If you are not making progress towards your goals, you might be thinking to yourself “am I doing this right?” This happens to everyone when we focus on the things that are not important.
Here are 16 rules I use to gauge the effectiveness of someone’s training.
1.) Nutrition is the most important rule when you assess the effectiveness of your training. Your results come from your diet; going to the gym and moving weight around won’t cut it.
Learning how your body responds to certain foods and eating patterns will be crucial if you are wanting to be a competitor or an elite level athlete. There will be a lot of trial and error if you want to really understand how your body responds, but the payoff is worth the time investment.
Diet and nutrition ensures you successfully bulk or cut, it ensures you will have great performance in the gym and can affect your mood. Professional bodybuilders control every macro nutrient and water levels for shows to get that shredded dry look for events; without knowing exactly how their body responds, you can’t get near that level of conditioning.
2.) The scale is not always an indication of how your body is reacting to the new program or to your new diet plan. People who stare at the scale daily tend to get bummed out and frazzled over what they see on the scale.
Taking weight loss for example, if you implement a great weight training program, cardio, and a decent diet plan that will put you at a calorie deficit to lose bodyfat, your bodyweight could stay the same.
Bodyweight fluctuates if you are bloated and holding water, weigh yourself at different times of the day, have to use the restroom when you weigh yourself, your clothes, your have more muscle glycogen, and you could be building muscle while you are losing fat.
The easiest way to determine how effective your training is going is how your clothes fit. If you are trying to lose weight and the scale is staying the same, see how your clothes fit. Are your pants looser or shirt fitting a lot better? This is an indication your goals are headed in the right direction.
3.) Doing a program you can actually do means if you are a beginner in the weight room trying to do an advanced workout program like a German Volume Training program or advanced cube methods, you will not succeed. Find a good beginner program and stick with it; you can’t expect to do marathon training when you can’t even jog a mile in under 15 minutes, can you?
When you worry about things such as advanced training methods, accessory lifts, or if your form is ‘perfect’ you are detracting from your progression. Being able to concentrate on what is important in your stage of training is key to effective training. For instance, what good would worrying about doing deadlifts with chains do for you if you can’t even correctly deadlift 315 pounds from the floor?
4.) DOMS is not always good. DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness, aka “I’m too sore to move the day after I worked out.” To some people, there’s nothing like waking up and feeling the muscles you’ve worked out the day or 3 ago sore and painful. “You know you did it right when you’re this sore” some might say.
DOMS is not always good way to indicate your effectiveness because contrary to popular belief, it is your connective tissue that is sore, not just your muscles. The day after you ‘murder legs’ and you are sore, feel out where you are sore, my quads are usually sore towards the knee which is where the connective tissue is. Just because a muscle is sore does not mean you are going to get the most growth out of it.
If you train for strength and do a low rep scheme, you will not be sore for very long, many people who do a 5 sets of 5 reps scheme aren’t usually as sore compared to someone who does high volume work. Just because you aren’t sore doesn’t mean you haven’t promoted muscle growth.
5.) Less reps and sets is better. Training effectively doesn’t mean you need to do 50 sets per gym session. If you are able to do 50 sets in the gym, you are probably not using compound movements, or you are using weights that aren’t challenging.
There are many different theories on rep schemes for bodybuilders versus strength training and that is not what I am referring to here. Put more effort into doing 15-20 sets of quality work instead of doing 50 sets and hitting every machine. Less is more.
6.) Shorter rest periods not always best. There have been debates and theories over rest periods. I get questions all of the time asking “how long should my rest period be between sets.” A general rule of thumb is 3-5 minutes for heavy strength training sets and 30-60 seconds on a hypertrophy type workout. Rest periods depend on the person and their nervous system’s ability to recover. A beginner’s nervous system recovers quicker than an advanced lifter so don’t worry if it takes you 5 or 6 minutes between heavy sets; everyone’s nervous system is different.
This also means that you shouldn’t do a heavy set and go chit-chat for 20 minutes either, the idea of a rest period is to keep you aware that to progress you will have to push yourself and your body will adapt. Get quality sets in and push yourself to progress towards your goals.
7.) Training longer isn’t always better. Many people, including myself, go to a gym and disappear for hours in the gym and crawl out beat down. There is a point of diminishing returns where spending more time in the gym doesn’t offer worthwhile gains.
They key to an effective session is to go in with a plan, don’t screw around, and train hard. If you go over an hour you won’t lose your muscles and if you go less than an hour you will still build muscle and strength.
8.) An effective training session should have high intensity and focus on progression. Doing 100 reps of curls with 5 pound dumbbells won’t get you anywhere; same as walking a mile and expecting to be able to run a marathon.
High intensity means don’t spend time chatting with other people and use weights that challenge you to finish your sets with good form. Progression means keeping a log, write down your sessions and strive to add at least 1 rep or 5 pounds every time you walk into the gym.If you aren’t pushing yourself to add weight or reps in the gym and you don’t keep track of the weight you used, you will aren’t training effectively.
9.) Mindset is key in every aspect in life, so don’t expect it to be different in training. Your mind is the strongest tool you possess; if you don’t have a focused mind on what you are trying to achieve, you are wasting your time and you might get injured. I’ve seen people who pull 500+ pound deadlifts get hurt warming up with 225 pounds because they weren’t focused.
Think positive about everything you do. When you think negative or if you haven’t been able to get a certain weight on bench, don’t think “well I’m going to miss this again.” Try to think positive or even tell yourself “I am glad I finally got this.”
10.) Checking your ego at the door means quit comparing yourself to others when they are much more experienced than you. Egos are responsible for many injuries so leave it at home.
Don’t worry about the weight on the bar or on the machine, it is just resistance to help you get stronger and build muscle. Worry about your form and technique and quit cheating yourself doing things that a workout easier than it should be. Don’t do half reps on bench or squats because you can do more, do the full range of motion and build strength to do more weight.
11.) Consistency is key. Being consistent with each workout means don’t switch programs every 4 weeks and make a habit of what you are doing. Be consistent on sticking to your program, using progressive overload on everything, and not missing workouts if you want to train effectively. You need to have your schedule set up so you can go to the gym on a consistent basis, meaning if you go to the gym Monday, Wednesday, and Friday then you need to ensure you can always go on these days.
I prefer going to the gym at the same time every day and going to bed generally around the same time. Find what works for you and your schedule and stick to it.
12.) Enjoy what you are doing. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, you might not be doing this for the right reasons. This doesn’t mean you have to look forward to the pain you feel when you put 400 pounds on your back and squat to the floor and stand back up as many times as you can, or walking on the forever-stairs for 45 minutes, but you should embrace the journey.
If you wake up and say “damn I have to go to the gym” and you really don’t want to go, have an effective workout if you even go. Enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy. There might be some things along the way that suck, like lunges, but you do them and progress.
13.) Make the most out of every gym session means going to the gym and give everything you have; leave nothing on the table. I’m not saying to go break your 1 rep max personal record every day, but you have to train hard to progress.
You’ve seen the people in the gym that sit on a machine and text, read Facebook, and even talk on the phone; these people are wasting their time and even worse, your time if they are on the machine you are wanting to use. Train with a purpose and you will get the results you are looking for.
14.) Educate yourself and ask questions. There are a lot of myths and lies that go around the gym. Things like “full squats are bad for your knees, you should only do half squats” or “if you don’t have your protein shake within 10 minutes after your workout, you have wasted your workout.” Listening to things like this will make your training inefficient and counterproductive.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions to learn how to train better. Unless you like being that guy you see week after week and never progresses at all, you need to ask questions and learn the right way to train. Read books, articles online, and find experienced people who will give you guidance. Knowledge is power.
15.) Have realistic goals and do the appropriate work to get there. You must have a goal set if you want to make progress in anything. People go to the gym so they can lose weight, get stronger, build muscle, be able to run a marathon, be a football player, or anything else; whatever it is, they go for a reason. Going to the gym without a plan or wandering around aimlessly is not going to get you anywhere.
Have goals set and stick to them. If you are wanting to lose body fat, do the appropriate steps to get there such as eating whole foods on a calorie deficit with a good weight training program and some conditioning.
When I say have ‘realistic’ goals, I don’t mean to not shoot for Mr. Olympia or an elite powerlifter. What I mean is don’t get discouraged when you don’t turn professional bodybuilder in the first 2 years of training; you must put the time in and do the appropriate work to get there. Don’t sell yourself short; if you have a goal that will take years to complete, set smaller goals along the way to help make it seem less overwhelming.
An example is if you weigh 320 pounds and you want to get to 180 pounds. Your goal is to weigh 180 pounds, so you set smaller goals such lose 10 pounds a month. Setting smaller goals along the way will help you feel better about your progress. If you look at the big picture, losing 140 pounds will take some time to complete and you might get discouraged.
16.) Supplements are the last thing anybody should worry about. Supplements are used to supplement a current plan, so why would you want to spend money on amino acids and post workouts when you can’t even eat a consistent diet and train on a regular basis? When you use supplements and you do not have a consistent diet and you don’t train regularly, you are wasting money and you will not see any results whether or not you are using supplementation.
If you have your diet in check and you train regularly, supplements can give you an edge. Things like creatine and a pre-workout can give you a great boost in energy in the gym. I would rather see someone spend $50 on good healthy foods instead of a fat burner and not get any results at all from them.
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