I remember when I first got into training, thinking that a couple of weeks of hard (or so I thought) training and I’d easily add some major muscle mass. Oh, how foolish I was. Fortunately, I stayed on track, kept working hard, and came to realise that there are no shortcuts to get you more muscle mass, more strength, and faster fat loss. But there are some things, that if you understand and accept them, that will make sure that you do hit your targets. Here are 5 ways to get more out of training, get better results and, more importantly, keep them.
Consistency is first on the list because I think it is, by far, the most important factor in making progress. Your results are the average of what you do, no single workout, or day of eating, has any great influence on your overall results, so improving your consistency is improving your results.
Since we are focussing on training, we are looking at consistency in your workout frequency, in your exercise selection and in your effort level.
Workout frequency matters because it directly affects your ability to provide enough quality training stimulus across any given week to elicit the training adaptations that you want. Sure you could get away with 2 sessions a week, but you’ll improve the quality of your sets by increasing your sessions from 2 to 3 or 4 per week, spreading the training load over a longer period.
But doing 4 sessions one week, then 1 the next, then 3, then skipping a week, isn’t doing you any favours. there are too many big gaps between sessions, uneven distribution of training volumes and there will be a corresponding lack of progress, compared with making sure you get 3 or 4 sessions done each week.
Perhaps you need to look at your schedule and pencil in your sessions. Maybe you need to look at your training split, or session length and adjust those to improve your consistency. But however you do it, making a couple of small changes to improve your consistency will pay off in the long run.
After consistency, intensity can be the deciding factor in making or breaking your results. Intensity in this context isn’t turning up the volume of the music you listen to, or stamping your feet and screaming before each set, or snorting some preworkout to get your brain on fire before your next set of lat raises. It’s the percentage of your max loads you use for each exercise.
If your goal is to add muscle or build strength, then load matters. If your goal is to hit 3 sets of 10 on a db press, then if you are never really challenging yourself on those sets (you feel like you could do 3+ more reps on each set, then you aren’t providing the stimulus needed to demand adaptation either in strength or muscle. So you might look like you’re doing the work, you might even believe that you are, but you’re not.
Here are 2 ways to figure out how to judge whether you are lifting enough weight or not:
- The rule of 4. If your working sets are 8 or more reps, and you feel like you could do 4 or more reps at the end of the set, the weight has to go up.
- Do a test set on your final set of an exercise. If you’re supposed to be hitting a set of 10, and you take that last set for 17 or 18 reps, then guess what, you’re not lifting heavy enough. The weight goes up next time.
Both of these instances may result in your not getting the target reps in the next session, but that’s ok. It’s expected. But over a couple of weeks you’ll gradually increase the total reps you get until it feels easy to complete. Then you put the weight again and repeat the process.
In a world where you can order something online and have it delivered the next day, and there are countless ads for dropping huge amounts of weight in unfeasibly short amounts of time, the idea that we actually have to put in significant amounts of time and effort to build the body that we want is a problem for a lot of people. But understand that adding muscle, building real strength, and sustainably losing body fat takes more time than you want it to.
Improving your patience, and allowing yourself enough time to achieve your goal will help with consistency. Since you’re not wondering why you’re not making insane progress, but you are recognising that you are making some progress every week, and it’s starting to add up to bigger changes, you are more likely to stay on plan.
The best advice I can offer is that there is no finish line. If you are competing, then that is a test of your progress to that point. But after that event, you don’t suddenly stop training. You keep going to see what else you can add to your results, or you switch focus to another facet of training and maintaining the results of your hard work. But there is no real finish line, and that helps to improve your patience and keep putting in the work.
Mistakes are great feedback
We’re all human, and as such we are prone to making mistakes. Maybe a training scheme doesn’t work out as you’d expected. Maybe you overestimate your ability to recover between sessions. Maybe you get injured trying a new exercise or training style. But here’s the important part, it’s all feedback to make your decision making process better.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in training. From getting sloppy on the lowering of a deadlift (resulting in a messed up QL and recurring issues related to it), to overestimating my ability to recover between sessions when my non-gym workload has been high, and a variety of other errors of judgement over several years. But each and every time I’ve learned something new. I always stay super tight on every deadlift of every set, whether it’s a warm up with the bar, or a max effort with more than double bodyweight. I’ve become better at monitoring my stress levels and adjusting training loads to match. I’ve learned what gets good results and what’s nice to do but not that essential in the grand scheme of things.
It means that I can make more consistent progress, though with my training age it’s pretty slow progress. And it also means I can help clients avoid the pitfalls that I stumbled into.
With your training, look for areas that didn’t go to plan. Use these as learning opportunities and adjust your training going forward. With each iteration of training and diet, you zero in on what is the best approach for you at any given time throughout the year. You know when you can push things, and when to back off a bit. And that means more progress, and more enjoyment with your approach.
Imperfect action always beats waiting for the right time.
Finally, we tend to want to wait for the “right’ time to start. Waiting for the moon and stars to align, our chakras to be fully charged and our third eye to awaken before you take action on your training and diet is simply fear and procrastination. Fear may be not knowing where to start or the fear of looking clueless the first time you set foot in a gym. But everyone has to start somewhere, and getting a PT or fitness coach to show you the ropes to begin with can dispel a lot of fears. Then consistency helps reduce any remaining fears as you get to grips with it all.
Your training doesn’t need to be perfect to make progress. Nor does your diet. But you do have to get started in order to know how your approach will work for you. And, much like the previous point, taking action, making mistakes, learning from them and improving your ideas is part of the process. If you are new to training, then anything you do is going to be an improvement. Literally anything. And as you progress, so too does your training plan, consistency and, eventually, your results.
The time is going to pass regardless of what you do or don’t do. So you can either get started now and be 6 months into your training plan. Or you can wait and get started later having missed out on 6 months of potential progress.