Efficiency is something people place a lot of value on these days, even when it comes to matters like health and fitness. Strength training is no exception, despite the fact that significant progress can take a fairly long time.
However, there are several things you can do to streamline the process and achieve the best results possible for your time and effort. Let’s take a look at 15 tips to double the efficiency of your strength training.
1. Focus on compound exercises.
Compound exercises are one of the best ways to get the most out of your workouts. Unlike isolation movements that focus solely on one area, compound movements put multiple joints and muscle groups to work at the same time.
This process burns more calories and fat, while strengthening all the muscles involved, including the stabilizers that are left out when performing isolation movements.
One example of a compound exercise is the barbell squat, which works virtually the entire body, because of the effort required for proper execution and balance.
2. Use dumbbells.
Dumbbells allow for more efficient development of strength, power and endurance. They activate more muscle fibers than machines, primarily because you have to work harder to balance them, while maintaining proper form.
They require very little space to use and virtually any exercise that can be performed with machines can also be done with dumbbells.
3. Train one side-at-a-time.
Called “unilateral training,” this concept involves working one side of the body at a time. Examples would include one-legged squats and single-arm dumbbell rows.
The reason you’ll get better results in less time is because you’re recruiting more muscles to stabilize and balance your body, which will help you to achieve greater overall strength.
4. Develop your core.
If you have only a few minutes to work out, it’s far better to focus on your abdominals than any other muscle group. They are considered by many to be the most important muscles in the entire body, due to their role in proper posture, protecting the lower back and aiding in the digestive process.
They’re actually the one muscle group that has to be strong enough to support all the weight required to develop the rest of the body.
5. Add other exercises between sets.
When you’re resting between sets, it’s the muscles you’re actually working that need the rest. A more efficient use of your time would be to work some of your other muscles during this period, such as your abs or lower back. Doing so will reduce your workout time significantly, while making every minute count.
6. Shorten your workouts.
The truth of the matter is that after 30 to 40 minutes of exercise, your body begins to tire and the effectiveness of your effort declines.
In order to go beyond that, you’re likely to end up slowing down and lowering your level of intensity, which will ultimately result in slower gains. It’s far better to get your workout done quickly, while you’re still able to handle a higher level of intensity.
7. Lift slowly.
Many people have a habit of contracting their muscles rather slowly, then releasing them quickly. An example would be performing a dumbbell curl slowly for the contraction phase of the exercise, then quickly bringing it down to the starting position.
A more effective approach is to proceed slowly with both portions of the movement, maximizing the efficiency of both the concentric and eccentric phases.
8. Lift heavy with good form.
While good form is important for all types of exercise, it’s particularly critical when lifting heavy weight, due to the potential for serious injury.
Although every training program should begin with light weight to develop proper form, your gains will occur much more quickly if you’re able to handle heavier weight over time, without getting sloppy.
You can only get stronger by subjecting your muscles to regular increases in resistance, but you won’t get nearly as much for your efforts if you’re jerking the weights up and down.
Odds are, you’re using the wrong muscles and risking an injury that can put a sudden end to your progress.
9. Add some balance lifts.
Movements that require balancing are far superior to those that are performed sitting on a bench. Do your exercises standing on one leg or on a Swiss ball, if possible. The balancing process will force you to activate your core muscles, for maximum effectiveness.
10. Mix it up.
Avoid sticking to the same routine for more than a few weeks, so your body won’t have a chance to become too accustomed to it. Whether you realize it or not, your muscles will begin to adjust to that particular stress level and it won’t be long before you hit a plateau.
11. Do not train to failure on every set.
You only need to take a muscle to failure once in any workout – not once in each set. If you’re taking each set to failure, you’re actually overworking that muscle.
The result is that it will require more time to recuperate before you can hit it again, wasting valuable time, during which you could be making steady gains.
12. Do your cardio after lifting.
If your focus is on becoming a competitive runner, it would make sense to do your running while you are the freshest, with less emphasis on your weight training.
However, since you’re looking to gain strength as quickly and efficiently as possible, that’s the part you need to prioritize. Do your cardio, by all means, but do it afterward. You only have so much energy to devote to your efforts and you’ll get more bang for your buck by focusing accordingly.
13. Drink tea to lower your cortisol levels.
A study conducted by researchers from University College (London) showed that drinking 4 cups of black tea per day could cut cortisol levels in half, over a period of six weeks.
By its very nature, exercise is a stressful endeavor that increases levels of cortisol in the body. However, too much cortisol will have a catabolic effect on your muscles, slowing their growth. Drinking tea is a fairly simple way to keep your cortisol levels under control.
14. Avoid the gym during peak hours.
If efficiency is what you want, avoid showing up to the gym between the hours of 4 – 8 p.m. Even if you work the same “banker hours” as everyone else, try getting up a little earlier in the morning to get your workout done when there’s fewer people using the equipment.
Remember that while you’re sitting there waiting to use that bench you need for your last remaining exercise, your muscles are already cooling down.
15. Stay hydrated.
Finally, the importance of drinking water cannot be overstated. Your performance depends on remaining hydrated and you won’t be anywhere near your peak without it.
Research also shows that the amount of water present within your cells has a lot to do with whether or not you will achieve the critical process of muscle breakdown necessary for the growth of new tissue. After all, your muscles are composed of approximately 80 percent water.