Life hacks are all the rage these days; everybody wants to know how to cure cancer and solve global warming with a rubber band, some masking tape, and an iPhone.
Listen here MacGyver, I know you think you’re the next best thing since Captain America, but Googling doesn’t turn you into Dr. Phil or give you a PhD in solving first world problems.
Turns out the gym has it’s own fair share of problems that folks run into on a daily basis when they’re trying to get jacked and drop the last few pounds before summer break.
Here are a couple hacks that’ll take your next session from suck to sick.
1. Freeze Your Knee Sleeves/Wrist Wraps
If your knee sleeves or wrist wraps smell like the locker room after a high school football game, then this hack is right up your alley.
Truth be told, you could always throw them in the washer machine or soak them in a dilute vinegar solution to combat the aromatic problem. However, that creates a little extra wear and tear, which could easily be avoided.
I actually tested this hack on my own knee sleeves a few weeks ago when a friend mentioned it to me. Surprisingly after two hours in the freezer, I removed my knee sleeves and despite being slightly frosty, they didn’t smell a bit.
It may not be a permanent solution since you’ll continue to sweat in subsequent workouts, but it provides a quick, easy fix.
2. Make Your Own Fat Grips
If you’ve ever trained at a semi-hardcore facility or you’re involved in the world of strength and conditioning, then I’m sure you’re well accustomed to grip-specific implements.
Sometimes it's hard to shell out your hard-earned cash when you could just make your own.
The easiest way to increase the grip demands for any exercise is to simply increase the radius of the object you’re trying to hold - enter the pool noodle. It’s not new, flashy, or expensive by any means, but it gets the job done.
Some noodles are denser than others so experiment with a few different brands and see which one works best. In all honestly, your kids probably aren’t going to use them much past the age of 7 or 8 so might as well put them to good use.
3. Freeze Your Water Bottle
If you’ve ever trained in a hot or humid environment, then I’m sure you’re well accustomed with this “hack”. However, I’ve had to refine it slightly as I’ve experienced some issues in the past.
Whenever you freeze plastic, you must keep in mind that a phenomenon known as the “glass transition temperature” exists which modifies the characteristics of solids from ductile to brittle. This means that if you freeze certain types of plastic, they may shatter if exposed to high velocities or sudden external forces.
I’ve done a little experimenting with this on my own, and I’ve found that thicker plastics (i.e. Blender bottles) tend to shatter easier than thinner models (i.e. Deer Park water bottles).
With that being said, just make sure you’re not throwing around your newly acquired arctic beverage on the way to the gym, and you shouldn’t have to worry about the ductility changes within its structural composition.
4. Utilize Multiple Blender Bottles
I won’t lie; I have more blender bottles than pairs of shoes. But to be honest, it’s actually quite handy. I typically switch mine out every 2-3 days depending on how much I use them, but having multiple bottles prepped for the day can save you time and energy.
Use one for your pre-workout concoction (creatine, beta alanine, BCAAs, etc.), another for intra-workout carbs and protein, and perhaps a third for your post workout shake. Now some people may not use pre, intra, or post workout supplementation, which is fine. I certainly see nothing wrong with that.
However, the vast majority of Americans are married to the idea that supplementation is the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to making gains, and as such, utilizing multiple blender bottles is quite convenient during a busy day.
5. Ditch the Moisture Wicking Gear
Cool your jets, bro; just hear me out for a second. I’m not trying to take away all of your sleeveless, skin-tight Under Armour gear, but it’s likely not the best idea when you’re front squatting.
Instead, use a cotton T-shirt rather than slick, moisture wicking gear because it’ll help to keep the bar in place once you start to sweat and the bar gets heavy.
Look, I’m not trying to redo your entire wardrobe, but that girl on the elliptical you’ve been trying to impress for the last 20 minutes probably doesn’t care that your shirt closely resembles body paint.
6. Keep Your Gym Bag in Your Car
This is somewhat of a no-brainer, but many people forget or just simply choose not to make their life easier.
What’s the toughest part about going to the gym? Actually getting there, right? So, why would you give yourself any chance to get distracted or talk yourself out of it by going home?
Keep your stuff in your car, and you’ll always be ready to hit a session whenever you’re out.
7. Incorporate “Fillers”
So you just finished a set of 315 on bench, what now?
Well after you update the entire Twitter world about how you #gohardforthegainz, you should probably hit some light “filler” work.
I describe this to my athletes as the small stuff most people know they should do but neglect because they’re either lazy or just don’t know better.
For example, once you hit your set of bench, it might be wise to throw in some forearm wall slides or a set of facepulls to make sure that your shoulders don’t make you hate life tomorrow. It could be anything: mobility work, activation drills, motor pattern sequencing, etc.
8. Get Creative With Foam Rolling
I specifically remember one time when I was interning with the strength and conditioning department at USC, and the tennis team asked me to demonstrate some self-myofascial release techniques during a recovery session. I had nothing in terms of equipment, but I ended up grabbing someone’s Nalgene water bottle and made it work.
You can easily do the same thing if you’re short on time or resources. Look around your house, check out what your gym has to offer, or even scope out some dog toys laying around, as many can be beneficial for soft tissue work.
9. “Until Death Do Us Part…”
I’m not married yet, but if I can think of one thing that would consistently get in the way when I was lifting, it’d definitely be a wedding ring. No worries though, I’ve got you covered.
Head down to your local hardware store and pick up a sturdy climbing carabiner; clip it to your key ring and attach a few keys if you want. However, now you’ve also got a simple and convenient place to store your wedding ring without fear of losing them.
If for some mysterious reason you manage to lose ALL of your keys and the ring(s) attached to them, then you’ve got bigger problems than your lack of short-term memory.
10. Use Your Playlist As A Timer
If you find yourself constantly checking the clock wondering when it’ll finally be time to leave, then you may want to consider this next hack; or, you may just want to find a form of exercise that you actually enjoy and can sustain.
Either way, try adding songs to a playlist that directly correspond with the amount of time you’ll be in the gym or out on a run.
Rather than having to check the clock, you can simply exercise through all of your favorite songs; once the tunes die out, you can head home.
Again, this may not work for everyone, as I know individual programming will vary; but it’s an easy way to keep your mind occupied and actually enjoy your workout rather than watching the seconds tick by.
11. Quit Wasting Energy
Deadlifting is tough; want to know what’s even tougher?
Getting the plates off the bar after you finish. Rather then trying to hold the bar with one hand and pull plates off with the other, here’s a quick hack to save you time and energy:
Straddle the bar and pull the plates towards yourself.
12. Turn Your iPhone To Do Not Disturb
“Hey, so I know you’ve got to post a picture to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter every time you hit a PR, but there are other people in here who have to use the same equipment. We’d all appreciate it if you’d spend less time on social media and more time, you know, actually working out.”
Rants aside, the easiest way to ensure you don’t get distracted by pointless notifications or nagging text messages is to set your phone to airplane mode. You can still use Spotify or Pandora to listen to music by simply enabling Wi-Fi and the "Do Not Disturb" option in your settings after you’ve switched modes.
Also, I know that many folks prefer to use wireless ear buds while working out, and some devices still allow you to enable Bluetooth while in airplane mode so all hope is not lost.
13. One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure
This hack is mainly for the ladies, but there might be a few fellas still rocking some studs. I can imagine it’d be pretty annoying to lose an earring in your gym bag and then have to hunt around in every dark crevice until it finally sticks your finger.
Do yourself a favor: find an old Tylenol bottle or contact case, and throw it in one of the pockets on your gym bag. The next time you’re ready to break a sweat, take out your earrings, throw them in the case, and you’ll be good to go.
14. Fix Your Feet
I don’t know if some guys realize it, but if they took off their shoes and socks, their feet would likely be considered biological weapons.
If your feet smell like that pond of stagnant water behind your house and Odor Eaters is looking to sponsor you, then you should probably test out this hack immediately.
Find the nearest dryer sheet or dry tea bag, and put it in your shoes overnight. Both options are quite helpful for clearing up even the worst offenders in a relatively short amount of time.
15. Utilize Rep Ranges
For the vast majority of programs I’ve written, I’ll utilize specific repetition schemes, but I’ll also incorporate rep ranges to enhance an athlete’s perceived interpretation of success. For example, when I give someone a rep range such as 8-12, it makes it much easier to autoregulate each set with a given weight.
I always tell my athletes to shoot for the lower end of the rep range if it’s tough or the higher end if it’s easy. Once someone hits 12 reps with a given poundage, they should increase by 5 pounds and shoot for the lower end again.
At the same time, if someone misses the bottom of the range by a rep or two, then they simply drop the weight slightly (2.5-5%) and shoot for the higher end. By utilizing this system, you never have to feel like you “missed” your PR on a specific day - simply adjust, adapt, and conquer.
16. Make Bulgarian Split Squats Less Awkward
Bulgarian split squats suck. They suck even more when you have to dig your toes in or prop your ankle up on a bench to stay stable.
Do yourself a favor - the next time they’re in your program, find a leg extension or leg curl machine and simply drape your leg over the cylindrical pad typically found on most models.
It’s much more comfortable than a bench as it is actually naturally contoured with the anatomical design of your ankle.
17. Use a Fat Grip With Banded Pushups
I’ve written about the vast benefits of pushups in some of my previous articles (see here: Train Like an Athlete Look Like a Bodybuilder), and if you’ve been adding bands to increase the resistance at lockout, then I’m sure you’ve run into a few issues with them constantly moving around on your upper back.
One day, while I was tinkering with the setup, I came up with the idea to simply thread the band through a fat grip in order to keep it secure on my upper back.
Even though the fat grip isn’t the most comfortable object to have pressing on your rhomboids, it’s better than having a half-inch elastic band pop you in the back of the neck.
18. Incorporate a Simple Dynamic Warm-up
Quit skipping your warm up because you’re worried it’ll take too long and you’ll miss the latest episode of Breaking Bad.
Listen, your squat resembles a good morning and no matter how much you stretch your hamstrings, it’s not going to cure your buttwink. Stop telling yourself a set with just the bar is “good enough” and actually warm up correctly.
19. Make Your Own Weight Vest
I don’t know if you’ve priced out weight vests recently, but those suckers are anything but cheap. If you want a nice one with Velcro that subtly resembles Kevlar and could likely stop a bullet if need be, then you better be ready to drop upwards of $175+.
There’s really no need for all that though, just make your own. If you’re in college or you’ve already graduated, then you’ve likely got a spare book bag lying around and you could save yourself 175 bucks.
I don’t recommend draping it off your back for chinups or pullups as it may pull you into excessive hyperextension, but you could easily flip it to the front of your body instead. It also comes in quite handy for pushups, as it’s rather tough to load plates on your own back without having to worry about them slipping off and crushing fingers.
20. Utilize a Band on Pushups and Chinups
Bodyweight movements should ideally be the foundation for all movement capabilities.
Ever wonder why gymnasts are such fantastic well-rounded athletes? They’re taught how to control and manipulate their bodyweight against the influences of gravity. In my opinion, this is one skill that is slowly but surely being lost with each subsequent generation.
I’ve coached my fair share of pushups and chinups, and most people need some work on the biomechanical side of the equation.
If you want to alter the strength curve and improve the mechanical disadvantage at the lowest portion of the length-tension relationship, then consider utilizing bands within your training sessions.
For pushups, you can simply spread the band across the rack by stretching it across the safety pins or the J-hooks. Chinups are similar but you can either loop the band around the bar or stretch it across the pins (same as the pushup setup) to add some assistance.
Work Smarter and Harder
The weights never get lighter, but if you incorporate some of these hacks, you can certainly improve the efficiency of your time spent in the gym.
I can’t guarantee they’ll put an inch on your arms in 4 weeks or help you hit a 405 deadlift within the next month, but they will help you to move better, enhance your productivity and hopefully improve the quality of your next training session.