s when I have the absolute most energy of any point in the day.
3) Use Machines
I’ve switched every compound exercise to machines over the last few years and not only did I keep all my gains but I kept growing. It’s true that machines don’t recruit your stabilizer muscles as effectively as free weights but that’s why I like them, a slight imbalance of your stabilizer muscles on a 250 lb. bench press and you’re injured. With machines it’s so much easier to go slow and stay in control of the movement, this is massive for injury prevention.
4) Consider Dropping Deads And Squats From Your Routine
Squats and deads are excellent exercises for building muscle – no question about that. In fact you’ll see in my minimalist training routine that I recommend both of these exercises for putting on muscle. With that said, I would only recommend them if you’re young, injury free and can push to fatigue with flawless form. Even then I would still rather you do the substitutions below because your body has to last a lifetime and one false move with a 300 lb. barbell on your back and you risk permanent injury.
Besides having the highest injury potential of all exercises, squats and deads also take the heaviest toll on your body. There is a reason you rarely see guys in their 50s under the squat rack. Even a set of perfectly executed deads to fatigues leaves my upper back stiff for the next three days. Being over 30 and with light scoliosis in my upper spine I value injury prevention and reduced muscle stiffness over anything else. Removing these two exercises made my body feel so much looser during the week.
The substitutions I recommend for squats are either the Hammer Strength V Squat machine for or the leg press.For deadlifts I recommend either trap bar deads which take a lot of the load off your lower back or for an even safer method: seated pulldowns and seated rows. My back thickness grew more from seated rows then it ever did with deads.
The good thing is you won’t lose your gains and you’ll still be able to grow without these two exercises. In fact my back thickness blew up once I switched from deadlifting to rows and pull downs and so did my legs after switching to the V Squat Machine. With that said guys, it’s a good idea not to go to crazy on your legs, a ghetto booty and huge thighs isn’t the most aesthetic look on a dude.
5) Avoid Exercises Where You Need A Spotter
If you go with tip # 3 and use machines to replace all major compound exercises then you don’t need to worry about this. But, if you don’t trust me about machines and want to stick with the free weights, you’re still going to want to avoid free weight exercises where you need a spotter. Using exercises where you need a spot means you need to rely on someone else to be at the gym at the same time as you every week – unfortunately though, other people aren’t reliable.
An example of an exercise where you need a spot is almost any major compound lift that involves a barbell. If you’re benching to fatigue (like you should be) that means you won’t be able to rack the bar on your last rep – you don’t want to have that 250 lb. bar sitting on your chest. Just switch to the dumbbell bench press and you’re good to go sans spotter.
6) Skip Workouts When You’re Pre-Injured
Once a quarter I wake up with a kinked neck from accidentally rolling on to my stomach during the night. At that point I know I’m pre-injured, meaning if I push it in the gym I will get injured. If I stretch and rest my neck I know the stiffness will be gone in about four days.
If I go to the gym and start powering out shrugs and neck raises I’ll get injured with 100% certainty. There is no point trying to muscle through a workout only to get injured and be out of the gym for two months while you do physio and lose your gains.
7) Use Lifting Straps
A lot of guys are against lifting straps because they want to develop grip strength and big forearms. Or because they read on bodybuilding.com that you’re weak unless you lift raw, use free weights and do heavy squats. At the end of the day nothing matters but what’s effective and the effect we’re going for is wetting girl’s panties.
My forearms get worked regardless and I don’t give a f*ck about grip strength, I use wrist wraps to make sure my wrists don’t fatigue before my back. If I don’t use wrist wraps on shrugs, pulldowns and rows my back won’t get the full benefit of the exercise.
Wrist wraps are easy to use, cheap and allow the muscle you want to get worked, you’ll notice immediate plateau busting once you pick some up. I use these ones from grizzly fitness.
8) Use Spotify And A 32 GB SD Card For State Pumping Music
I love having all my music on my phone, that way I can access any state pumping song I want. Not only does Spotify allow you to download any song you want to your SD card but every song in the world is available to stream at any given time. For a guy who grew up in the pre-Internet age this blows my mind.
I use different songs for whether I want to go aggressive, happy or trance out. If I’m lifting heavy I’ll usually go for aggressive metal or gangster rap. If I’m lifting for feel and want to trance out then I like trance music. And for cardio I usually want happy pop or classic rock to keep my spirits up.
All you need to set this up is Spotify premium which is about $8 a month and a 32 GB SD card which you can get for about $40. You can get a smaller card if you have less music than I do. The way to set up automatic downloads is go into Your Music > Songs and click available offline. This means every time you save a song it will be downloaded to your phone so you don’t have to deal with extra data charges or streaming lag.
It’s also a good idea to try to pick up a few new power songs for each week, lifting heavy or doing cardio is a lot more fun when you have a great new song to look forward to.
9) Keep Your Phone, Wallet And Keys With You At All Times
Breakins are a constant problem at every major gym that they’ll never tell you about, probably because it’s usually the employees who are stealing from you.
In the past I used to take a nice sauna and shower after the gym until I heard about how many breakins there were. You can leave your jeans and t-shirt in the locker as that’s no big deal but losing your cash, credit cards and having someone access all the personal data on your phone is not an option
10) Wear Cotton
They’re called sweatpants for a reason, you can sweat in them and they don’t stink, try doing heavy cardio in standard gym shorts and they’re going to smell like ass. With sweatpants or cotton shorts you can not wash them for months and they won’t smell.
For the top you can use a t-shirt but armpit sweat stains aren’t a good look, instead wear a cotton tank and you don’t have that problem – plus you can show off which is what you’re working out for anyway.
11) Wear Chucks
Not only will these shoes always be in style but the flat sole is your best move for V Squats, calf raises and the elliptical machine. It makes sure the weight is distributed evenly. Not only that but these shoes will last forever.
12) Keep Your Gym Stuff In Your Gym Bag At All Times
That means your gym shoes, shirt, pants, wrist wraps stay in the gym bag. I’ve gone as far as getting a separate gym bag for my non-gym stuff so that I can leave my gym clothes in my gym bag at all times.
If you have to pack your bag before you leave, twice a month you will forget sh*t and then you’re the guy working out in shorts and dress shoes. Don’t let this happen to you.
13) Lift Slow And Focus On The Muscle
For a lot of my lifting career I was just trying to power through the movement so I could throw a bigger number up on the scoreboard. The problem with explosive movements though is the toll it takes on your joints, not to mention that you’re not isolating the right muscles. Unless you’re a UFC fighter you don’t need to train explosive movements.
Instead lift at a slow to medium tempo with as much focus on the eccentric as on the concentric. When you lift you really want to focus as much as possible on isolating and contracting the muscle. For example, a jerky explosive barbell curl is going work to your lower back and forearms over your biceps. Not only that it’s going to put a lot of stress and strain on your elbow joint.
Contrast this by a slow and controlled movement with a straight back, elbows held in place and as much focus on contracting your bicep as possible. When you lift this way you will feel a nice pump in your bicep, this is what you want. Keep in mind that to do this properly you might have to drop the weight down by as much as 25 to 50%.
Nowadays I lift extra slow, a lot of times with my eyes closed. When I lift like this not only am I not stiff after a workout but I feel looser, just like you do after a good slow set of pushups or bodyweight squats.
14) Use Google Keep To Record Your Lifts
Google Keep is a nice, little, fast loading note taking software app. What gets measured gets managed and Google Keep is the best way to manage your lifts. Google Keep also syncs across from your app to the web and saves your data instantly through your google username. You can use Evernote but its much slower loading on your phone. I prefer to use Evernote as an online commonplace and access it through the web only.
15) USe 5 Lb. Plates As A DIY Barbell Jack
If you are doing trap bar deads try sticking a 5 lb plate under the bar to elevate it so the 45s slide on nice and easy. Otherwise loading the bar can be a workout in itself, especially when you’ve got 3 or 4 plates per side.
16) Don’t sh*t where you eat
I break this one from time to time but the gym should be a solitary exercise, you’re there to be completely focused not trying to chat up birds. I view this as the same as your workplace, don’t sh*t where you eat, no good can come out of it.
17) Take As Much Rest Between Sets As You Need
In the gym your only goal is to break personal bests so you want your muscles at full strength for every exercise, that means let them rest and fully recuperate before you move on to the next exercise. This is double-true for the trap bar deadlift.
18) Use stims
I always take either a caffeine, ephedrine (legal when I lived in Canada) before I get to the gym. Stims alone will give me one extra rep and I want every edge I can get, plus they make your workout more fun.
19) Stretch Before, After and During
Don’t believe any of this no stretching nonsense, not stretching means a higher probability of getting injured. I don’t do anything until I feel loose. In between those long rest periods between sets, just move over to the stretching area and loosen up. This is especially important for any exercises in areas you have problems with, usually your neck and your back.
20) Breathe Through Reps With Your Mouth
This one goes against a lot of what you read about proper breathing going in through the nose and out through the mouth. That might be true in day-to-day life but in my experience in the gym nose breathing will cost you a rep because you’re not able to draw the air in fast enough through the nose to get a full breath. You want to be going into each new rep with a full a full breath in the tank. Timing your breathing to reps is crucial.
The most effective breathing I’ve found is in through the mouth on the eccentric and then a strong breath through the concentric phase to power through the rep.
21) Stay In Your Zone
You’re not there to chit chat or f*ck around, you’re they’re to trance out and break personal bests. Notice that the guys who flutter around the gym talking to everyone never seem to get any bigger. Look at the gym as your time to go H.A.M. and stay focused on what you need to do.