I’ve tried to learn as much as possible over the last 10 years with regards to optimal training and longevity. Trends have been and gone, the way we look at athletes has vastly changed as well as our outlook on rest and recovery.
However it’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed by all the content out there telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The type of training you do is irrelevant as long it meets your goals and requirements and you enjoy it. Obviously if you’re training for a specific sport or performance marker then of course, the type of training has to be a bit more focused but again there are many tools that will work in each situation, there is no right or wrong way to train.
That being said I thought I would go through some of my most important tips to help maximise your potential in whatever training regimen you subscribe to and improve health and performance.
1) Get Assessed: If you’re truly interested in health and performance then your first step is to get assessed. Any good coach should be offering some form of assessment to see your current level with regards to movement quality, mobility and fitness ability. If you’re not being assessed, then the rest is just guesswork.
2) Earn Your Positions: An assessment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you don’t follow through on improving where required. Struggle to get overhead without excessive rib flare? Can’t keep a neutral position during a deadlift or squat? Your coach should be directing you on how to improve these or refer you to someone who can. You should also accept that if you have less than optimal positioning then certain movements may not be suitable for you AT THAT TIME. You want to stay injury free right? Take the advice, work on the problem areas and earn your right to incorporate those movements into your training.
3) Don’t Skip The Warm-up: You don’t need to spend 30 mins foam rolling and another 30 mins stretching, but your warm-up should be focused and relevant. It’s your chance to prime the body for the session and un-do some of the nasty postures and positions from your working day. Check out my article on warm-ups here.
4) Breathe Correctly: A lot of us live in an extended posture, which can lead to poor overhead position, lack of contribution from the posterior chain during hinging patterns and lack of core strength. Learning how to use correct breathing patterns including full exhales can help you get back to a more neutral position over time. It ain’t sexy or fun, but it works. Check out my article on breathing here.
5) Build Solid Foundations: I’ve seen time and time again, people skipping the boring foundational work to get to the fun, exciting throw heavy shit around stuff. It catches up with you. In my opinion, every athlete should spend time building
- Solid aerobic base: The better your aerobic capacity, the more efficient the heart and lungs will become. This leads to less contribution from the anaerobic systems as well as improved endurance and recovery. Read more here.
- Basic bodyweight strength: Everyone should be able to do strict press-ups, pull-ups and dips. In my perfect world, I would also have you doing a 1-arm pull-up and 1 arm press-up but the basics will suffice. It sets the stage for more advanced movements such as muscle-ups and handstand press-ups. It teaches you body awareness and control as well as building great amounts of core strength, which most people lack. I understand if someone is carrying some excess bodyweight this may not be possible……. yet, but once bodyweight has been reduced, build the foundations.
6) Don’t Ignore Assistance/Accessory Work: Anyone who says isolation exercises are useless is telling you lies. Have a sticking point in a lift? Struggling with stability or co-ordination on a movement? Assistance work can develop those weaker muscles and could help improve performance on your weak lifts. Now that doesn’t mean you stop doing the lift itself as you still need to build that pattern to efficiently recruit all the right muscles, but strengthening a weak area alongside can give you some great gains. I’ve seen a woman get strict pull-ups just by adding bicep curls into her training. Every exercise has a value when used in the right context.
7) Grease The Groove: Stolen from Pavel Tsatsouline, he talks about regular practice to improve efficiency and quality. Use an empty bar/pvc pipe/light DBs or KBs and slow the movement down. Feel the muscles firing in the right areas and make the movement become as natural as possible. Apply this to your heavier efforts to improve neural efficiency and therefore performance. Do it regularly, even some press-ups at home or work can go a long way to achieving this mastery.
8) Use Weighted Carries Frequently: If you have read anything by Dan John then you know how much he puts stock into weighted carries and drags. Grip strength is hugely overlooked when it comes to progressing training. Add to that the postural and core benefits when done correctly and you have a highly valuable exercise. Use DBs, KBs, Farmers Handles; whatever you can get your hands on. I also like bottoms-ups KB carries for shoulder health as well as grip training.
9) Build A Strong Posterior Chain: Glutes and hamstrings are typically inhibited and weak in most athletes. Movements such as bridges, hip thrusts, hyperextensions, hamstring curls and single leg work can really bring these muscles back in line and help improve health and performance. Bret Contreras has done some great studies on the effects of hip thrusts on glute activation/hypertrophy.
10) Don’t Cherry Pick Your Sessions: Ignoring your weaknesses will always come back to get you. Whether it be having to scale a workout or creating imbalances such as pressing over pulling or squatting over deadlifting. Yes training should be enjoyable but if you want to be able to become a well-rounded athlete, you need to develop the less enjoyable skills too!
11) Don’t Train Through Pain: Just don’t. If something hurts, you’re either doing it wrong or there is pathology somewhere. Assessments and good coaching should help you sort it. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop training and wish your life away at home. Work around the issue whilst fixing the cause and come back even better.
12) On the flipside: Don’t get scared of every ache and pain you experience. Again, consult a coach if unsure. Training is tough work, you are literally breaking your body down so it adapts and rebuilds stronger and more robust. It’s not always going to feel comfortable and if you want performance, you need to accept this. Listen to your body and ask questions if required.
13) Enter a Competition: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sport, fitness comp or endurance event. The buzz, the butterflies and the adrenaline of a competition environment can really teach you some lessons about your body and mental toughness. This stuff is invaluable and can really help you take the next step on the performance ladder. Even if you only do it once, compete.
This list is by no means exhaustive but I’ve covered some in gym tips with regards to training. Lets look at some tips for outside the gym.
14) Water: Again, overlooked when it comes to implications for training especially in the age of addiction to coffee and all that jazz. Aim to drink 2-3 litres per day. Simples.
15) Sleep: Hormonal balance is a delicate thing and one of the biggest disruptors to that balance is lack of quality sleep. Not to mention its effects on recovery after training. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night in a dark, cool room. Stop using screens at least 30 mins before bed to start to unwind or at least use an app like f.lux to alter the background colours of the screen. More on the importance of sleep here.
16) Recovery Plan: Adaptation and therefore improved performance takes place out of the gym. Training is the stimulus; rest is where the magic happens. You should be incorporating rest/active recovery days each week. From there, every 6-8 weeks you should use a de-load/recovery week where you reduce volume or have it as rest/active recovery. Your body will thank you and the gains will continue.
Also think about getting a massage once a month or during your de-load phase. Salt baths, contrast showers, meditation and yoga all have their place on your recovery protocols. Utilising HRV can be another way to auto-regulate your training and keep on top of recovery/training intensity. Check out my articles on HRV here and here.
17) Nutrition: I’m by no means a nutritional expert, but the basics seem to work well with most. Manage your calories in and out, have some good pre-workout nutrition in place and you’re good to go. No restrictions, no ‘diets’, just wholesome food the majority of the time and the rest in moderation. Drop me an email for our free nutritional guide.
18) Supplements: Various supplements are useful for different people and are not always required. However, fish oil, zinc, magnesium ands vitamin D seem to work well. Examine.com are doing some great studies on the effectiveness of the majority of supplements out there.
19) Get Involved!: Get involved with the community at your gym whether it be socials, competitions, events or taking part! It adds so much more value to your training and helps the gym feel less of a chore.
20) Motivate Others: Encourage fellow athletes, congratulate them, and give them a high five or a fist bump. It sounds cheesy but again it builds a more positive atmosphere and makes it that little bit easier to get there when you have close friends training with you.
21) Take Responsibility: You might have a coach or trainer who sees you an hour once a day. Do you really think that’s enough time to get everything done that you may need? Yes they will make the programme as effective as possible in the time they spend with you, but chances are you may need more. More mobility training, extra skills work developing things like your bodyweight exercises, more aerobic work using zone 2 heart rate zones.
I’m sure you don’t want to pay someone to watch you foam roll or spend 30 mins on a treadmill do you? Take responsibility and put in the extra work to help take you to the next level. Not sure what you need to do? ASK! The coach/trainer is a resource to tap into. I love it when athletes ask me for help as it shows a dedication to their training beyond showing up for an hour and going home to forget about it all. However we can’t help you if you don’t ask us.
22) Consistency: All of the above don’t mean a thing if you don’t show up. Consistency is king when it comes to results. You could have the world’s best programme, nutrition and recovery plan – but this means nothing if you’re not consistent. You should be aiming to train at least 3x per week if you’re serious about progress/performance and at least 2x per week for more general health. Just get through the door and the rest will take care of itself.
Training isn’t about suffering through the grind and hating your life every session.
Training should be a lifestyle choice and something you want to do rather than something you feel you have to. With so many ways to get fit and strong available the first step is finding something you are excited about doing then start to implement some of the strategies outlined above.