Every single person who goes to the gym wants bigger, more defined muscles but no matter what they do they fail to see the gains. Fitness consultant Akshay Chopra tells us five tips to make the most of our time in the gym:

To grow a muscle it has to be stimulated often either by working it out directly or indirectly. For e.g. a compound exercise like a barbell squat stimulates the entire body musculature. Dr Fred Hatfield (Dr Squat) in his infamous 20 rep squat routine says that if you want a bigger upper body then you need to squat heavy. If you look at all the top sprinters, they have extremely ripped upper body musculature including arms despite the fact that they hardly workout their arms. This is their primary focus on the legs and especially compound movements like squats and deadlifts. If you are not doing the basics then forget about building your dream physique, modern gyms are full of such examples. You have to combine the isolation and compound movements so that you target the muscle to build both strength and shape. If you want to grow a particular body part, then you have to activate the musculature of that part in the best possible way. In fact it’s essential that one of the following exercises squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups and military presses one of the following should be part of your regime every single day!

Be smart but don’t be over smart

Working hard in any activity will always precede working smart. But you should be able to decipher between the two in terms of when to apply what. For e.g. if you are working hard in the gym, everyday going to failure in every set (which most of you don’t) and you continue to pound your body week after week that way, then you are just on the brink of an injury waiting to happen. If you have learned the way to put in your max then you should learn the art of ‘backing off’ also. According to Vince Gironda, the Iron Guru, ‘over enthusiasm is the most dangerous virtue of an athlete’. You should listen to your body and give it the much needed time for optimum rest and recuperation to avoid overtraining and to maximize growth and recovery. 

Consistency is the key

I have met parents of children who tell me that they are sending their children to the gym or getting them to participate in some sports because it is their summer holidays. This makes them as good as resting cow the rest of the year just sleep, study and sleep. I often ask these parents: ‘Can your child perform well in his/her exams by studying only for a month in the entire year?’

Nobody can, and that’s true for everything in life. Just like your require practice in other fields, training requires consistency. All those going to be bride and grooms who think a 30-days package at a slimming centre is all they need, deserve to be in the pitiful condition they’re in. You can’t train in breaks throughout the year and see progress. There are only highs and lows in training, no breaks; even if they are they are mere breaks not holidays.

Aim for bigger things

The primary principle of exercise physiology is the principle of progressive overload. If you embark on a journey of strength training and fitness, you should be improving consistently both in terms of muscle strength and endurance depending on your goals for training. You can’t get leaner or muscular without getting stronger. Progress in weight training can be in various forms either in number of reps, amount of weight lifted, reduction in rest between sets etc. but for a beginner focus should primarily be on lifting heavy weights. Strength forms the foundation for improvements in areas such as power and endurance as per strength coach ‘Bret Contreras’. Getting strong on basic lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull ups etc will mark your real progress in strength and will help you improve in any field you aim for in sports, health and fitness.

Form comes first

Lifting heavy is important, but lifting heavy with bad form is equally dangerous. Lifting heavy is to improve strength, not to impress the girl on the treadmill. In a gym you will find people in both the extremes. For e.g. deadlifts is one exercise most trainers in India avoid and if they don’t, they can’t decipher between a normal deadlift and a Romanian deadlift. Most of the times, form in these movements is such that an injury is just waiting to happen. On the other extreme isolation movements like barbell drag curls are done in such strict forms that the guys/girls will be stuck with the same weight for months not ready to compromise on the form even a bit. I am not telling you to deteriorate your form or technique, but just to loosen up a little in case you are not improving and see if you could lift heavier. But loosening does not mean use of excessive momentum. For e.g. out of total of 4 sets of barbell curl try 1 or 2 sets of cheat curl along with the drag curl and see the difference.

Don’t get confused, focus on the basics

The market today is flooded with new techniques and products which will claim to make you leaner, muscular and improve your athletic performance. Most of these claims are not only outright false but may even deteriorate your performance. For e.g. collecting a set of exercises for a particular muscle like abs and calling it with fancy names like ‘Pilates’ does not make them effective. Similarly collecting a group of exercises from different sports and combining them in a group and calling them ‘Crossfit’ does nothing to improve your performance but surely brings you a step closer to injury (one of the classic cases of Crossfit workouts is combining Olympic lifts with plyometrics in a single workout session, which is a classic recipe for disaster). Various sports scientists and strength and conditioning coaches have focused on the motor patterns used in a particular group of exercises and the neuromuscular adaptations which is the basic for improvement in performance. Any exercise can improve your heart rate and burn calories but they may be far from improving your performance and in fact can impede it. So focus on the basics. If you want to develop strength in legs first learn to squat, then everything else follows. If you want strength in the upper body first learn how to do bench presses, parallel bar dips, pull-ups, rows, etc. and then move on to more fancy stuff.

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