You come to the gym several days per week, get under the bar (or over it in some cases), put in set after set of hard work in training, make some gains, rinse repeat. In essence that’s the process through which you get better at whatever athletic endeavor you’re in, but it’s not the whole picture. Are you doing everything you can to make sure you’re getting the full benefit of all the work you put in during training? If not you could be leaving some weight on the platform. Considering the effort we put into our training we want to ensure that we’re getting everything we can out of it.
Set a Goal
Goal setting is a crucial aspect of training. For your coach it determines how he or she will assemble your programming. For you it gives your training purpose and a way to motivate yourself, especially when you don’t particularly feel like training (and there will be MANY of those days). Without a clearly defined, realistic goal, your training will lack direction. You’ll make progress in the short-term, but Long term you’ll just be spinning your wheels. The most important things to keep in mind when setting goals is that they be specific and realistic. From there we want to choose a long-term goal to shoot for, which will determine the purpose and scope of our training. From there we choose short-term goals that we can use to measure our progress towards the long-term one.
Many of us begin our training journey with the goal of losing, or possibly gaining weight. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these, we want to be more targeted in our approach. Using weight loss as an example, rather than making general weight loss your goal instead aim to lose a certain amount of weight, 10 pounds for example, as your long-term goal. From there your short-term goal could be to lose 1-2 pounds per week. With this setup you’ll have something to aim for each week and success in achieving your short-term goal will motivate you to work towards that long-term goal.
As far as being realistic, we want to choose goals that are attainable, which is going to require that you be honest with yourself. If you’re starting weightlifting at 28 years old, never played any sports, and led a sedentary lifestyle prior to beginning, the likelihood of making the Olympic Team is pretty slim. However, could you snatch your body weight or clean 1.5x your body weight, possibly even qualify for Nationals? Absolutely! We want to choose goals that we can achieve with diligent, focused training instead of things that will discourage us when we find that they’re unattainable. Discuss this with your coach as they can certainly guide you in the right direction.
Lastly, make your goals about your performance, as this is something you can easily track and measure your progress against. Rather than saying you want to get stronger aim to add 50 pounds to your squat (oh the novice gains). I can’t begin to explain how fulfilling it is to see your numbers going up, knowing that each pound is moving you closer and closer to your goal. Once you reach that 50 pound goal, aim for another 50 and keep the gains train rolling. If you need a little extra motivation set a date for reaching your target. Once again, just be realistic about how much time it's going to take.
Be Present During Your Training
If you’ve already made the commitment to join a gym, get a coach, and start training you might as well give each session the attention it deserves. You need to be present during your training, which means not checking Facebook or Instagram between each set (I know, I’m asking a lot). Instead, use that time to reflect on your last set. Did you hit depth on that last set of squats? Have you been reaching full extension on your cleans? Are you thinking about those cues your coach has been giving you over the past few days? During training you should be thinking about training, about how you can improve rather than letting yourself be distracted by things beyond the scope of the work you’re doing. Don’t worry, the outside world will still be there once your session is done.
I’m sure most of you groaned once you saw the word recovery because I’ve beaten this topic to death, but this is one that I can’t stress enough. The old adage of, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is only true if you can recover from whatever tried to kill you. The immediate effect of training is that we’re made weaker. It’s not until we eat to refuel then sleep to repair that the gains train starts picking up steam. What we do outside of the gym is just as important, perhaps even more so, than what we do inside. If you’re training hard and recovering soft you’re muting your progress at best and at worst you’re actually decreasing your level of performance. If you’re working hard during training to achieve those goals you set for yourself you need to be recovering just as hard or harder. Eat enough to facilitate recovery from training, put the phone down and go to sleep.
Along with nutrition and sleep, stress management is another important aspect for maximizing performance. Many of us have stressful jobs that weigh on our thoughts in and out of the gym. The thing to remember is that your body doesn’t differentiate stress at work from the physical stress you impose on yourself through training, it’s all the same. We have an answer for training-induced stress (food & sleep), but the other stresses of life are a little trickier to manage. If you’re experiencing lots of stress outside of the gym explore healthy ways of dissipating that stress. It could be getting a massage, yoga, or even something as simple for going for a 20 minute stroll. Managing your stress effectively will ensure that your life outside of the gym doesn’t negatively impact your hard work inside the gym.
Communication with your coach is paramount to your training success. Coach Kurt touched on this recently in another post so I won’t get too in depth here. What I will say is that the relationship between you and your coach as it relates to your training is a two way street. It’s up to your coach to use their knowledge to guide your training so that you can achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. It’s up to you as the athlete to give your coach the information they need to do that. If you’ve been eating and sleeping like crap your coach needs to know. If you’ve been missing a bunch of lifts in training your coach needs to know. Hell, if all of your lifts have been really easy your coach needs to know so they can make it suck again. If you’ve been given a cue and can’t wrap your head around it let your coach know so they can figure out what would be more effective. Be an active participant in your training. Ask questions when you need to and make sure your coach has all the information they need to get you the results you’re looking for.
A little friendly competition never hurt anyone. That being said, this one is an absolute necessity to me, especially if you’re a competitive athlete. Ask some of the best coaches about the requirements for producing top quality athletes and one of the things you’ll hear is having good training partners. At any point in your training I find that it really helps if you’re chasing or are being chased by someone. You’re either the tortoise or the hare. Similar to what we want from goal setting, a healthy rivalry with a fellow lifter can help motivate you to perform at your best, since you’ll need that kind of performance to catch someone who is ahead of you or nipping at your heels. It could be the difference between having a month of mediocre training sessions that result in a 2kg PR or a month of your best performances resulting in a 5kg PR.
Ask yourself if any of this is part of your training. If the answer is no then you’ve got some homework to do. However, once you incorporate these ideas into your training you’ll be maximizing your performance and trading those 1kg and 2kg PRs for even more. Happy lifting!
Kaleb Burnett, C.S.C.S, USAW-ASPC L2, AOLC