How effective is your gym programme?
My last post about planning for the season ahead (One Season Ends, Another Begins…) led to quite a few people getting in touch to ask me about what sort of things to include in their winter training plans – most specifically to do with time spent in the gym, a favourite for the cold winter months in the Northern Hemisphere.
Like any other discipline in sport, for it to be effective, a gym programme needs some forethought and an action plan. If you don’t have a purpose going into the gym you’ll more than likely just wander from weight to weight or machine to machine and do the same thing you always do. Fair enough it might work up a bit of a sweat, but is it really helping you build the functional strength you want and improve the way you think it is?
Planning your gym programme is just like planning the rest of your training, so it always amazes me how little people plan for going to the gym, even though they expect to improve just like they do out on the track or on the roads, wherre they often have a detailed plan. Break down your plan into a 3-month period, then monthly, weekly and individual session units and that way you’ll be able to plan your progression and ensure that you’re building upon the last session each time you go. Whether you’re looking to build up some running time to complete your first 5K, or you’re aiming for the CrossFit World Championships the basics of progression remain the same. Whatever it is you’re planning for, this applies to you too!
Once you’re in the gym, don’t spend too long there. If you’re really there for a workout there shouldn’t be a 5 minute conversation between each exercise with the guy at the next machine and once you’ve been in there for over an hour, concentration will begin to drift and intensity will fade. Planning for a smaller number of quality exercises and then getting them done in a timely fashion will keep your head in the right place and you’ll suddenly find that visits to the gym are much quicker. Double bonus!
When planning your exercises and looking for progression, you don’t want the body to get lazy. The body only adapts to the demands which we set upon it so some variety is the order of the day here. Doing the same exercise every visit will get you good at it, but only it, so look to vary the exercises every 3-4 weeks. Give yourself enough time to improve with the exercise then move on and surprise the body again for best results. Similarly if you want to get stronger, you’ve got to lift heavy things and challenge yourself to life heavier and heavier weights. It seems obvious but is way underestimated by a lot of people. We often see people working away in the gym doing 3 sets of 10 reps with weights that they could actually do 15-18 reps with, this is good for muscular endurance but not for strength gains. Get a weight that’s heavy enough and keep challenging yourself. Conversely, if it’s muscular endurance you’re working towards, use the lighter weights but get in plenty of reps. This is why knowing what you’re trying to achieve is so important.
At the end of all that hard work, you’re going to need to recover too, so don’t waste all the time and energy put into these workouts by not finishing off in the best way possible. And what’s that i hear you ask? Eating of course! Getting some good protein and carbohydrates into the system within 20-30 minutes will help optimise the bodies ability to rebuild itself stronger and quicker, allowing you to hit the next session fresh and ready to go.
As ever, you can get as technical and as geeky as you like about it, but a bit of simple planning ahead of time will keep you on track for the best possible results from your visits to the gym.