It’s been a few months since I started this series, but it’s back in action starting today. So here are three more tips for you to have a SMARTER workout.
4) Surround yourself with strong, like-minded people.
I spent this past weekend at the NJ State Powerlifting Championships, which was 2 full days of absolutely amazing displays of strength, power and passion.
There’s just something magical about watching people who are unbelievably passionate about being strong rip weights around while covered in chalk and (in some situations) blood and tweaked off of nose tork.
I had recently been struggling with my own training, nutrition and a minor injury after I competed in my first meet back in October (more on this in another post) and lots of stress. I completely wrecked my metabolism and ticked off my endocrine system years ago and ended up setting myself further back. My body composition, strength and motivation took a HUGE hit and I had just been feeling…bleh about everything, including my own body image (I hate admitting that. But luckily I have an awesome coach who’s helped me pick myself back up).
After spending the weekend with this crew:
And being immersed in the world of eating and training for strength, performance and overall badassery and talking lots of shop, I remember why I do what I do and why I love it so much.
I want nothing more than to get crazy strong and inspire other women. (Not saying that all women need to train exactly like powerlifters, but helping women understand that training hard, heavy and SMART along with properly fueling themselves with high quality foods can lead to awesome body composition and quality of life).
I don’t want to worry about maintaining an unhealthy bodyfat level to ‘impress’ people and have to suffer from another bout of amenorrhea (I feel trainers’ physiques are judged harshly and there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Luckily I’ve let go of meeting other’s standards). I don’t want to worry if an extra serving when I’m hungry is going to end up on my waist. I’d rather have huge glutes and traps and be able to deadlift a dump truck. Strength and health are my passion. Being around people with similar goals and positive mindsets is refreshing.
I may have gotten a little off track (and personal) there, but what I’m saying is surround yourself with those with similar goals and who lift you up (even better if they literally CAN lift you up..)
Also consider checking out an actual competition when your motivation starts to slump or just for the heck of it. Witness people who have trained their asses off for months for one day. Feel the energy and drive, witness them pushing beyond their limits and see the camaraderie of the sport. Whether it’s a powerlifting meet or maybe you visit a local Crossfit, Strongman/woman or similar competition. Whatever will get you amped up. Talk to people and network, ask them about their training. I can tell you after this weekend my energy and motivation are through the ROOF, my mind is back where it should be and I can not wait to get back up on the platform and train at the top of my game.
Sometimes focusing on your workout can be harder than the workout itself. I know it’s tough because we’re such a constant ‘Go! Go! Go!’ society and you’re riled up after a long day at work, pissed off at your co-worker that ate your burrito out of the office fridge or the old lady who flipped you off on the highway and tried to run you off the road. Forget about all of that and block out whatever you have going on in your everyday life. The next hour or so you have at the gym is YOURS. Nobody else’s. It’s not your boss’, it’s not your mothers, it’s not your nagging girlfriend’s and nobody else but you and your workout deserve to have your thoughts for that hour. Put your headphones in, zone out and go.
When you’ve got that part down, focusing on the movements themselves is next. Make sure there’s meaning behind every rep. When you’re doing a row are you mindless pulling or are you thinking about staying tall, keeping your shoulders packed, driving your elbows back and pulling back your shoulder blades, keeping them tight throughout the entire movement? When squatting are you just slapping the bar on your back and dropping your butt down or are you trying to suffocate the bar with your traps and gripping it so tight your knuckles are white? Are you bracing your abs like a cannonball is about to hit you, then trying to crack 6,000 walnuts between your buttcheeks and pushing your heels down so hard you might kick the devil on the head?
Are you making every rep count or are you just going through the motions?
Even if you’re doing speed/dynamic effort work for your big lifts, treat the light weight like it’s a max rep – engaging every single muscle, getting a tight brace and pushing or pulling with all you’ve got. When you’re not focused, you’re only cheating yourself and not maximizing your potential.
For each of my big lifts, I like to keep a mental checklist of everything I need to do to make that weight move to the best of my ability. For example, with a sumo deadlift:
- Get really freakin’ angry at that bar.
- Walk up, set my feet out nice and wide, toes pointed out and shins to the bar.
- Start gripping the floor with my feet and start tightening every muscle in my lower body.
- Lower my hips while pushing my knees out and reaching for the bar. (Side note: Dave Tate says it best when he says “drop your nuts to the bar”).
- Engage my lats and get my grip, chest tall.
- Get a huge breath of air letting it push my belly towards the floor (I like to get air at the bottom vs top, especially with sumos since my hips are open), make sure my glutes are tight.
- Pull the slack out of the bar, sit back and DRIVE my heels into the ground while pulling my hips towards the bar, knees out, (thinking GLUTES GLUTES GLUTES)and locking out at the top.
That’s just the tip of the deadlift iceberg, but by going through those basics in my head I can make sure my lift is safe and I’m not short changing myself or setting myself up for injury.
6) Do your SMR.
I so often hear about people jacking up on pain killers, getting cortisol or similar shots, etc. to “treat” pain or injuries. All these things do is temporarily take care of the symptoms and not the source of the issue. This is basically like trying to mop up a spill from an over flowing bath tub while the faucet is still running.
If you’re in pain you should absolutely go see a medical professional to see if there is something structurally wrong, but oftentimes improving soft tissue quality can be the simple answer to resolving nagging pains and discomfort.
SMR stands for ‘Self Myofascial Release’ and is basically a self massage that involves releasing the tension in your tissue. It parallels the same benefits of a regular massage, but is more cost effective and can be done everyday..before your training session (to decrease stiffness and make your workout and movement more effective and reduce injury) or in between training sessions (as a recovery tool).
You can perform SMR using foam rollers, tennis balls, lax balls, golf balls, etc. If you’re training intensely multiple times a week , going balls to the wall or handling heavy loads, your muscles will tighten up and if they are continually overloaded, this can inhibit movement and proper function..which will eventually lead to pain, increase your risk of injury and make your lifts and life really crappy.
SMR shares most of the same benefits of stretching but it’s significant because it helps break up any adhesions, scar tissue or other ‘gunk’ that may have accumulated. It can also help ‘tone down’ overactive muscles (for example: as a society our hip flexors are usually overactive in comparison to our glutes, as a result of prolonged sitting).
I’m also a huge advocate of ART (Active Release Technique), Graston technique and other forms of manual therapy for when things get out of hand (or you’ve been neglecting your SMR/tissue work!)
I suffered from some pretty bad sciatica last fall which I was able to clear up completely with a combo of ART, Graston and plenty of SMR. Right now I’m dealing with a proximal IT band and TFL irritation that I’m clearing up with ART, SMR and toning down my overactive muscles and activating my lazy ones.
Most of the time, I think people would benefit much more from skipping the extra workouts or ‘cardio’ sessions and replacing that hour with a combo of foam rolling/SMR, static and dynamic stretching. Doing so on non strength/resistance training days will have a significant carryover to your actual strength sessions by helping you move more efficiently and be able to safely and effectively handle more load.
Here are some other great resources to get you moving better and eliminate nagging pain:
That’s it for now! I didn’t expect to write that much this time, but if you made it this far, you are a trooper. I have some really great stuff in store including a couple of video posts that I’m really excited about. Stay tuned!