If you’ve been training at a commercial gym for a while, pause, take a look around and observe the regulars. Watch them go about their routine and you’ll pick up on one thing you probably hadn’t noticed before. You’ll realise that most of them are performing or look exactly the same as they did a few months (or even years) ago.
Generally, these people fall into 1 of 2 groups. The first group are people that have always been following the same routine for the past 2 years. Head to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 630am. Start off with 30 minutes on the treadmill at speed 9. Thereafter, a little circuit of squats, crunches, chin ups, push ups and curls. Finish off with some stretches and they’re done. Shower, out of the gym at 8am and off to work.
The other group jumps around from program to program, not sticking to anything for long – whenever they get bored of a program or when they don’t see immediate progress, they’re off to the next shiny new thing.
In any case, they always seem to arrive back at square one, not any stronger, fitter or physically better than they were months or years ago. Yes, they did get some exercise. But from a training perspective, they’re really just spinning their wheels in the gym and not going anywhere.
Now, take a moment and review your own training. Be honest with yourself. Have you been making steady progress or have you been going around in circles?
It’s worse than just wasting time with no results
Do results really matter? Well, it depends on what you want. If you just want to move around, raise your heart rate and work up a sweat, then carry on with it if that’s what you enjoy. Any exercise is much better than sitting on your arse and being sedentary.
But if you actually want to achieve something from your time and effort spent in the gym, you need a goal and a plan to get you there. Otherwise, you’re just wasting the most important resource that you’ll never get back once lost – your time.
And that’s not all. There’s a whole list of related outcomes.
Maybe you feel a niggling pain in your lower back whenever you squat. It’s been there for months. Well, it comes and goes, but it’s not getting any better. In fact, it might even have gotten worse recently… Are you squatting wrongly? Is your training program adequate for you? Are you inadvertently heading towards an injury? You don’t know.
Or, perhaps you’re trying out a new program recommended by a gym buddy. For the first few weeks, you make fast progress and feel great. But suddenly, it all comes to a screeching halt. You’re not doing anything different, but over the last few weeks, you’re exhausted all the time. You’re waking up the day after training feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. You thought you were improving, but it looks like you’re just stuck. Again. So you sit in the changing room, shattered from yet another crushing workout, feeling frustrated about going around in circles.
And then your friend drops by to brag about his new squat personal best, and you feel an irrational surge of jealousy, followed by a fit of depression. What’s happening? Why are you stuck? You’re doing the best that you can but it’s one roadblock after another.
You contemplate giving up and stop training altogether, which would be a waste of your potential, because you would never know what you might have achieved if you had done everything right.
Spend your time in the gym efficiently with strategic goal setting
Know what you want to achieve. Is it simple exercise, a chance to get off your butt after sitting the whole day, to burn some calories and work up a sweat?
Or do you have specific fitness, health, performance or quality of life goals? If yes, find the best and most efficient way to achieve them. If you’re already committing to regular gym sessions, you should spend your time and effort wisely, to make sure that you’re getting the maximum bang on your gym investment.
To do this, you will need clear goals, strategies and training plans.
3 principles to optimise your gym time
Decide: be clear on your goal
Knowing what you want to achieve will give you both long-term vision and short-term motivation.
For someone who wants to improve their strength performance, the long-term aim could be to do a 2.5x bodyweight squat. In the short-term, it could be a 1.5x bodyweight squat. To keep you motivated along the way and have mini milestones along the way, you could consider joining a meet. There’s something that clicks in your head to better focus on your training when you know there’s an upcoming meet.
You don’t actually have to be competitive. There’s a very high chance that you’ll not be anywhere near to being ron the podium and that’s ok; it’s more about breaking your own personal best records. Short term goals will give you something to work towards and push you to focus better.
Focus: identify what exercises give you the most bang for your buck
Plan your strategy (overall direction) and tactics (specific exercises).
Based on your goal, you will make the big picture decisions about your training. Will you be focusing on, say, getting stronger, or improving your cardiovascular endurance? From there, choose the specific exercises and programs adequate for your training experience that will get you to that point.
Exclude: avoid what isn’t useful
Stick with what gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
Remember, time and recovery are finite resources. Don’t spend it on exercises that are not the most efficient at bringing you closer to your goal. If you’re short on time, it’s better to be objective and prioritise exercises with higher returns.
After these are done, you can always add exercises that are further down the useful list. If you enjoy doing them or like the effect it gives you although it’s not part of the big picture, please go ahead. You want to do some bicep curls, go forth, do your curls and grow those guns. Just don’t do them in lieu of your squats.
Strength training is your best investment
If you’re not quite ready to define your goals, fret not. Most people don’t have clear goals when they walk into the gym but they do know that want to get healthier, fitter and physically better. However, not having clear goals doesn’t mean you can’t train. As a default, strength is the best attribute to train for overall fitness, because it positively impacts everything else.
Strength is a simple and efficient way to improve your strength (duh), balance, endurance, flexibility, and just about every other fitness attribute. Practical applications are helping older adults to maintain their physical mobility and quality of life, and athletes to improve sports performance. Getting stronger will be your best return on your training investment.
To get strong, the best way to do so is with barbell strength training.
Motivation is about setting goals, strategies and plans
Our clients are busy individuals who treasure their time. If they’re putting in the effort to reach their goals and trusting us to get them there, it’s our job to make sure they get there in the most efficient and safest way possible.
When our clients first start out, many just want to improve their health. They may not have specific strength goals that they want to achieve. Over time, and after careful observation of their physical capabilities, interests and lifestyle, we discuss what they’d like to achieve and the commitment that’s required to get there.
We’d also review what they do outside the gym. They may have other physical activities that they enjoy doing like running. Depending on their mileage, frequency and intensity of their runs, we may or may not encourage them to back off on their running a little.
If we had our way, you’d follow the training programs exactly as prescribed. But usually that’s not how it works, because everyone has different commitments and interests. As long as you’re doing 80-90% of what they need, we’re cool with it. Go ahead and do what you what with that 10-20%.
Is this ideal? Not totally, but we understand that it keeps you sticking to the plan. There’s no point in strictly following a program for two weeks, but then dropping out after because you absolutely hate it.
With all these in mind, we set short-term goals together, and the training plans to support these goals.
To keep our clients on track, training logs are maintained to record everything they do in the gym. These help us adapt plans and exercises, and also gives them the satisfaction of seeing their numbers go up over time.
Often, many people underestimate what they’re capable of. They don’t believe that they’re able to lift that amount of weight, thinking that lifting weights like that are for someone else. Until they do it. After they get more accustomed to what they’re physically capable of and getting used to pushing their limits, they start to have quantifiable goals like a 2x bodyweight squat or a 200kg deadlift. We’ll then adapt their training program accordingly.
Lifters from different demographics require different approaches to their programming. For example, a 70 year old grandfather comes in with the broad goal of feeling healthier and aging well. We translate that to improving his ability to move around independently, and improving his strength and muscle mass.
Our overall strategy would be to get him as strong as possible with the basic barbell lifts (squat, press, deadlift and bench press). As much as we’d like him to be able to perform the basic barbell lifts as prescribed, there’s a chance that some of the lifts may require some modifications due to injuries/inflexibility and other things that sometimes come with being on this earth for decades. Due to his age, he’ll be programmed to have a lower training volume compared to a younger person – older folks tend to be less tolerant to training volume than younger people.
5 benefits of getting a coach
Whatever goals you might have, an experienced coach will work with you to find the most efficient way to reach them. Love to run? Get a running coach. Love to cycle? Get a cycling coach. Want to get strong? Get a barbell strength coach. Coaches are experienced professionals who will:
Personalise your training
When you buy a template online, it doesn’t take into account your circumstances, limitations or preferences. A coach will write you a program based on your goals, your limitations and what you can realistically adhere to.
And what if your circumstances change? You’re not a full time athlete and life happens. Your 2 year old daughter had a high fever in the middle of the night and you had to send her to the hospital. You didn’t sleep the entire night and there’s no way you’re able to drag yourself into the gym the next day. Your coach can then adapt your program to suit situations like this, making it far more achievable than sticking to a rigid plan.
Give expert instruction
Lots of people go online to try to learn things by themselves. While some are natural learners who can successfully teach themselves, it’s a very small percentage of the population that’s able to do this. This gift is not the norm for the majority. Most DIY learners don’t know what they don’t know, but they usually think they know more than they actually do – the Dunning-Kruger effect at work. So they keep doing the same thing without understanding the nuances of technique and programming.
Alternatively, you might be one of those lifters who actually knows that there’s something wrong with your technique and knows exactly what the problem is but can’t figure out how to correct it.
Perhaps you’re having problems with your deadlift. You’ve read articles, watched videos, and even video-ed yourself, but still can’t figure out what’s wrong. You could get stuck for month trying to figure it out or you could get an experienced coach that can fix your problem at first glance by giving you a couple of cues because they’ve seen the same mistakes hundreds or thousands of times.
Injuries can happen when you train. You can do your best minimise such occurrences by using good technique while lifting and appropriate programming but stuff still happens sometimes. If you’re alone, you might panic and not know what to do. You might exacerbate the injury when you try to train around it, or spend money on unnecessary medical treatment. Your fear of worsening the injury or having the wrong information that you can’t train anymore might cause you to stop training altogether when in fact it was nothing much to worry about.
Lower back pain? That worrying twinge in your knee during squats? You’re probably doing it wrong. Coaches can prevent potential injuries if they notice problems with your form and know exactly how to handle and rehabilitate an injury if one does happen.
Provide motivation and accountability
There will be days that you’re exhausted from a long day at work and don’t feel like going to the gym. But you know that your coach is there waiting for you. There will be times where you have doubts in your head and don’t think you can finish that last rep. But your coach is right behind you shouting cues and encouragement, and somehow, you manage to finish the set.
The most important key to sustained progress is consistency. The best coaching and programming means nothing if you don’t show up consistently and put in the work. Whether you feel like it or not, having a coach will keep you on track, by making sure you commit to training. Your consistent commitment to training will pay dividends when you start seeing yourself improve. What was once your 1 rep max, you’re now doing it for 3 reps, with relative ease – all that hard work was worth it.
Take you to your edge
Most people underestimate themselves, not knowing what they’re actually capable of when they put their mind to it. For any goals worth achieving, there will always be self-doubt. These psychological limits are actually artificial roadblocks that hold you back, because we humans, in general, are not good at embracing the discomfort of unfamiliar territory. On the flip side, some people will consistently overestimate themselves and get overzealous with training.
Experienced coaches can manage both scenarios. Do you lack self-belief and consistently underperform? A coach will (safely) push you to your limits. Or are you overeager and constantly want to make big jumps to your lifts or want to test your max when you’re not prepared for it? Your coach will hold you back when necessary.
If you’re regularly working out, you’ve already put in lots of effort and resources into your training. And if you have serious training goals, find the best and most efficient way to achieve them. Time is ticking away, stop wasting the resource that you can never get back in the gym going nowhere. Start working with a coach to get the most out of your gym investment.
Not sure if you’re doing the right thing in the gym? Tired, bored and sick of being stuck? Or worried that you’re getting injured? Save time, money and headaches with professional coaching, both online and in-person.