People today are more connected than ever. This, for the most part, is a great thing, allowing knowledge and support to be more readily available in virtually every aspect of life.
The fitness/gym world is definitely no exception. It has flourished in online forums, social media, and other outlets that didn't even exist not too long ago. Again, that's great—for the most part. A strange thing can happen when we routinely see people with world-class-athlete genetics performing acts of strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance. It can become so intimidating that some people chalk it up to genetics and refuse to even attempt their own self-improvement.
This really bothers me. It's true the upper echelon of just about any sport or athletic community consists of those who were born to do what they now do. Yet the average human being is capable of truly incredible achievements. They just need the right mindset to set goals and then take the necessary steps to achieve them.
In light of this, I spent a lot of time thinking about things that don't require talent or world-class genetics to do. Hence the following list. If you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say that you are consistently doing most or all of the things on this list, and do it with consistency, you'll be surprised just how much progress you can make.
1. Prepare Your Own Food
The most important thing you can do for yourself is to prepare your food. The old saying "By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail" couldn't be more true when it comes to nutrition. Nutrition is single-handedly the most important thing when it comes to reaching any type of fitness goal, whether it be muscle gain, fat loss, or just being healthy.
Do this: Set aside a couple hours twice a week, and prepare your meals for the next couple of days. By doing so, it will be much harder to make excuses and fall off the wagon on your nutrition plan.
2. Drink Enough Water
Most people do not drink enough water—and they are doing their body a great disservice. Being properly hydrated is critical to just about every function in your body, from muscular contraction, to digestion, to allowing your kidneys to filter out metabolic byproducts from your body. Not only can drinking enough water optimize your body's everyday functions, it can also play a role in keeping your appetite and portions in check. That's because water takes up space in your stomach, which promotes fullness.
A study published in the Journal of Obesity split subjects into two groups and gave each subject a face-to-face nutrition and weight-management consultation. One group, however, was instructed to drink 500 mL (roughly 8 ounces) of water 30 minutes before each main meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). This group lost an average of 3 pounds more over the next 12 weeks.
Do this: If you're wondering how much water you should be drinking, I typically recommend multiplying your body weight by 0.8. That's the minimum number of ounces you should consume daily. If you're dieting, consider drinking 8 ounces of water before meals to help curb your appetite.
3. Be Consistent
Great physiques are not built in weeks or even months. Achieving anything worth mentioning means doing what you are supposed to be doing in terms of nutrition, training, supplementation, and recovery (sleep!) day in and day out. Everyone is going to have an off day or a missed meal here or there, but what is important is that you get back on track and make sure your slip-ups are as few and far between as humanly possible.
Do this: This is where keeping a journal can help. It's easy to convince yourself that your slip-ups are an exception, but if you look at everything written down or entered in black and white, you may find that your slip-ups are the rule rather than the exception.
4. Give Your Best Effort During Training
Never just go through the motions with anything. Have a purpose and train like a person on a mission from the moment you step into the gym, whether to lift weights or do cardio. Your body changes because it adapts to the stress you put it under, so you always have to give it your all when it is time to go to work.
Do this: Find a training partner, if you don't have one already. A good training partner is someone to benchmark yourself against—and someone that can call you out when they know you aren't giving your best.
5. Have A Well-Thought-Out Training Program
To maximize your efforts inside and outside of the gym, figure out a detailed training program designed to help you achieve your goals. If you want to gain strength, look for a strength-based program. If you want to get bigger, look for a muscle-building program. It doesn't sound like rocket science, but you'd be amazed at how many people follow plans that don't align with their goals. Most important, however, is that your plan must be one you enjoy. You won't make the progress you desire if you dread completing your workout each day.
Do this: If you don't know where to start, Bodybuilding.com offers an assortment of free trainers that include detailed workouts, progress trackers, and community support.
6. Supplement Smartly
While nutrition is king when it comes to making progress and getting your body to change in the way you want, supplementing smartly can enhance performance and enhance recovery. This is a recipe for success if you follow rule 3: Be consistent.
Supplements that I believe should be in every gym goer's bag include whey protein (great any time of day, especially around training) and BCAAs (taken before or during training). If you are trying to gain size or strength, I am also a firm believer in supplementing with creatine. It has been proven safe and effective when trying to maximize strength, power, and muscle size.
Do this: Take your supplementation to the next level by adding a quality pre-workout to your stack. Pre-workouts can give you an energy boost while you train and supply several performance-enhancing ingredients such as caffeine, beta-alanine, citrulline, and taurine. I take the one with my family name on it: Labrada's BCAA Power and SuperCharge! Pre Workout. It's one of a number of good pre-workouts on the market.
7. Sleep Enough
One of the most overlooked aspects of maintaining a healthy body and making progress in the gym is making sure your body gets enough sleep. While sleeping, your body is able to recover much more effectively than if you were messing around on Facebook all night. Remember, you're not actually growing during your workout—you're growing the other 22-23 hours of the day, but mainly during sleep!
Do this: Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you're struggling to get even a fraction of that, reassess your priorities and seek out time to nap during the day, or commit to going to bed one hour earlier each night until it becomes a habit.
8. Help Your Body Recover
When you're performing strenuous physical activity, such as lifting in the gym, you are causing damage on a microscopic level to your body's skeletal muscle. You're probably familiar with this damage, as it manifests itself in the form of muscle soreness. Often this soreness doesn't set in for 24-48 hours, but when it hits, you'll know it.
Do this: While your body will recover on its own without any help, a variety of therapies can aid this recovery. Massage, foam rolling, stretching, and Epsom-salt baths are all great recovery tools.
9. Set, Track, And Reach Goals
When setting goals, make sure you set both the micro and macro kind. It can be discouraging to have a long-term goal that will take months or years for you to achieve, and nothing to shoot for in the interim, which is why micro goals are important. For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, set that as your long-term goal, and then set your micro goal to lose 4-5 pounds per month. That way, you can enjoy tastes of success en route to your macro goal.
These small successes will keep you motivated and wanting to work, instead of discouraging you.
Do this: Apply the same system to achieving new PRs in the gym, new levels of consistency with your nutrition, and anything else you want to strive for.
10. Maintain A Positive Attitude And Energy
I've saved the best for last. By having a positive attitude and giving off a positive vibe, you will enjoy what you do so much more than if you hang your head and sulk. No one wants to do something they don't like, and no one wants to be around someone with a bad attitude.
By having a positive attitude about your training and nutrition, you will learn to look forward to doing things that are making you better. By giving off a positive energy, you will be able to promote a healthy lifestyle to others, as they will be drawn to you and want to know what you do.
Do this: It's fine to wear your game face at the gym, but remember, this is fun. You're building your body and improving your life. If that doesn't bring a smile to your face, nothing will.
- Parretti, H. M., Aveyard, P., Blannin, A., Clifford, S. J., Coleman, S. J., Roalfe, A., & Daley, A. J. (2015). Efficacy of water preloading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity: RCT. Obesity, 23(9), 1785-1791.