In the age of automation and simplification, life hacks have become an essential component to any routine endeavor.
No, they won’t turn you into Jason Bourne but odds are they might make your life easier by saving you time and money.
So, while you may not turn into a CIA assassin overnight, your new found first world knowledge from this article will likely impress those around you as they witness your vast array of skills.
1. Don’t use a mixed grip with straps
Listen Rambo, I know you’re about to have an out of body experience given the amount of caffeine coursing through your veins but for the love of all things holy, either learn how to use straps or mix your grip. Don’t do both though.
Straps offset the need to use a mixed grip and a mixed grip offsets the need for straps.
Related: Deadlift Domination - 5 Tips for 5 Plates
In other words, you’re offsetting the need to offset. No one likes double negatives…or people who mix their grip with straps.
Use straps effectively and there’s absolutely no need to mix your grip. Here’s how to start:
2. Progression requires tremendously more effort than maintenance
Don’t believe me? Just ask the guy who’s still squatting 135 after 10 years of “hardcore” training.
Training and the process of adaptation (aka “gainz”) revolve around the idea of homeostatic disruptions. Your body’s main goal at a cellular level is to keep you in a constant state of equilibrium. Disrupt the status quo and your body will adapt as a means of survival. If you didn’t adapt, your physiology would become overwhelmed and you wouldn’t be able to function.
If the stressor isn’t removed and you allow ample time for adaptation, you will reach a new level of homeostasis. However, if the stressor is excessive and you don’t give yourself the means to recover then you will enter into functional overreaching and eventually overtraining.
As such, your main goal is to understand and implement the minimally effective dose (MED) of training related stress that will drive adaptation in the long run. Without stress there is zero impetus to drive change. However, with too much stress there is a risk for maladaptation as you can overwhelm the system.
3. Pass your plate, save your spine
Most folks don’t have access to a deadlift jack and as such, you need a cheap and effective alternative. Rather than paying $20 bucks for an overpriced lumpy piece of rubber (i.e. a deadlift wedge), just use a 2.5lb plate. Ensure it’s wedged under the first plate on the bar and nestle the 45lb plate in the hole of the 2.5lb plate.
Not only will it conserve energy for your next pull, it will also converse bills for your next expense. As the saying goes, work smarter, not harder.
4. No misses = no mal-adaptation
Admittedly, I actually saw this quote on a t-shirt but I want to hash out the concept in more depth than a simple marketing analogy.
Boris Sheiko utilizes this exact same methodology with all of his Russian Olympic lifters. If you’re unfamiliar with Sheiko’s work, just Google “Sheiko 29” and report back in a month when you can’t feel your quads and you’ve outgrown every pair of pants you own.
From a psychological perspective, lifters must realize that self-efficacy (one’s belief in their ability to succeed) plays a huge role within training. With each miss, the lifter’s confidence under the bar diminishes and they begin to second-guess maximal attempts.
This enhances a negative feedback cycle, which potentiates further misses and could be very deleterious within a competition format.
As Greg Everett from Catalyst Athletics has said before:
“Your misses count as practice just as much as your makes do. Not only is it in the physical, technical sense (i.e. you're practicing the movement that produces a miss), but, more importantly you're practicing mentally to miss.”
Aside from the psychological component, missed lifts also represent a physiological risk as higher intensities present greater systemic and peripheral loads.
You may miss occasionally, that’s inevitable over the course of time but you should never let it become a habit. Within training, your main goal should be to work close to technical failure, NOT muscular failure. There’s a difference and in order to maintain longevity within your training career, you must respect that difference.
5. Environment and lifestyle drive autonomics
Constantly blasting Slayer and Disturbed while sitting at home or studying for a test? While you may enjoy that “melt your face off” feeling, living in a constant sympathetic state isn’t helping anyone. This is actually the least efficient environment for recovery.
Watch your environment and be aware of situations, songs, mental self-talk, and muscular tone throughout the day. Respect both systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic) and understand how to modulate your environment and thoughts in order to enhance one or the other.
6. Hormones > Numbers
If you honestly think "fitness" or health can be boiled down to calories, numbers, and equations, then you're truly stuck in an overly simplistic mindset. This is part of the reason why IIFYM doesn't work. Sure, it works for body composition and weight loss, but for true long term health and performance? Not a chance.
There's a reason you won't see the Arizona Diamondbacks or Jacksonville Jaguars prescribing IIFYM for their players - real nutritionists understand the effects of nutrient density on long-term body composition and hormonal regulation.
Simplistically speaking, hormones control everything in your body.
What wakes you up in the morning? Hormones (cortisol).
What puts you to sleep at night? Hormones (melatonin).
What drives glucose storage? Hormones (insulin).
What drives muscle growth and retention? Hormones (testosterone along with many others).
What is the largest factor between natural lifters and those sipping anabolic koolaid? Hormones. Higher circulating levels of specific hormones allow them to train harder and longer while improving the muscle protein synthetic (MPS) response and being more sensitive to inter- and intra-cellular signaling.
The main purpose of training and nutrition (both timing, quality, and quantity) is to influence hormones. If you understand how to influence hormones via lifestyle, supplementation (NOT anabolics), nutrition, and training then it will be exponentially easier to reach your goals.
Rather than resorting to throwing crap against a wall and seeing what sticks, you’ll be able to address and correct your weakest link.
7. #leastmode > #beastmode
I actually picked up this concept from another exceptionally smart strength coach, Luke Leaman. He actually coined the term #leastmode and it seems to be picking steam on social media.
The fitness industry has a bad habit of associating excessive discomfort with positive physiological adaptations. However, one must realize that muscular damage is not the main factor responsible for muscular growth. In fact, beyond a certain point excessive inflammation can hamper hypertrophy and also wreak havoc on your endocrine system.
Related: How Long Should I Workout? Getting Down and Dirty on Duration
Our culture likes to push the idea of “more is better”, but in our sympathetic driven society, most folks would find their results multiple if they focus on balancing their training demands with more recovery. Emphasize good sleep hygiene, pay attention to how your body feels, don’t grind out reps, and stop pounding jellybeans like you’re sponsored by Willy Wonka.
Scott Abel said it best, “Coax the body and it will respond, shock the body and it will react."
8. Morning movement prep made simple
Lifting early? You need to prioritize graded spinal movement in BOTH flexion and extension.
This may sound slightly contrary to what you’ve typically been told but spinal flexion should not be demonized. Most of the research, which vilifies spinal flexion, is referring to flexion UNDER LOAD.
Consider this for a moment, when you sleep, your discs will actually reabsorb synovial fluid which is squeezed out of articular cartilage at the point of contact.1 According to McCutchen’s weeping lubrication theory, this fluid is primarily designed to provide lubrication for articular surfaces during compressive loading.2
As such, if you can maximize this lubrication system prior to lifting (hint: actually take time to warm up) then you will hopefully decrease the chance of degenerative joint changes. Remember, your spine is not a solitary structure, it is a system of joints, which are designed to move within space.
Enough talk, let’s get to the action…Here’s a simple, two-step sequence, which you can add at the start of your dynamic warm up.
NOTE: Hat tip to Max Shank and Stu McGill for the ideas. This doesn’t have to be relegated to only morning training sessions - use it before bed to help yourself relax from the day, sprinkle it in between sets of deadlifts, or use it as part of an off day “recovery flow”.
9. Keep your sleeves strapped
If you own a pair of knee sleeves, you know just how quickly they can become weapons of mass destruction after just a few sweaty training sessions. Leave them in your gym bag or a hot car long enough and you’ll likely get popped for biological warfare.
You could wash them once a week if you really wanted to blow through a pair of Eleiko’s and drop 70 bucks every month. Or, you could do this…
10. Sleep is the most effective, legal PED.
Outside of exogenous anabolic compounds, there is no doubt that sleep plays the largest role in influencing positive physiological adaptations via both neural and systemic recovery.
Personally, I think that a chronically sleep deprived individual who constantly resorts to caffeine/preworkout in order to push through workouts is setting themselves up for long term adrenal dysregulation and other neuro-endocrine issues.
Related: Hacking Your Sleep 101 - Nine Tips For Better Gains
Now, before all of the PWO sipping keyboard warriors come out of the woodwork claiming there’s no issue with their #3scooplifestyle, just relax.
If there truly isn’t an issue, then I’d like to see at least 1 study examining the effects of poor sleep hygiene coupled with high caffeine intake on the HPA axis (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis) to prove their point.
What’s that? O sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of all these crickets…
Make no mistake, I am not anti-caffeine. But, we must realize that this substance is an ergogenic aid, not a crutch that you can rely upon to offset your less than stellar life choices.
Hack and Hope
If you’re still dying for more gyms hacks to make your life and lifts more convenient, feel free to check out part 1 as well: 20 Gym Hacks You Need to Know
Now that you’ve got the tools in the toolbox, use ‘em.
- DIURNAL CHANGES IN SPINAL MECHANICS AND THEIR CLINICAL SIGNIFICANCE
- Mow, Van C., and Rik Huiskes. Basic Orthopaedic Biomechanics & Mechano-biology. 3rd Ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2005. Print.