The best excuse to not go to the gym is that you just got back.
You see them everywhere. Maybe they are crossing the street looking damn fine in their jeans. Or they’ve got an aura of vitality just bursting from them as they stroll into the room you are in, shoulders back, heads held high. Or you’ve seen them at the gym. Quietly going about their work, faces red, veins bulging. The ones who have it figured out. The ones who know how to get results from their workouts and are walking proof that with enough hard work you can achieve anything. What are their secrets? Do they do bathe in the blood of freshly harvested young virgins? Do they have cryogenically frozen, flawless, robotic versions of themselves that they teleport their souls into when they leave the house? Fortunately for you, their secrets are not that exciting. Implement these 9 habits and you will become a highly effective gym rat, too!
#1: SET GOALS
You hear this all the time, with good reason. In order to get anywhere, you need to know where you’re going. This does not have to be super specific, as in I want to bench press 100KG by next year (of course it CAN be and it is great if you can pinpoint some goals like that), but it can also be something as simple as wanting to make it to the gym 3x per week.
You need a starting point. Whether that is getting better at running, learning how to lift weights, losing weight, or making it to the gym 3x a week, pick something to use as a jumping off point. You can always add to your goals or change them later on, when you have a better idea of what you want.
*Set up the foundation for your success. For example, if you want to start going to the gym 3x a week, the first step would be acquiring a gym membership nearby your home or workplace. If you want to bench press 100KG in a year, do some research to figure out what it would take to get there. Once you have the pre-work done, you will be able to start working to achieve your goal without any delays (which can severely hamper enthusiasm and motivation).
*Identify any potential sticking points and eradicate them. Again, using the 3x per week gym example, let’s say you have previously had issues making it to the gym from home because you get lazy once you arrive and end up not leaving the house. In this scenario, you would likely have more success choosing a gym close to your workplace and going there straight after or before work.
#2: SCHEDULE WORKOUTS
Make time once per week to schedule your workouts for the upcoming week. I like to prepare my schedule on Sunday, when I have a little relaxation time in advance of the M-F rush. It is really important to commit to your workouts and treat them as if they are mandatory work meetings. After you have reviewed your schedule for the week and allocated time for your gym sessions, make sure to put your workouts into your calendar. Then stick to your agenda like superglue. This is also a really good habit to cultivate in general, as it helps to organize and prepare you for the upcoming week.
*Make sure your calendar is in your face everyday. Creating a calendar will do nothing if you don’t see it. If you are oldschool like me, you might do well to have a written agenda on your refrigerator or on a wipe board. I like to write things down and put them on the refrigerator, where I know I will see it (gotta eat, man)!
*Feel guilty if you miss a workout. If you feel guilty when you miss a workout, you won’t want to repeat the experience. The more you invest emotionally, the lower the chances are of you giving up. If you do miss a workout, try to make it up later on in the week.
#3: FOLLOW A PROGRAM
Know what you are going to do when you get to the gym. It is one thing to make it to the gym, and another to be efficient once you are there. Not only do you want to make the best use of your precious time, but you also want to see results from your investment. Taking 15-20 minutes every week to prepare your exercise program is going to save you much more than that in the long run.
*Prepare your workout program and your schedule for the week at the same time.
*You can re-use the same (or a similar) program for a period of time. That will save you from having to make a new one every week.
*Have a few exercise alternatives available in case whatever equipment or machine you want to use is inaccessible or in-use. You don’t want to stand around doing nothing.
*For my group exercise class fanatics: make sure you have an alternative class or a on-the-fly workout you can do in case you can’t make it to one of your scheduled classes.
#4: BE CONSISTENT
This one is YUUUGE. You will not progress at the gym if you don’t consistently put in the work. It is that simple. Not only do you have to make it to the gym when you say you will, but you also need to do your utmost to complete all the exercises you have planned for in your program. You NEED to show up. You NEED to put in the blood, sweat and tears. You NEED to be firm with yourself. Obviously you will have healthy days and sick days. You should certainly take the time to rest if you contract the flu or another debilitating illness. Laziness, however, is not an illness. Your body is often stronger than your mind tells you it is. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Stick to your schedule, put in the work, and you will see results.
*Establish cues that force you into action. When I am feeling lazy but I have a workout scheduled, I force myself to put on my workout clothes. It is a cue that gets me into the training zone. If I have my clothes on, I have no choice but to get going. Other examples of possible cues: having your gym bag prepared in advance and waiting at the door, blasting a particular song to get your blood pumping, jumping up and down, etc.
#5: MEASURE PROGRESS
Effective gym rats track their progress to ensure that they are on the right path to reaching their goals. Let’s say your goal for the past month was to increase your bench press by 10lbs. You follow a program for a month, but you have not improved at all. If you have been tracking elements of your progress, you are more likely to find indicators of what went wrong (bad program, eating habits, training inconsistencies, etc.) and you can start making the changes necessary to get back on track. In addition to being a valuable resource for creating future programs and behavior models, measuring progress is an extremely powerful motivator and is often what keeps people from giving up.
*Don’t know what to track? Here are a few examples: weight or body composition, photos and body measurements, rep/weight schemes for specific exercises, perceived exertion levels by exercise or by workout, and daily food intake. It is not uncommon for highly effective gym rats to track all of the above!
*Take photos of yourself. I always take photos of my clients at the start of their fitness journeys, and then again every three months or so. Being able to visualize changes is very powerful. We don’t realize how much we have transformed over time, because changes occur so incrementally. Photos can be a serious confidence booster!
#6: ADDRESS WEAKNESSES
We all have our tendencies. Our likes and dislikes. Maybe you love squats but hate deadlifts, because you’re good at squats and you’re bad at deadlifts. You find yourself squatting all the time and rarely deadlifting (or half-assing your deadlift sets), even though your program calls for a good amount of both. Be honest with yourself and admit to what your are doing. Then confront those weaknesses. CRUSH THEM AND TURN THEM INTO STRENGTHS. Effective gym-goers do the things they may not necessarily WANT to do, because it is necessary to their end-goals.
*If you suck at something and you want to get better at it, make it a priority. Make it the first thing that you do when you get to the gym.
*If you get comfortable with an exercise, it is time to intensify it. Go heavier, go for more reps, take less time in between sets. The weak to strong cycle should be never-ending.
*Find another pair of eyes. Ask a friend or training partner evaluate your movements or videotape yourself during one of your sessions to see if there is anything (form, technique) you can improve upon.
#7: KEEP LEARNING
Highly effective gym rats are always seeking out ways to get better. They are eager to learn and continue achieving. Remember that you can (and should) always challenge yourself to improve. You will never be bored with what you are doing if you continually aim higher. Feel yourself getting bored with your program? One of your usual classes getting too easy? Research different options and try new things. Expand your mind and you will expand your horizons.
*Commit to learning a little something new every week.
*Read books or articles written by an industry leaders.
*Bookmark websites or blogs with interesting and useful content (hint hint)
#8: PRIORITIZE NUTRITION
Your body needs fuel. Good fuel. If you do not nourish your body, it will self-destruct. Highly effective gym rats are in-tune with their bodies and avoid creating obstacles to performing optimally. They do whatever they can to ensure they have what they need to keep growing. And just for the record, rest assured, my plant powered friends, you can get everything you need to perform at the highest levels on a plant-based diet. But how does one go about being healthy? What foods are considered “good”?
*Drink lots of water. Water is a key player in all of your bodily functions. When you don’t get enough water, not only are all of your functioning capacities diminished, but you also feel like the not nice word for dog poop.
*Limit alcohol consumption. It makes you weak, sorry folks.
*Use a nutrition tracker. Trackers like Cronometer and MyFitnessPal will give you an idea of what foods and quantities of said food you should be consuming. And they are both free!
*Stick to whole, unprocessed foods. Simple is always better. Vegetables, fruit, grains, beans/lentils, tofu/tempeh, nuts. You want to avoid pre-packaged foods as much as possible. Pick and choose your restaurants wisely. Know exactly what is going into your body.
*Eat a balanced meal a few hours before your workout. If you are feeling low on energy, have some snacks on hand that you can eat before or during your workout session. I always have some kind of homemade energy bar or smoothie nearby, along with dried fruit (dates, raisins, figs).
#9: SLEEP AND RECOVER
You will not perform at your peak levels without sleep and recovery time. These are vital to your continued performance. After every workout be sure to stretch/foam roll, eat a post-workout recovery snack or a full meal, and drink lots of water. Then get a full night (at least 7-9 hours) of sleep. Sleep helps to regulate your stress levels, rejuvenate your nervous system, and combat fatigue, which can lead to illness.
*Come up with a recovery routine that you do after every workout. Stretch/foam roll for 10 minutes, eat a quick snack, drink water, take a shower.
*Minimize distraction before bedtime. Try to turn off your computer or other electronic devices 20-30 minutes before you go to bed.
*Don’t train too close to your scheduled bedtime. Training too close to your bedtime might leave you too energized to sleep right away. Try to leave at least 2 hours between your training session and bedtime.
*Optimize your sleeping conditions to ensure a full night’s rest. You may need to put dark, light-blocking curtains over the windows or use an eye mask/earplugs if your room is too bright or noisy.
Adopt these 9 Habits and you will be ready to join the ranks of bonafide Gym Rats around the world. Make sure to comment if you want to share your progress or have any questions!
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