The most important controllable factor that influences our response from a strength training program is, in a word, INTENSITY. It doesn’t matter how much weight we lift or how many reps we perform. Factors such as equipment type, number of exercises, and exact speed of movement pale in comparison to our intensity. In order to summon the maximum level of intensity from our workouts, consider deploying the following techniques:
- Schedule your strength training workouts when you feel you can give your maximum effort. Some people prefer the early morning while others feel like zombies until 8:00am. Others enjoy a workout over the noon hour as a stress relief while others who attempt a noon workout are mentally distracted by the stresses of the work day and thus, their intensity is compromised. Ask yourself: When am I mentally and physically ready to provide a maximum effort?
- Rest between workouts. An accurate yet unscientific indication of whether or not you are recovered and ready for your next workout is: Are you excited or hungry for your workout? If you find yourself dreading your session, you might need more recovery. As I type this in a hotel in Detroit, I can barely wait to fly home and get trained by Maria at our Chanhassen location. It’s been seven days since my last strength training workout, and I couldn’t be more excited to head directly to Chanhassen from the airport. Improve your recovery by (1) aiming for eight hours of sleep every night (2) minimizing any other form of exercise that involves resistance (3) consume protein immediately after the workout and adequate protein throughout the week.
- Enter your workout properly hydrated and nourished. There is no magic food or magic timing for our pre-workout nutrition; but experiment with yourself and learn what provides energy while not causing gastrointestinal discomfort. This usually means a small snack 1-2 hours prior to a workout.
- Remind yourself that you are not trying to perform “more reps” or move the weight from point A to point B. You are actually using the weight as a means to contract against to stimulate your muscles; the end goal being, muscle failure (the point you can’t perform another rep in excellent form). Lifting and lowering the weight is a means to an end, not an end in itself. And of course, it is the end of the set, when you are most uncomfortable, that is most valuable. Welcome this discomfort.
- Trust the process. Arthur Jones, the brilliant founder of Nautilus Sports Medical Industries and later, the MedX Corporation, used to say, “Apart from intensity of effort, confidence may well be the most important factor for the production of the best rate of training progress; without confidence in his ability to produce good results, a trainee will seldom be able to produce them—and never in proportion to the efforts expended.” Confidence comes from understanding the “why” behind your workouts. If your reading this and don’t understand the “why” right now, I encourage you to ask your trainer during your next session.