Performing optimally in the gym means you can lift heavier weights or complete more reps, and that’s when we make serious gains.
Whether you want to add more muscle or increase your strength, there are various ways you can boost your performance in the gym. Here are 5 of the most effective:
1. Warm up properly
We’re all strapped for time in our hectic modern lives, which means we often skip a proper warm up before a weight training session. However, when we do we compromise our performance.
A 10-minute warm-up that consists of light aerobic activity, followed by some dynamic stretching and mobility work helps to increase blood flow to muscles and activates the neuromuscular system, which delivers increased strength when it comes time to lift.
Ditch the static stretching, though. There is sufficient research available to suggest that it negatively influences muscle strength and power output in subsequent workouts, which is why a dynamic warm-up is the best approach.
A solid warm-up also increases blood flow to your arms and legs and raises skin temperature, which has a direct effect on your strength, according to research. And a good warmup also reduces our injury risk, especially when training with heavy loads.
2. Think strong
Your mental approach may be just as important as your programme when it comes to your performance. Visualisation and mental imagery are powerful yet often underutilised tools, particularly where strength is concerned.
For instance, a study conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation compared people who went to the gym with people who carried out virtual workouts in their heads. The gym-goers experienced a 30% increase in strength, while the virtual training group increased bicep muscle strength by 13.4% by merely visualising the workout. They also maintained those gains for three months following the mental training.
3. Go minimalist on the footwear
Minimalist footwear enhances proprioception – the awareness of our limbs in space and our movement patterns. This helps to control our movements, and improves our balance, coordination and our posture for better joint alignment. These are the key ingredients for efficient and powerful human movement because we’re able to generate more force through our planted feet and we’re better able to maintain the correct, natural position of our body during complex compound movements.
4. Get a pre-workout boost
Pre-workout supplements are specifically formulated to give you a boost before a tough session.
Effective pre-workout products contain a potent blend of ingredients that increase energy, boost strength and increase performance, while also supporting endurance and mental focus. Look for reliable and renowned ingredients such as beta alanine, L-arginine, creatine, BCAAs and caffeine in your pre-workout of choice.
Highly effective ingredients such as creatine and caffeine are vital as they’ve been shown to provide strength benefits when used in the correct dosage.
Caffeine, for example, works as a performance-enhancing aid through a number of mechanisms according to available research. Evidence suggests that caffeine helps to increase strength through its effects on the central nervous system and by improving a muscle’s mechanical response to the contraction impulse. Caffeine can also improve strength endurance and our pain perception and fatigue tolerance during training by stimulating the production of the neurotransmitter beta-endorphin.
Read more about the benefits or creatine and the perfect dosing strategies to maximise your results.
5. Get your hydration right
Most of us are dehydrated because we don’t drink enough water throughout the day. This has detrimental effects on our strength as it limits our muscles’ ability to produce force.
A study conducted at the University of Connecticut determined that “hypohydration (a decrease in water volume in the body) attenuates resistance exercise performance”, particularly in subsequent sets.
Accordingly, it is important to drink sufficient water every day – general guidelines suggest 2-3L per day and between 250-400ml per hour during exercise, depending on the conditions. Water balance is also affected by electrolyte balance, so it’s also a good idea to replace electrolytes regularly, particularly if you sweat a lot or exercise intensely on a regular basis.