by Bijan C. Bayne
Routine Maintenance: How To Get The Best Out of Your Workouts
Millions of us work out regularly, using free weights, Pilates, running or cardio, recreational sports or machine resistance. As with any such pursuit, one will benefit more by using proper technique. Too many of those who train with free or machine weights, lack the correct form, grip, breathing, or rest between sets, to maximize their workouts. Yet the little things mean so much. Attention to detail separates the most fit, from those who wonder why their results are not more evident.
Form Over Function
When you approach a barbell, work with dumbbells, or sit at a circuit training machine, be sure your posture is such that your back is not performing an inordinate part of the work. Maintain the appropriate posture throughout the exercise, do not suddenly arch or jerk your back during a movement. Lift as much as possible, for example, before military presses, squats, or upright rowing, with your legs to get into starting position. Keep your shoulders back, don’t slouch before or during a routine. It is important to keep your feet shoulder width apart, as it assures both balance, and symmetric movement. When you grip the weight, your hand and wrist should be parallel to the section of the barbell or dumbbell you are holding, such that you are not too over- or underhanded. One’s knuckles, hand and wrist should form a smooth, not bent line. Thumbs should be firmly closed around a bar or apparatus. During especially heavy movements such as squats, your weight should be balanced toward the balls of your feet, and not flat-footed, which exerts too much strain.
Every Breath You Take
Ideally you should inhale with the lifting or raising of weight, and exhale when lowering or relaxing the muscle. Breathe deeply while you exercise, to allow the chest cavity to take in the air you will need for stamina, and work the pectoral muscles that facilitate many motions. Breathe through your nose, as one’s chest cavity becomes more full in this manner. Between sets, continue deep, focused inhalation and exhalation, as the muscles are still working, and these are rest periods when oxygen intake is important for both muscle building and blood flow. When necessary, employ concerted puffs to assist with heavy squats or bench presses.
Water, Water Everywhere
Be sure to properly hydrate yourself before, during, and after your workout. You should drink your fluids every few minutes or sets, so your system will cool itself, and to provide energy. Take a bottle with you, rather than sipping from the fountain at a health club. You will drink more this way, your own bottle is more sanitary than a public fountain or cooler, and it allows you the option of a sports drink rather than water, if that is your preference. You should have plenty of energy, as it is best to have a meal or very nutritious snack no later than two hours before a strenuous workout.
The Rest Of The Story
One should rest no more than 45 seconds between sets of the same exercise. A steady flow of blood to a muscle area, and a good “pump” to the region being worked, are keys to seeing results in terms of physique, measurements, and conditioning. Pausing too long between sets allows muscles to grow colder, and insufficient rest runs the risk of damaging healing muscle. If you are using the proper weight to perform 8-12 repetitions of an exercise with correct form, you will be able to resume working out in 45 second intervals. This also ensures a certain rhythm to your routine, one your body will become accustomed to.