When you first started working out, you were probably up to your eyeballs in exercise rules: engage the core, don’t strain your neck, don’t let the knees go past the toes and so on.
Newcomers to exercise tend to make the extra effort to stay on the straight and narrow when it comes to following these guidelines, but those who are incredibly well-versed in working out often forget these all-important rules – and sometimes going back to basics is just what you need to make your workout as efficient as possible. Here are the 10 commandments of training and why you should never (ever!) forget them.
1 Don’t lock out
Keeping your elbows and knees slightly soft, even during full extension, is in your interest not only in terms of joint health, but also in making your workout more effective. ‘Not locking out when lifting weights will prevent joint deterioration and reduce your chances of joint-related niggles and injuries,’ explains personal trainer Dave Fletcher (theodysseyway.co.uk). Keeping your joints soft also calls for muscle recruitment throughout the entire move, as it doesn’t allow them to catch a break at the top of the motion. More work equals better results, right?
2 Eat wise
You don’t need us to tell you not to eat heavy meals too close to a workout – you’ll soon feel it if you do. The reason you might feel a little worse for wear when taking on a gruelling session after a big eat is because, when you exercise, the blood flow is directed to the muscles that are working. This means there’s limited flow to the digestive system – something’s got to give.
3 Give yourself a lift
Squats are a big deal now – it’s a fact. While serious lifters have seen the squat as the holy grail of exercise for years, initiatives like the squat challenge have really popularised the move. But a lot of people struggle to perfect the technique and are, as a result, missing out on maximum results. ‘For most people, squatting with your heels raised will dramatically improve your range of motion,’ Dave explains. ‘If you have tight calves, you tend to lean forwards during a squat and unnecessarily load the lower back, so by raising the heels (on a plank or weight discs, for example) you allow a greater activation of the glutes, quads and hamstrings (bottom and thigh muscles), increasing the effectiveness of the move while reducing the risk of strain to the lower back.’
4 Practise your turn-out
We’re not talking ballerina-worthy turn-out, but pointing your toes out just slightly while performing resistance exercises gives you an extra bit of stability that could make all the difference. Keeping your toes pointing forwards might seem like the safest option, but, according to Dave, the stance can feel unbalanced and unnatural since the hips tend
to rotate outwards a little.
5 Have a break
The jury always seems to be out on rest days, with different people recommending different things. Should you skip the gym if you feel rubbish, or just power through like a trooper? And how many rest days should you have per week? Either way, one thing’s for sure: you do need rest days, especially between strength sessions or sessions that target the same muscles again. You’re seriously compromising your safety by overdoing it. Even if you feel okay, your muscles will still be recovering, and won’t be able to perform to the maximum until they’ve been rebuilt.
6 Perfect your posture
It’s not as simple as standing up straight when performing your exercises, although this is pretty important, too. Having good body alignment can boost your progress by helping you perform exercises with better form, so working on your postural alignment outside of the gym is crucial. ‘Make sure you put the time in away from your workouts, too, by stretching, foam rolling and stopping yourself from slouching when you sit down,’ advises Dave.
7 Engage your core
This is probably one of the first rules you learn when you start exercising. Engaging the core almost goes without saying these days, right? But it really is at the centre of everything and ensures your upper and lower body work in synergy, taking the strain away from the lower back and enabling you to lift heavier weights. And you know what that means? Better results.
8 Refuel post-workout
Eating healthily in general is pretty important, but for those who go hard at it in the gym, you need to pay extra attention to mealtimes, too. You’ve probably seen those hardcore gym-goers glugging their protein shakes before they’ve even left the changing rooms, and here’s why: after a workout, the muscles are primed to absorb protein, so you want to take advantage of this. We’re not saying everyone should be on the shakes, but make sure you go for a protein-heavy meal like chicken or fish after you’ve exercised.
9 Prepare and recover properly
Let’s be honest, we can all be a little guilty of skipping warm-ups and cool-downs, even though we know we shouldn’t. And while we know stretching after exercise helps to reduce injury and aches, did you know that warming up efficiently before a workout actually makes the workout easier. How? Stretching dynamically pre-workout, in similar movement patterns to those you’re about to perform, means your muscles will be more elastic and the blood will already be flowing. ‘Stick to dynamic stretches before a workout and static ones after,’ Dave adds.
10 Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water is important, regardless of how often you exercise – the body is primarily made up of fluid, after all. If you start to feel thirsty at any point, then you’re actually already dehydrated. And, while rehydrating is easy enough, taking preventative measures
by ensuring you never reach the point of thirst is even better. Even minor dehydration can affect your endurance and blood flow. The rule? The more you tend to sweat, the more you should drink throughout the day. So keep a bottle of water on you at all times.