Weightlifting: 5 Key Components to Ensure Long-Term Growth and Success
Are you someone who finds themselves stuck in the monotonous routine of hitting the gym day after day, entering each workout still sore from the last and without much gas left in the tank after a long day at work or school? Maybe you've tried switching up the number of days you come in, or the order of the exercises, or even muscle groups your pair during a workout. This can lead to frustration and making rash decisions such as program hopping and changing things up too frequently, to buying loads of extra supplements that have minimal impact on your long term growth and success. Is it possible that that the reason for your stagnation and frustration is in part because you are overlooking a few fundamental principles absolutely crucial to your success? It is entirely possible, and it's just about as easy to overlook these components as it is to start to properly practice and include them.
While many elements can factor into the success of each daily workout, let's focus on five key components that are often overlooked by your average gym goer and that, when put into practice, can be the difference between making or breaking that next workout.
Let's take a closer look at these five simple, but pivotal factors.
1. Proper Food Consumption
There is no way this one could not make the list. This is crucial to ensure that your progress will continue to climb. There is an old saying that abs are made in the kitchen. There is another saying that you are what you eat. I never believed either of these when I started training, and it wasn't like my progress was at a standstill. I was growing, just very inconsistently and not in all the ways I desired. Full muscles usually came at the price of a well formed belly. It wasn't until I actually tried eating both the correct amount of calories to reach my goal (muscle gain or fat loss) and eating a cleaner diet that I saw I didn't have to wait years for my stomach to go down and months to gain five or more pounds on each lift.
As you might have guessed, the nature of your food consumption will vary based on your goals. If your goal is to gain healthy weight and put on some muscle mass, high protein consumption is a must, along with a good intake of carbohydrates. If your goal is fat loss, more vegetables in your diet will be key, along with a continuous high protein intake. Now a night out at Pizza Hut or a Taco Bell run with some of your friends once in a while isn't going to completely derail your train, but the importance here is consistency. I'm a big believer in having a cheat meal once a week, as this gives you something to look forward to, and helps you to keep going through the trenches of the workweek. I personally like to take mine on the weekend, but it really doesn't matter where you place it.
Along with these, be sure that the amount of calories you eat is in line with your goals. For example, if you are trying to gain weight, and you are normally consuming 2,800 calories a day, it might not be a smart idea to boost your calories to 4,000. On the flip side, if you are trying to lose weight, skipping breakfast, and eating a granola bar for lunch won't cut it either. Increasing and decreasing your calorie intake in small increments will help your body adjust to the changes, and respond properly. I would recommend adding or cutting between 200-400 calories from your diet to start. I wouldn't go as far to add or cut this much each week, but make small adjustments based on how your body responds positively or negatively. Having your diet in control not only make you feel better, it will give you more energy and boost your performance during workouts.
Yes, this deserves a full category and its own little blurb. It's that important.
For starters, the human body is made up of a whole 70% water, which gives a good hint to the reason of its importance off the bat. Dehydration can lead to headaches, sluggishness and lack of energy, sleepiness, and decreased alertness and performance in every day activities. It's also said that, sometimes, when your body sends your signals of hunger, it's actually thirsty. Recommendations state that the average person should consume eight glasses of water a day, or 64 fluid ounces each day. Note the word average. Your dedicated gym goer strives to be anything but average, and, in the process, sweats out a lot of the water they consumed sitting at work during the day. That is why I would recommend up to one gallon of water if you are hitting the gym three of more times a week, especially on training days. In addition, some of you may take creatine, which utilizes water. In this case, I especially wouldn't fall to short of a gallon each day to ensure that your body has plenty of water for the creatine to work with.
As an additional note, I've met some people who just plain don't like drinking water. I grew up with my mother falling into this category, so I understand. In this case, I would recommend using a flavor enhancer such as the “Mio Liquid Water Enhancer” bottle where you squeeze some drops into a bottle of water to give it flavor. I've also tried the “Crystal Light” powder packets, and those work pretty good as well. Whether you like water or not, your body won't give you a get out of jail free card on this one. Find ways to enhance it as listed above or possibly another method to ensure you are getting the water required to give your body the fuel it needs to make it through those grueling workouts.
This one was bound to show up on the list sooner or later, and rightfully so.
This is not only essential to help you have a good workout, but to be able to perform your daily duties to the best of your ability. We all know how beneficial a good night's sleep can be, and how disastrous skimping out on the Zzzz's can be as well. Simply put, sleep is where your body repairs itself and recovers from the blasting you gave it in the gym. Lifting weights is breaking down your muscles, and sleep is where they build themselves back up again, only stronger. You could almost say that this can be compared to breathing. Lifting is the inhaling, and sleeping and recovery is the exhaling. Without one of the other, this does not work properly. The athlete that sleeps eight to nine hours a night will grow better, and reap the rewards of their training sessions more than an athlete that sleeps for just five or six hours. This is just a corner that cannot be cut.
Now, I know the temptation to stay up late working on that home project you've been picking away at for months, or catching up on that T.V. series you started with your wife a couple weeks ago, but this is an area that simply just cannot give. I myself am not a huge fan of long hours sleeping. I'm a go getter, and I had always said that when your sleeping, your flushing time down the toilet. I even went as far as to do the math to find out how many extra days you would gain in a year if you went from sleeping eight hours a day to seven hours a day. The real point here is quality. Sure, you may gain an extra week's worth of time if you do this every day, that's a week's worth of time spent most likely feeling a biut tired, and time taken away from your muscle repair while sleeping. After all, if you inhale, and only exhale halfway, and then inhale again, eventually you will have to have a rather large exhale. This is the same with your sleep. I could make point after point on this one, but I think you get the idea.
So, coming from a fellow go-getter and maximizer of time (which often comes at the expense of sleep), if you skip out on the sleep, you skip out on some of your gains.
How many days a week do you like to workout?
Maybe you didn't expect this to make a top five list, but I'll explain why it really has a right to be here.
Stretching. Ugh, we think, what a waste of time! This was my mindset for years. There were periods where I wouldn't stretch a muscle for months. The result? I was eventually unable to touch my elbows together and touch my shoulders with my hands. This also led me to pull and strain muscles sometimes at a weekly rate. This is really just to name a few. Keeping good flexibility is key to not only ensuring your body will be able to have a proper range of motion for all your lifts, but it is also key in allowing more room for the muscle to grow. When a muscle is tight and wound like a rubber band ready to snap, this leaves little room for growth. A muscle that is stretched out and can move freely and completely allows for a greater growth potential.
The good news is, is that especially if your start stretching early in your weightlifting career, you won't need a 45 to 60 minute session several times a week to reach this. A good 15-20 minute daily stretching routine is usually adequate. Not that there is anything wrong with a nice, long hour session, but in a busy world with family, friends, and work, this is not very plausible. Even if you cannot do this every day, making sure you are stretching at least three to four times per week with still prevent you from stiffening up like a tin man. For those of you who may be already well on your way in your lifting endeavors, fear not, it is never too late to start. Though it will take some time to undo the tightness and get your range of motion to a optimal level, consistency is the key here, and dedicating yourself to doing this several times a week will get you there.
5. Proper Attitude and Motivation
This could be argued as the most important component on the list.
We all have those days where we walk into the gym, and it is the absolute last place we want to be. I don't care if you are a beginner or have been competing in contests for years, if you hang around long enough, one of these days is bound to slap you right in the face eventually. The important part is how we approach not only days like these, but each day we go into the gym. If your like me, days like the ones listed above don't come around terribly often; it's more or so the days where you come in and just don't feel like going to get that extra rep on a set, or where you just don't want to shave 15 extra seconds of rest off of a few sets to push yourself a little harder. Lifting is as much of a mental game as it is a physical game, so having the right mindset can be a make or break component. Muhammad Ali once said he didn't start counting reps until they started to hurt and burn. Outlooks such as these will help secure a good, hard workout.
As far as what type of motivation to use, that is entirely up to you. Maybe you want to win a competition, maybe you were called names and bullied into changing yourself for the better. Regardless of whether it is positive or negative motivation that drives you, having that fuel that will keep the furnace fed even on those days when it is -15 degrees outside in the dead of winter, and all you want to do is sit in your warm home. I've used both types of motivation in the past, but don't fear if your motivation slowly changes as you progress. We as humans are always in a state of fluctuation, and this is no exception. Embrace each source of fuel, and let it push you to be your best!
After All That . . .
So it really doesn't seem that crazy that making these five simple changes can truly have an incredible impact on your growth and success as a weightlifter, does it? If I had any last words on this it would be to not wait to implement these into your daily life. There will never be a right to time to do this. Not at the end of your program. Not at the end of summer. Not at the start of the new year. Now. Now is the time. Why wait to maximize your progress and growth? Be the best you can be and see what you can accomplish!