Consider how many repetitions you typically do in a training session. If you perform a handful of exercises and a few sets of each move, you're probably cranking out at least 200 or 300 reps. Now imagine the impact of improving the quality of each movement you make, while making every repetition more challenging.
You'll significantly increase the demand on your muscles and your metabolism. Simply put, you'll get more quality work done in the same time and see better results. That's why we turned to strength coaches Alwyn Cosgrove and CJ Murphy for 10 simple yet powerful training secrets. Use them to make your gym time more efficient and more effective.
- Shrug Your Shoulders Down
When performing lat pulldowns, drawing your shoulder blades back and down can save your shoulders and focus your efforts more on your middle back muscles and latissimus dorsi, aka, your lats. Here's another way to think about it, says Murphy: Shrug your shoulders down while pushing your chest up to initiate the movement. So before you sit on the bench, shrug your shoulders up and down a few times. Then sit down and grab the bar overhead. Keeping your arms straight, shrug your shoulders down and lift your chest while pulling the bar to your chest, then return to start. Continue this "reverse shrug" to initiate each repetition.
- Push the floor Away From You
The classic pushup trains your upper body and core, but to train your muscles harder, think about pushing the floor away from you instead of simply trying to push yourself up off the floor, says Cosgrove. Push the floor down until your upper back rounds at the very top, then lower your body and repeat.
- Lift With Your Toes
The dumbbell step-up is an effective way to train your glutes, but according to Cosgrove, a common mistake people make is pushing off primarily with their back leg instead of contracting their glutes and pushing off their front foot. Here's a trick to do it right: Start by placing one foot on the bench or box in front of you and the other foot on the floor, then lift the toes of your down foot so the front of your foot rises off the floor. Push hard into the bench with your front foot to straighten your front leg. By lifting your toes, you won't be able to push off of your down foot, forcing your front leg and glutes to do the work.
- Press Your Head Forward
When performing a shoulder press, push your head forward as you press the weight up, Murphy says. If you don't press it forward, you'll inevitable press it back. By keeping your head forward, your center of mass stays directly beneath the weight, allowing you to produce greater force. But this also reduces the likelihood of hyperextending your back, which can cause pain and injury.
- Use Physics to Your Advantage
If you can't complete a single push-up, don't bother doing one on your knees. A more effective "modified push-up" involves creating an incline with your body by placing your hands on a bench or chair. This reduces the amount of weight you need to press up, making it easier, but still allows you to extend your legs and brace your abs, which will result in a better workout for your pillar-all the muscles from your hips to your shoulders.
- Don't Fear Back Soreness
It's amazing how many people like the feeling of sore abs after a hard ab workout, says Cosgrove, but get scared if their lower back is sore. The muscles on your backside, including your rear shoulders, lower back, and glutes, are typically the weakest on people, which eventually result in poor posture and pain. So make sure you're doing at least an equal amount of pulling movements compared to pushing movements, and mix some back extensions and glute bridges into your program.
- Take a Swing at Fat
The kettle bell swing or dumbbell swing trains your whole lower body and can be used as a cardiovascular challenge when performed for time. For instance, try doing swings for 20 seconds, rest for 10, and repeat for 4 minutes. This technique, known as the Tabata protocol, has been shown to increase aerobic capacity more than 60 minutes of cardio. Here's how to do it: Stand holding a weight with both hands in front of your body. Push your butt back and bend your knees to lower your body into a squat. The weight should hang at about knee height. Keeping your biceps pinned against the outsides of your chest, stand up so the weight swings forward and up, then lower back down and continue this motion without pausing.
- Ditch a Dumbbell
You can make an exercise more challenging with less weight. Don't believe it? With a weight in each hand, try a standard dumbbell step-up-arms at your sides, one foot on the bench or box, step up, then down. Now put one dumbbell down and repeat. Harder to balance? Good. Now raise the weight to your shoulder and place your opposite foot on the bench. As you step up, push the weight overhead. Then reverse the move. Coined a "contralateral step-up," this movement trains your shoulders and hips, while simultaneously challenging your core stabilization.
- Rise Up
Whether you're doing split squats or push-ups, elevating a foot makes it more challenging, Cosgrove says. For a push up, place your feet on a chair, bench, or physioball. For the split squat, place one foot straight back behind you on a bench and hop forward a few inches with your front foot. This is called a Bulgarian split squat and it's a highly effective move for your glutes and quadriceps. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides and lower your hips straight down, then push back up to a standing position and repeat for a full complement of reps.
- Go Heavier
Most people make the mistake of using weights that are too light when performing circuits, according to Murphy. Just because you're moving swiftly from one movement to the next doesn't mean you need to drop all the weight you typically lift. If your form breaks down, the weights are too heavy, but if you make it through the entire circuit with picture-perfect technique on every repetition, you're not challenging your muscles and you're cheating yourself out of results.
© Core Performance
Abbott Nutrition strongly recommends that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program and perform exercises under the supervision of a certified fitness trainer or conditioning coach. The effect of any specific exercise on a medical condition should be determined by your health care professional. The suggestions here are in no way intended to substitute for medical advice.