Too often, fitness articles zero in on pushing your body to the limit, finding motivation to get to the gym, hitting the iron, and training smart.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, but there definitely are dark horses that can be silent killers to your gains – and they have nothing to do with the gym.
At the end of the day, if your lifestyle as a whole isn’t conducive to your gym motivation and desire to see the results you’re after, you’re wasting time and selling yourself short.
Consider these factors that are quintessential for gains, yet are hardly spoken of by the experts.
1. Get More Sleep
Simply put: It’s while you sleep, you grow.
That sounds painfully basic, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Deep sleep allows for REM cycles to come into play, and optimize your release of testosterone while your muscles can truly rest.
Catching 5 hours a night while in an intense training phase won’t cut it. Really gun for 7-8 hours each night and give your body the care it needs. It’s crucial for recovery, and you’ll have more energy to train intensely to boot. Your nervous system will thank you.
2. Eat for your Goals. Really.
Whether you’re training to bulk up, cut down body fat, or just get strong as a bull, it’s going to take the discipline of giving your body the nutrition it needs on a consistent basis.
One habit many of us fall into is having one “perfect” meal during the day, while making shortcuts on the others. Regardless of your goal, this approach will hold you back, sometimes in very severe ways. If you’re looking for weight gain and bigger muscles, there’s no getting around it: You need to eat larger portions, and frequently.
For fat loss and lower body weight, it’s time to get into a caloric deficit, while making smarter food choices with better quality carbohydrates. Of course, the baseline for any fitness related goal would be to have a diet that’s high in protein, to feed and repair your muscles. On all fronts, sticking to the plan will ensure gains.
3. Reduce Stress
This is harder than it sounds. Life happens, and there’s no predicting when a stressful situation can arise. With that said, you can definitely set the stage for better outcomes by going to bed at a decent hour (see #1), and even through little practices like deep breathing exercises throughout the day.
Doing things that are generally relaxing can lend to a more stress-free day, such as listening to calming music, going for walks, or pleasure reading. If you have a high-stress job, there’s not much you can change (we don’t expect you to pick up and quit!), and you may have to face a hard truth: You’re not in the best place to foster lots of gains from the gym.
It doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means they could be greater if work didn’t take such a toll.
4. Play a Sport
Being active in an athletic capacity even once per week can be essential in helping the body move well, utilize fast twitch muscle fibers, burn extra body fat, and function as a complete unit.
All of these things are a dream for trainers like me to see in a client, because it shows much better kinesthetic awareness and leaves much less to coach and correct. For most of us, the whole point of building strength, adding muscle and dropping body fat through our efforts in the gym is to enable us to be better at doing athletic things.
And doing athletic things will enhance our training in the gym. Get out there! Enough said.
5. Drugs and Alcohol? Take it down a Notch. Or Three.
If you’re a recreational drug user or drink often, you're going to have a much harder time accomplishing your goals. There's no way around it.
Not only can this be stressful on the kidneys and liver, it can also affect your nervous system and (in the case of alcohol) store excess body fat due to the consumption of empty calories. If you’re serious about seeing results in the gym, you’re going to have to cut back on the above.
Partying like a rock star may belong on the backburner for now.
6. Manage your Soreness
A hard workout can make DOMS debilitating in the days that follow. Though it isn’t recommended to feel this way every day, it’s definitely something that should be experienced periodically, especially if you’re looking to break through plateaus.
How you deal with this outside the gym matters a lot. A morning stretching routine, Epsom salts baths, and intermittent mobility drills can be lifesavers for DOMS, as well as doing light steady state cardio to help improve circulation by sending oxygenated blood to the muscles.
It’s definitely worth the effort, even if it’s a grand total of 30 minutes per day.
7. Get in the Clinic and On the Table
There are two kinds of clinicians I would recommend investing in, especially due to the reasons in the last subheading: A registered massage therapist, and a chiropractor.
RMT’s can help relax tight muscles, of course, and keep tissue quality on point which can definitely increase circulation and potentiate more hypertrophy (many bodybuilders I’ve known have sworn by getting an RMT session to the muscles they’ve just trained, soon after they’ve finished their workout).
Chiropractors can also be your saving grace when it comes to load tolerance. If you’re consistent with hitting the iron and like to lift heavy, there’s no escaping at least some collateral damage where your joints, connective tissue, and spine are concerned.
Whether it’s a matter of stimulating dormant muscles, using active release techniques to fix a restriction, or manually adjusting the skeleton to correct an obliquity, having a good chiropractor for periodical tune-ups is a smart move. Both are worth the investment.
8. Stop Thinking about Training!
This sounds like it’s a complete contradiction from the rest of the article, right? Well the truth of the matter is, when people preoccupy themselves with their training for every waking hour they spend outside the gym, training itself can become another stressor.
This should be something we all enjoy, not something that we worry about, get ticked off over, and over plan. Mental health is as much a part of your bodily health as anything else, and it often gets overlooked in favor of the “hardcore, keep grinding, no days off” mentality that permeates the industry.
Approaching the gym with the right mindset – and not an obsessive one – is an invaluable piece of advice that can make a lifter see gains that last, and not burn out after a short while.
If you want to be in this for the long haul, the name of the game is balance.
You have to train hard, but train smart also.
That rule of thumb extends outside the gym by way of treating your body the way you’d treat anything else you wanted to maintain and see functioning at its best.
On the other hand, abuse it and you’ll pay the price.