Sometimes you can do everything right and still get it wrong—and we’re not just talking about your relationships with women. If you’re an experienced gym guy who keeps track of his nutrition and works consistently at building a better body, you’ve no doubt made a lot of progress already, but we’ll bet you also can’t shake the feeling that you could be doing better. Here, we’ve laid out five ways you can take what you’re already doing and elevate it to the next level. They require minimal extra effort or time but may be the solutions you’ve been waiting for.
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Good Habit No. 1:
The conventional barbell back squat is arguably the greatest exercise ever. It builds muscle, athleticism, and bone density, and even boosts flexibility and testosterone levels. But if your form isn’t spot on, you’ll cheat yourself out of these benefits and can potentially hurt yourself badly. Perfecting your technique can be as simple as squatting onto a box. Place a box or other platform behind you so that when you squat down to your normal depth (hopefully to where the crease of your hips is below your knees) you’re sitting on the center of the box. Pause for a moment but don’t relax—keep your entire body tight, just as you would if squatting normally. Then explode back up.
“The box teaches you to sit back more when squatting,” says Jason Ferruggia, a strength coach in Los Angeles. This guarantees that you involve the glutes and hamstrings in the lift the way you’re supposed to. If your knees go well past your toes when you squat, the box will correct it. “Sitting back like this takes pressure off the knee joints,” says Ferruggia, so it can alleviate pain you may already be experiencing from improper squatting.
Good Habit No. 2:
Drinking Protein Post-Workout
Drinking Whey Protein Hydrolysate
The benefits of having a protein drink after weight training are well known. But the type of protein you take in may make a big difference. Whey protein’s isolate and concentrate forms have gotten the most attention for their muscle-building properties; but its newer evolution, whey hydrolysate, may be even better. A 2009 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology compared the effect of whey protein hydrolysate with soy protein isolate and micellar casein protein. The hydrolysate—a more broken-down form of whey isolate that absorbs even faster— stimulated muscle protein synthesis to a greater degree than the soy or casein, which researchers attribute to its digestion rate.
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Good Habit No. 3:
Stretching Between Sets
If you’re stretching at all, that’s better than nothing, and you’re already ahead of most lifters who give flexibility about as much attention as they do the new One Direction single. But it isn’t just insurance against injury or a way to avoid becoming restrictively muscle-bound. You can work some stretches into your training between sets to help you perform your lifts better and more safely. For example, the next time you deadlift, stretch your hip flexors during rest periods. Kneel on the floor in a lunge position and push your hips forward while contracting the glutes on your back leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs. Another option is to stretch your biceps between sets of curls, which can help them recover and be stronger on subsequent sets. Place your palm on a bench with fingers pointing back toward you, elbow straight, and stretch.
Good Habit No. 4:
Warming Up with Weights
Warming Up with the Toe-Touch Squat
In a perfect world, you’d go to the gym and spend five minutes walking on the treadmill to break a sweat. Then you’d do a mobility warmup to take your muscles and joints through all the planes of movement needed for your workout. Then you’d hit some stretches, and, lastly, start lifting light weights and gradually progress to the heavy ones. In the real world, you probably skip right to the last part—starting with light dumbbells or an empty bar and working your way up. We can’t knock you for this, because even though it’s not ideal, it does reduce your risk for injury and prepares you to lift. But if we could influence you to do one exercise first, we’d make it the toe-touch squat. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes turned slightly out as if you were going to squat. Now bend forward at the hips and reach down to touch your toes. Squat down as deeply as you can and then raise your arms overhead while in the bottom of the squat. Stand back up. That’s one rep.
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Good Habit No. 5:
Writing Down Your Workouts
Planning Workouts Long Term
When you start training, just making it to the gym is enough. But when you’ve been at it a while, you want to know how to make better and faster progress. The next evolution should be learning to periodize your workouts—basic, long-term planning to make continuous progress over time. For instance, if you want to lose fat, you could begin shaving five to 10 seconds off your rest periods between sets every week to keep your heart rate higher throughout your workout. When you can’t cut them any further, increase the weight and the rest and begin again.“Periodization is about starting from your end goal and working backward,” says Ben Bruno, a trainer at Rise Movement in L.A.