Every effective workout program should incorporate both cardio and strength training. But what many gym-goers may not know is that most times it’s more efficient to complete the weight-lifting portion of your workout before expending the majority of your energy on cardiovascular exercise. When lifting weights precision and form are extremely important, if your body is already tired from a cardio session your performance while strength training might suffer. If you perform your cardio routine before lifting weights, your strength training session will likely feel more difficult and your risk of injury will increase, too.
There’s nothing wrong with ending one or two sweat sessions with a few planks or bicycle crunches each week, but instead of always waiting until the end of your routine to put your abdominal muscles to work, it makes more sense to incorporate exercises that require core engagement (like deadlifts, squats, and renegade rows) through your entire workout. "Core exercises are actually really significant at the beginning of your programming," says Earle. "By starting with a stabilizer like a plank, your body will warm up and the muscles will be prepared for the rest of your routine." Also, instead of waiting around while resting other muscles add 30 seconds of mountain climbers between sets, or challenge your core while performing an exercise like the bicep curl by standing on a bosu ball.
Yes, it would be wonderful if you had really burned 350 calories during that 30-minute session on the elliptical, but chances are that number is completely incorrect. How many calories you burn while working out depends on a number of different factors including your age, weight, height, and heart rate. Unfortunately, the cardio equipment at the gym knows none of your personal information. So unless you programmed the data into the machine, it really has no business telling you how many calories you burned. And even then, it has no way to consistently read your heart rate, which is the biggest determining factor when it comes to estimating your energy expenditure. "The best way to watch your caloric burn is through a heart rate monitor," says Earle. "Using one with a chest strap is your best bet." The main point, though: don’t constantly give yourself the go-ahead to indulge because the numbers on the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or Stairmaster said you could.
If you do the same workout every time you visit the gym, your body will eventually adapt, meaning it’s no longer being challenged. If your workout is no longer challenging, then it becomes less effective and it will be more difficult for you to achieve results. "Try switching it up every two to four weeks. You're less likely to get bored and your body will thank you," says Earle. Finding an exercise that you enjoy is an important part of keeping up with a regular workout habit, but instead of going to spin class five days a week mix it up with other forms of exercise like yoga and weight training so that both your body and mind don’t get bored.
The amount of weight you lift and how many reps you perform is entirely dependent on your fitness level and goals. During weight training workouts (and especially if your goal is to build strength) you should use a weight heavy enough so that by the eighth, ninth, or tenth rep your muscles start to feel fatigued. "I always go with the motto: don't lift weights lighter than your purse. Think of what you lift in your life; a grocery bag, the trash, your laundry...If you're using weights that are lighter than those, you aren't training functionally," says Earle.
This also includes increasing your weights as you progress and get stronger. When an exercise at a certain weight starts to feel “easy,” that’s usually a sign it’s time to increase the resistance. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends increasing weight by 2-10% when you can easily perform one or two reps more than the prescribed amount for two consecutive training sessions.
Yes, watching TV or reading a book while you’re on the elliptical helps the time pass by more quickly, but if you’re more focused on entertainment than exercising your workout won’t be as effective. Achieving your goals requires more than simply logging a prescribed amount of exercise time. Success requires giving your best effort and pushing outside of your comfort zone. "I always think, if you're able to read or watch TV or tweet you're probably not working hard enough. Apply the energy you're using to multitask and challenge yourself a bit harder in your workout," says Earle. "It'll pay off." Instead of reading or plugging into the TV console during your cardio sessions, up the excitement with a playlist of your favorite pump-up songs or a try a varying-level interval workout.
In other words, leave your ego at home. Focus on your own goals and worry about your own workout. Sure, a little competition is great for motivation, but trying to curl heavier dumbbells or run faster than the person next to you is a great way to get injured. Successful exercisers go into the gym with a plan that matches their goals and abilities and they follow it, regardless of what everyone else is doing. "Unless you're in a competitive event with them, I say simmer down. There's no reason to go squat for squat when the end result could just leave you benched from lifting at all," says Earle.
Among weight-lifters, this has become an ultimate sin of the gym. There’s no doubt that you can safely do your bicep curls in the squat rack. If you want to, by all means go ahead. Just realize that it’s not considered good gym etiquette. The squat rack is called the squat rack because it was made for barbell squats. Generally speaking, there’s nowhere else in the gym to safely squat with a barbell. So, if someone else is waiting to squat while you curl, the unwritten gym etiquette handbook says you should probably get out of their way.
The amount of rest you’ll take between sets during a strength training workout depends on your goals. But every smart training plain will provide a prescribed amount of rest, and you should never skimp out. Whether you’re in a hurry to finish your workout or feeling pressured by another member waiting to use the equipment, rushing your rest time between will make your workout less effective. Resting between sets in order to let your muscles recover before starting the next is just as important as the actual exercise. If you start your next set before your muscles have fully recovered you’ll decrease your ability to perform the exercise efficiently and increase your risk for injury.
Setting a fitness goal means making a commitment to the gym. Instead of working out only when you “feel like it” or on days when it’s the most convenient, come up with a strategy for scheduling your workouts and treat each one just like you would an important meeting at work or a date with a friend. Successful progress depends on what you do every day over an extended period of time, not just every once in a while.