Maximise your training time with these evidence-based tips. From pre-workout advice to rest day guidance, we’ve got your back (and abs, legs, shoulders, mindset… you get the idea!)
1. Eat slow-digesting carbohydrates before training
Numerous studies show eating slow-digesting carbs such as whole grains before working out promotes lower insulin levels, helping you burn more fat during exercise and even for the rest of the day. You’ll also have more endurance. Aim for at least 40g of slow-digesting carbs – such as oats, sweet potatoes, or whole-wheat bread – at least two hours before exercise for the most pronounced effect.
2. Avoid fatty foods before exercise
A University of Maryland School of Medicine study found that fatty foods reduce the ability of nitric oxide to dilate blood vessels for up to four hours. That means less blood flow to muscles, which means less strength, endurance and power.
3. Ditch standard pre-workout supplements
Pre-workout supplements promise to supercharge your training sessions. Most of them do this with caffeine and sugar, which can cause jitters and blood sugar spikes that mess with everything from your body’s fat-burning abilities to your daily energy levels.
U ULTRA Energy Sport Pro contains no caffeine or added sugar. Clinically proven to increase muscle endurance and power, it does so by increasing the efficiency of your body’s own natural energy processes. Cool, right? Discover more here.
4. Pay up front
Having a workout buddy who you feel accountable to can help you stick to a training schedule. But there’s nothing like having money on the line to really get your butt into gear.
According to a 2020 survey by MoneySuperMarket, shelling out for services in advance – in this case for PT, gym or classes – makes us 425% less likely to flake out of commitments.
5. Make exercise fun
Exercise doesn’t have to be a slog. Pick an activity you actually enjoy doing and you’re way more likely to stick with it. ‘If you hate weights, don't go to the gym. You can get in shape with any type of training or activity,’ says psychologist and personal trainer Leon Antonio Outar.
If you’re pressed for time, it makes it easier to stick to training plans if you do exercise that offers more than just fitness benefits. Running can be meditative, for example, cycling is a great way to explore places, while football, tennis and other competitive sports let you focus on the task at hand while socialising, rather than just exercising for the sake of exercising.
7. Keep weights sessions under an hour
Trying to accelerate your gym gains with marathon strength sessions? Save yourself the bother. After 60 minutes of strength training, your body starts producing more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can have a testosterone-blocking, muscle-weakening effect, making for ever diminishing returns.
8. Focus on your breathing
Breathwork isn’t just for yoga and meditation. It can actually help you lift more weight. ‘Breathe out as you lift the weight - don't hold your breath,’ advises champion bodybuilder Dorota Maslewska. ‘When you’re pushing a bench press off your chest, for example, you exhale on the push and inhale as you bring it slowly to your chest.’9. Loosen up
9. Loosen up
Don't clench your fists while running. It adds unnecessary stress to your upper back and shoulders. Ensure you stay relaxed by pretending you're holding a butterfly in each hand. If your grip is tight enough to squish the butterfly, it's too tight!
10. Crunches alone won’t give you six-pack
It’s pointless trying to get rid of your gut by working your abs. Researchers at the University of Virginia found it takes 250,000 crunches to burn 0.5kg of fat. Instead, you need to focus on lowering your body fat percentage so your abs actually have a chance of being seen.
11. Don’t skip leg day
Want to keep reaping the benefits of exercise long after you’ve smashed out your last set? A Syracuse University study concluded that more calories are burned the day after doing lower-body resistance training than doing upper-body exercises, simply because legs have more mass.
12. Mix things up
To continue to see improvements you need to keep switching up exercises, weights, reps, steps and rest periods.
According to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, subjects who varied the number of sets and reps from workout to workout saw greater strength gains – even when exercising at the exact same intensity – than those who stuck to the same routine.
13. Rest up
'Strength training causes micro tears in your muscle tissue,’ says Michael A. Clark, founder of the National Academy of Sports Medicine. ‘Your muscles need to rest to recover from the micro-trauma. It's this tearing and repairing process that allows your muscles to get stronger.'
Research suggests you should give yourself 48 hours’s rest between intense strength-training sessions and get plenty of sleep.
14. Check yourself (before you wreck yourself)
As per the previous tip, recovery is just as vital as exercise to stay in optimum shape. One way of preventing yourself from overtraining is to check your pulse first thing in the morning. If it's 10 beats per minute or more above normal, your body is still recovering and you should avoid anything but gentle exercise that day.
15. Accelerate muscle repair
On rest days, rather than simply doing no exercise, you can actually speed along your recovery from hard workouts by lightly exercising the same muscles the following day. Use a weight that’s around 20% of your one-rep max (the heaviest weight you can do one rep of) and do two sets of 25 reps. This delivers more blood and nutrients into your muscles, helping them repair faster.
16. Make pull-ups easier
Pull-ups are an amazing way to build functional strength, but they’re super tough. A cool trick to make pull-ups (and chin-ups) easier is to stop thinking about pulling yourself up. Instead, imagine pulling your elbows down. Sounds weird, but it really works. On a similar tip, focusing your gaze on your dominant hand when doing bench presses has been proven to increase the amount of reps people can complete to failure.
17. Make hill sprints easier
When running up hills, keep your head up and eyes focused on the top of the hill. This opens your airways and makes it easier to breathe so you get more oxygenated blood to your muscles.
18. Open your chest
Similarly to the last tip, although it feels most natural to collapse in a heap or double forward after a particularly exhausting session, that’s the last position you should be in. Instead, link your hands behind your head and flare your elbows out. This opens up your chest, helping you catch your breath much quicker.
19. Protect your neck
If you are doing crunches (to build core strength, not a six-pack as per tip number nine!) push your tongue up to the roof of your mouth. ‘It will help align your head properly, which helps reduce neck strain,’ says strength and conditioning specialist Michael Mejia.
20. Be strict with yourself
Don’t try and cheat your way through sets; your body will notice even if your PT doesn’t. ‘Aim for the largest range of motion you can achieve in your exercises,' says strength coach, Lee Boyce. ‘Your muscles will do more work per rep, and it will result in your breaking down more tissue by the end of the workout.'
21. Work beyond failure
We tend to train harder in the company of others, but a recent Finnish study found a specifically compelling reason to train with a partner: having someone to spot you.
The researchers observed that adding forced reps to a workout – where a spotter very gently helps the participants push out another 2-3 reps past the point at which they would no longer be able to complete them alone – resulted in growth hormone levels almost 4,000% higher than those who did not add forced reps to their workouts.
22. Listen to music
Listening to music is an effective performance-enhancer.
A study carried out by the Weider Research Group found that its participants were able to complete an average of 1-2 more reps per set for all sets of all exercises when listening to music.
Another really cool finding is that listening to music can actually expand your blood vessels by up to 26%, increasing blood flow which, in turn, boosts muscle strength and endurance.
23. Don’t stretch before exercise
Researchers from the University of Texas reported that athletes who stretched after training were more flexible than those who stretched beforehand. Plus, it’s safer to stretch muscles that are already warm and therefore pliable. There are also studies that suggest that stretching right before you exercise can actually make you weaker.
Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn't warm up. Just ditch the static stretches for gentle dynamic movement that mimic the movements you’ll make in training (high knees for running, hand walkouts for climbing etc.) and get blood pumping through your muscles.
24. Every little helps
Want to reap the health benefits of training but finding it difficult to squeeze sessions into your schedule? All you really need to find the time for is two 20-minute slots each week. That’s according to researchers at Oklahoma State University who examined absentee records of 79,000 workers spread over 250 sites and found that those who did two 20-minute aerobic or weight-training sessions a week had significantly fewer sick days than those who didn’t.
Still sound tricky to squeeze in? There’s evidence emerging that you may be able to get away with doing even less than that... Want an extra helping hand to power through training sessions and recover faster? Clinically proven to aid the body's natural energy and recovery processes, check out U ULTRA Energy Sport Pro and U ULTRA Recovery supplements today.