I get it: You're a busy person. Hitting the gym isn't always first on your to-do list.
Maybe your weekdays and weekends are often booked solid. Maybe you just wrapped up a full day at work and have children waiting for you at home. Perhaps your cousin is getting married in three hours so you only have enough time to pop into the gym before you head to the ceremony.
Time constraints, project deadlines, and personal obligations can keep athletes so busy that they start to overlook little things that actually can make a big difference in their physique, health, and overall progress. We're all guilty of looking for ways to save time, but all the corner-cutting may not be worth it. They might seem like just "little things," but by quitting your workout early or skimping on nutrition, you won't earn the biggest fitness dividends.
Here are shortcuts that won't help you.
1 / Don't Cut Your Cardio Short
Who can honestly say they haven't done this? I certainly can't! Oh sure, shave off three minutes here and seven minutes there. It's easy to look at the digitized display in front of you and think "Meh, it doesn't really matter. Close enough."
Think about it: Shaving off 5-10 minutes of cardio every day, or even a few days per week can mean hours of missed training time. Take those five minutes and add them up over weeks, months, or years, and you'll see that every minute truly does count. If you're in a hurry, get to the gym five minutes earlier instead of shaving it off your treadmill or Stairmill time. Suck it up Buttercup! You'll thank yourself later for the minimal sacrifice you made today.
2 / Quit Snubbing a Proper Warm-up, Stretch, or Cool-Down
Last year, I met a young bodybuilder who told me he never warmed up, stretched, or cooled down. When I asked him why, he just shrugged and said "It's just a waste of time."
*Blink.* Excuse me? Properly taking care of your muscles goes right alongside lifting weights, eating enough protein, and getting adequate sleep.
Stretching helps avoid injuries, muscle imbalance problems, chronic pain and tightness, and bone structure alignment issues later in life. Elongating your muscles after they spend so much time in flexion is a fabulous release and helps maintain muscle balance. In other words, if one muscle group shortens, the muscles on the opposite side lengthen. Chronic flexion with no extension of a muscle group likely will cause problems. Remaining reasonably flexible, even as you put on mass, is good for your range of motion and your properly functioning physiology.
Moreover, circulating blood via warm-ups and cool-downs is good for your muscular, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems. Going from 0-to-60 often leads to pain and unexpected, serious injuries. By warm-up, I don't just mean walking on a treadmill for five minutes. If you're going to push heavy weights, make sure you do a few warm-up sets before piling on the plates. You can do tendon or ligament damage in the blink of an eye if you load a joint or muscle group that is too stiff to handle the weight.
3 / Stop Skipping Your Multivitamin
I'm not a huge fan of taking a handful of pills in the morning. I'm guilty of skipping my multi, too. It only takes three seconds to take a multivitamin, yet people constantly skip it. Are we really in that much of a hurry?
I don't care how clean your diet is. You can eat as many vegetables and clean foods to your little heart's desire, but food alone still will often not be able to give a busy, active body all the nutrients it needs. Many multivitamins contain minerals and vitamins essential for muscle recovery, brain health, proper fluid retention, and sound sleep. Many products out there also contain probiotics and other fun ingredients that allow for healthy digestion, stronger hair, and better skin. Never forget to take your multivitamin!
And a word to competitors who drink distilled water in the last week or so before you get on stage: Distilled water strips you of many key nutrients your body needs to look and feel its best. Take your vitamins!
4 / Don't Forget Clean Fats
Many people agonize over their protein and carb intake, but they forget that clean fats are an essential component of a healthy diet. Healthy fats are good for your circulatory system. They also boost immunity, prevent joint inflammation, support brain health and metabolic function, aid digestion, and increase fat burning. So why, especially if you're a competitor, would you overlook something so necessary?
Take fish oil or flax oil capsules, or dump some into your protein shakes in the morning. Avocados, organic butter, olive oil, and coconut oil are all great fat sources that will help you look and feel your best.
Fitness tip: If you're trying to go "low-carb," add fats for extra energy and mental stability. Avocado and olive-oil-based dressings are two of the quickest and easiest ways to get clean fats in your diet. I always keep them in the fridge so I can easily work them into my diet.
5 / Don't Ignore Weightlifting Form and Proper Loads
No, really. Stop. If you're going to squat, you'd dang well better make sure you're doing it right. I don't care how much of a hurry you're in. I don't care if you've been lifting for a decade. I don't care if you're tired, had a horrible day at work, had a long day and just want to get home, or have to be somewhere else in 30 minutes. You can sustain serious injuries if you're using sloppy form in the weight room.
A good way to check whether or not you're lifting correctly is to ask a certified trainer to check your lifting form every once in a while. An extra pair of eyes on your form can ensure that you haven't developed any slightly-off lifting habits. Be careful now and keep your form in the game for longer.
Conversely, there is such a thing as being "too careful." You need to push yourself physically and mentally during your workout. Your comfort zone is not your friend in the weight room. If you lift struggle-free with the weights you move, it's time to increase the weight or the rep range. Go to the gym and do the same workouts with the same weight levels will present a plateau in your future.
What is the point of training if you're just going to put up a half-hearted effort? Getting your muscle groups to operate at full capacity is the key to transforming. Utilizing a full and correct range of motion ensures maximum results. Challenge yourself every time you walk into your gym. Without challenge, you won't see any change!