Ready to kick your ho-hum progress into high gear? If you've been following a fitness program for a few weeks, months, or even years, and have seen good results but still feel like you haven't hit your peak physique, then it's time to implement some elite changes. In order to make good results great, you have to leap over your current barriers and boundaries.
To help you make that jump, we've asked some of the best fitness athletes in the business for their advice. If you want to reach the next level of your fitness journey, check out these tips from the ripped members of Team Dymatize! Put their suggestions into action, and you'll achieve greatness in no time.
1. Re-Establish Your Game Plan
If you've been training for a long period of time without a specific goal in mind, it's time to re-examine your approach. After all, if you don't really know why you're training—strength? fat loss? muscle growth?—it's difficult to know how to train most effectively and how to consistently measure your progress.
"Develop a clear idea of what your ultimate goal is," advises IFFB physique pro Bobby Ashhurst. "Then, develop a plan that knocks down smaller goals to build up to that ultimate goal."
For example, if you want to shed some unwanted weight, start by establishing a caloric deficit. This will get you moving in the right direction. Over time, you can increase your cardio, decrease rest between sets, and begin to tweak other variables. Keep yourself on track with weekly progress photos, measurements, and body fat assessments.
Have a goal in mind that you're slowly chipping away at; write it down, reference as needed, and establish small goals every week. You might feel frustrated at times, but tracking your numbers—whether weight lifted or weight lost—will keep you motivated.
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Most importantly, stay focused. "Once your goal and plan is set, don't allow anyone to deter you from sticking to it," Ashhurst says.
2. Be Mindful Of The Details
In addition to being sure that you're mentally prepared to attack each session, you need to prepare yourself in other ways. After all, mental fortitude is only part of the equation.
"Make sure you get adequate nutrition and rest daily," advises fitness model Jared Groff. "Both are equally important. You break down tissue in the gym, but you grow through proper rest and nutrition." Too many people focus all of their efforts on what they're doing in the gym and neglect these other two important steps that ensure success.
When it comes to nutrition, make sure you're getting roughly one gram of protein per pound of body weight. For meals, aim for a palm-sized portion of protein, a thumb of fat, and a cupped hand's worth of vegetables or complex carbs.
Rest is essential, so aim for eight hours every night, and fit a rest day into your program. Depending on your energy levels, active rest—like going for a light hike or swim—could be a good option, but don't overdo it. After all, rest is essential for results.
3. Track Your Intake
Speaking of diet, make sure you're monitoring and tracking your nutrition as much as possible.
"Diet is the number one contributing factor to a head-turning physique," says Dymatize athlete Cody Flynn. "Start tracking what you eat and make adjustments as you go." Apps like MyFitnessPal can make the process easier, or if you're old fashioned, a simple pen and paper work well, too.
Flynn suggests playing around with your total calorie intake until you see your body weight moving in the direction you want—either gaining muscle or losing fat—then adjusting your macros from there.
To see that change, eat about 15-20 percent fewer calories than what you're currently eating. From there, make small adjustments based on rate of weight loss.
"I typically use the split of 50 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 20 percent fat, being sure to space my protein out every three hours and always consuming a fat or carb source with it," Flynn says.
By eating a balanced diet all year, he avoids the dilemma of having to make any drastic cuts before photo shoots or having to follow 12-16 weeks of grueling contest prep to step on stage.
4. Up The Ante On Your Sprint Training
You've heard that interval sprints are a great way to burn fat, and they are—but you can do even more to go from good to great.
"Get on the hill!" says trainer Justin Woltering. "If you're serious about leaning out and staying strong, there's no better conditioning tool than hill sprints."
Woltering likes sprints because they don't eat away at lean muscle mass. "Hill sprints are awesomely challenging and might even improve leg strength," he says. Try searching around your area for sledding hills and reservoirs to get started.
Here's a great workout to begin with:
- Warm up for 5-10 minutes with easy jogging and light stretching.
- Find a hill that's not too steep (about an 8-10 percent grade). Start at the bottom and sprint up for 15-20 seconds. Walk down and repeat 10-12 sprints.
- Cool down for 5-10 minutes of easy jogging.
- Gradually increase the sprinting time to 30 seconds when you're ready.
5. Switch Things Up Regularly
When it comes to taking your training to the next level, you need to do something different than you've done before.
"Always switch things up, never doing the same routines month after month," says fitness model Sierra Merchant.
Remember that you don't necessarily need to find a completely new fitness plan. Making small changes—like adjusting your rep range, your grip, or the type of resistance you are using—can have a dramatic effect on the overall progress you make.
Next time you train, try taking shorter rest periods if you want to increase your calorie burn, or lifting in a slightly lower rep range if you really want to build strength.
6. Dial In To Reshape And Refine Your Figure
After you've developed a good strength base, you'll want to consider refining your physique by focusing on the details. Isolation exercises are particularly good for this sort of carving, but they can be made even more effective with specific tweaks.
"For my quads, I put a squeeze ball between my legs as I'm doing leg extension," says IFBB pro Jennifer Dawn. "This helps me build my vastus medialis while keeping my knees tracking properly."
When Dawn trains hamstrings, one of her favorite body parts to attack, she has another trick up her sleeve.
"I make sure that, while doing my hamstring curls, I let the weight down slowly and then explode upwards, pulling the bar to my glutes," she says.
Taking the time to refine form and maximize contraction will help you push past any barriers and reach the next level of training.
7. Visualize Success
Just as it's important to get yourself physically ready for your workouts, you also need to ensure you're mentally psyched up for success.
"I like to use the power of visualization," says bikini competitor Cassandra de la Rosa. "Visualizing yourself can help you realize the potential you have to keep pushing through those hard workouts."
For de la Rosa, legs have always been a struggle, but mentally picturing the definition she's working toward helps her get through the session despite feeling like she wants to quit. Visualization can be a very powerful technique when used properly and regularly, so give it a shot on those days when you're feeling stalled and sluggish.
When you're on the bench and getting ready to rep out heavy weight, for example, visualize yourself effortlessly unracking, bringing the bar down to your chest, pushing it back off, and successfully completing your set. Amping up for big lifts the night before? Picture everything—what you'll wear, the gym layout, and how you'll PR, add weight, or push out more reps than the day before.
8. Focus On 3's And 5's
One technique Woltering uses time and time again to reignite his training progress is focusing on sets of 3 and 5 reps, especially after he's been doing higher-volume work.
"You can get super strong with a variety of rep ranges, but sets of 3 and 5 are my favorite," Woltering explains. "They're low enough to allow for heavy weights, but high enough to still require an honest effort on every set."
In Woltering's experience, using a little less weight and grinding out a few more reps works far better for building strength than doing singles. This kind of heavy work is especially useful at the beginning of your workouts before moving into higher-volume isolation work. And even though it may seem strange to lift heavy while targeting fat loss, it can be an effective way to burn calories and maintain strength on a cut!
9. Invest In A Food Scale
If you want to take your results to the next level, measuring out your meals and accurately assessing your intake with a food scale is a must.
"You may be thinking that a little extra won't matter as long as you're eating clean, but everything counts," says de la Rosa. Taking in excess calories—whether healthy or not—still means you'll have to work harder in the gym to compensate.
Remember, at the end of the day, it's all about calories in versus calories out. Total protein intake comes next, followed by carbs and fat.
10. Focus On Every Exercise
Finally, make sure you never find yourself simply going through the motions of your training program.
Following the same workout scheme for a lengthy period of time can leave you feeling like you're stuck in a monotonous, never-ending cycle, but training without intent and focus is almost like not training at all. To get incredible results in the gym, you have to push yourself to incredible places.
"It's not about the weight—it's about the contraction," Ashhurst says. "The goal is to tear your muscle fiber for growth, so you have to feel the muscle working." He recommends that you focus on different angles to work different muscle fibers. "It will help you take your physique to a new level," he adds.