Whether you’re a novice or an expert, looking for maximum gains or maximum power, these small details can lead to big results!
This article is not aspiring to be your new Holy Bible of lifting, but what it lacks in divine inspiration, it will make up for in research-backed, result-based descriptions of minute changes you can make in your workout to maximize your athletic efficiency, power output and hypertrophy.
What better place to start than the warm-up! It may seem apparent that one should warm-up before any athletic endeavor, but what that warm-up should look like is a bit more ambiguous.
First, one should avoid any static stretching before a workout. Research has revealed a loss of strength and power correlating with static stretching. Instead, practice dynamic movements before exercise, especially if working out in the mornings when body temperature is at its lowest. Quick-paced, calisthenic movements are the perfect warm-up. The key is to activate muscles that are left sedentary otherwise. Some great movements for warm-ups are lunges with an additional twist over the foreleg, short and quick vertical jumps, upper-body twists, push-ups, straight-legged high kicks, arm circles and jumping jacks. These are just a few examples of incredibly simple activation movements. Additionally, you can get a little bit more bizarre with bear crawls, duck walks and inchworms. More than anything, keep that body moving! Static stretching weakens performance during workouts. Dynamic movements activate the muscles and prevent injury for a fully optimized exercise session.
Everyone says working out in the morning is the ideal time: mostly for psychological, habit-creating reasons. Exercising in the early morning is “to start your day right,” as one often hears. The term “night owl” is seemingly very popular with college students, and the term “lark” is not so much. The thought of waking up early is most likely a wretched one. What has been found is that these terms, lark and owl, are scientifically backed. The circadian rhythm, our internal clock, has three stages during the day: the peak, the trough and the recovery. For some, the peak, in which mental performance is highest, is the morning, and the recovery, a social, creative state, is in the evening; the former are the larks and the latter are the owls. The trough is almost always in the early afternoon. Most people are neither larks nor owls, falling somewhere between the two. Instead of rising early or barely getting your lift in at 10:30 p.m., late afternoon is the perfect balance of mental awareness and physical performance. Your body is properly nourished, has rising trends of adrenalin, the body temperature is peaking and pain tolerance is at its highest. So get your early afternoon nap in during your trough, hydrate well and then lift your socks off in the late afternoon for maximum performance!
3. Don’t Drop That Weight!
You’re curling some big weight, looking like an absolute beast. Veins are popping. You’re working hard to get those bad boys up to your chin, and then you just let them drop after you’re done. “Why does it matter?” you say. “That’s the easy part of the set.” Not so fast! As everything does, these two parts of the set have scientific names: eccentric and concentric. The allegedly easy portion of the movement is called the eccentric contraction of the muscle; it is the lengthening, downward portion of the exercise. Its brother, the harder half, is called a concentric contraction. When you’re bench-pressing upwards from your chest, this is the concentric movement. Generally speaking, the emphasis is almost entirely on the concentric portion of each exercise: the upward lifting of the weight in squats, in curls, the pushing in bench press, the pull upward in deadlifting. It is true that concentric movements double the hypertrophy per day of eccentric movements alone. This is all wonderful until one realizes that combining both concentric and eccentric movements, and placing equal emphasis on both in an exercise, leads to double the hypertrophy of the other movements! This advice might not seem very practical yet, but controlling the weight on the downward portion of the movements allows for more muscle breakdown, which leads to more muscle growth. Controlling the weight means applying pressure and strength to downward motions, and not simply allowing the weight to fall before the big push or pull of a lift. So next time you bench, try to slow down the time between arms being locked out and the bar touching the chest, to fully engage the eccentric portion of the exercise. This allows maximal and more efficient gains in power, strength and physique.
4. More Intense, More Rest!
Whether training for hypertrophy or for strength, to perform like the best athletes, one has to train like them, and in most circles that means cranking up that intensity. Dr. Andy Galpin says that maximum power efficiency is found around 60 to 80 percent of an athlete’s one-rep-max. Most gym goers probably train around 30 percent of their maximum. So sacrifice a few reps, throw some extra weight on that bar, drop that pin lower, control that eccentric movement and explode out of that concentric movement. Additionally, for maximum power output, it is key to have sufficient rest intervals. Two minutes is the professionally suggested time for compound lifts such as squat, bench and deadlifts. On other accessory lifts, athletes can generally get away with a minute or so. For maximum intensity and hypertrophy, try adding a set at the end of each core lift going to failure. It has been research-proven that adding a drop set where one drastically lowers weight and reps to failure induces more hypertrophy for maximum gains.
5. Cool Down!
This is the simplest portion of exercising. After an intense workout, it is beneficial to allow the heart rate to decline gradually. To do this is fairly simple. Walk a few laps around the track. Do a quick sun salutation. Yoga is one of the best cool-down exercises. Not only because it enables flexibility, but because of its isometric strengthening properties. This is the time to do static stretching as well, which will reduce injury and increase performance in the long run. Just remember to do static stretching post-workout so your performance is not inhibited.
Maximum gains are on the horizon. Go now and reap the fruits of your labors.
This article references the work of Dr. Andy Galpin on the “Train Heroic” blog; Dr. Brad Schoenfield’s work in a recent study titled, “Can drop set training enhance muscle growth?”; and a study published in the “Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports” titled, “Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance?”