This post is for those that know their way around the gym, but don’t know how to stop wasting their time. If you’ve never been to the gym or are looking to take charge of your health and fitness, then check out my Beginners Gym Guide.
I’ve been working in gyms for over a decade, and I have learned that most people are wasting their time in the gym. They come in, do the same exercises, or just get a pump, and leave. It’s routine. It’s ‘exercise.’ It’s just another hamster wheel workout.
It’s not training.
Training is movement with a goal. Training isn’t a waste of time.
The key to training appropriately is application. You need to understand your WHY.
It’s very common for men to go into the gym and train for two opposing goals – “I want to get bigger but also lean out.” – and ultimately hit neither. If your goal is to look like a bodybuilder, don’t train (and eat) like a powerlifter. If you want to be as strong as possible, don’t train like a physique athlete.
If you want to be the best long-distance athlete, you won’t be the biggest.
If you want to maximise being fast and powerful, you won’t build maximal endurance.
You can’t do everything at once*, but you can focus on each goal individually with intelligent programming. The key is to stay focused on what is most important RIGHT NOW.
The first step is turning your why into actionable goals. Figure out why you are training and reach your goals by creating concrete targets and timelines. Without a timeline, there is no pressure to get things done. You don’t even need to just stick with one big goal. In fact, it’s often best to have an overarching main goal and many checkpoint goals along the way. For more detailed info on goal setting, read up on SMART Goals.
Once your goals are established and spelled out. Then it’s time to create your training plan. Plans that don’t have distinct phases of training and rest tend not to work long-term (but are fine for newbies). The best plan is the one you can stick to until it is no-longer effective.
When planning out your workouts, you can get as complex as planning every exercise, set, rep, rest, and intensity for the next 6-months. Or, you can keep it simple and have a list of exercises you need to get through each week. If you don’t plan your success, you’re planning your failure. Make a plan.
Here is an example of how your goal guides how you train:
Let’s say, I want to conquer some peaks in British Columbia’s Cascade Mountains. I’m going to do these as overnight hikes with an 8-12kg backpack. I will conquer five peaks during the summer months before the snows hit.
This is a concrete and time-bound goal. I know that this will take a solid cardiovascular base, anaerobic conditioning, and a moderate level of strength endurance.
Getting as big as possible in the winter won’t help. Just focusing on getting bigger arms won’t help.
You will need to get in regular pack-hikes or use exercises to simulate this. In the gym, you could use a stair climber, incline treadmill, or elliptical while changing up between high volume – distance focused – sessions, and 5-15min intensity intervals. You’ll want to do some pack specific training. Get used to having a backpack on.
Your strength training in early winter may focus on building some functional mass and developing your strength levels. Then towards the end of winter you would want to lean out, work on strength endurance and anaerobic (feel the burn) training. A lighter weight person will use less energy climbing a mountain than a heavier person, and it’s easier to develop your relative (strength to weight) strength when you weigh less.
You may want to check out the Moss and Blood Peak Performance Program.
Nutrition and recovery are key to making the gains you want to see, but that’s a discussion for another day. The basics are: eat enough protein to recover, the right amount of calories for your goal, and sleep as much as you can.
If you’re tired of not reaching your potential in the gym (or out of it), it’s time to make a plan. Figure out your why, set your goals, and train to reach them. Keep in mind, all these principles apply to home gyms, training outside, and everything in between.
*If your only goal is to move and sweat, you can basically do what you want. That said, most people have at least one secondary goal.
Written by Coach Josh Wood
Coach Josh Wood, BHSc GCSC is a Personal Trainer and Backpacking Coach who lives in Hobart, Tasmania. Josh works to help people become fit and strong for all of life’s adventures. He spent most of the last decade studying the body through manual therapies, health science, and strength and conditioning. Josh spends as much time as possible in the Tasmanian bush hiking, camping, wandering, and shooting his bow. His diverse background brings the many facets of health, fitness, and adventure together. Head over to coachjoshwood.com or @Coachjoshwood to learn more!