Get your form down: Strength gains are mainly sabotaged by poor form on lifts, according to Ben Bruno, a strength coach in North Andover, MA. The simplest way to get feedback on your form if you don’t have a qualified coach or workout partner is to film it.Use your phone or get a video camera (Bruno uses the Canon Powershot SD1100 IS,available at usa.canon.com). You can set it up on a bench to record yourself during a set or have an onlooker hold it. “While you may think you’re doing an exercise correctly,” says Bruno, “the camera will always provide objective feedback. It’s how I originally taught myself to lift.” If you still aren’t sure if you’re doing it right, show the video to a trainer.
Take a breather: With the increasing popularity of CrossFit, P90X, and other workout trends that emphasize a blistering pace, some have come to interpret the concept of rest between sets as mere laziness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rest is necessary for the body to recover ATP, the fuel source for muscle cells, and for the nervous system to recruit all the muscle fibers needed to perform the next set. Forgoing it in a misguided effort to push yourself harder will ultimately limit your muscle gains and hurt your performance. According to the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, the main text of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, rest intervals between two and five minutes are necessary for maximal gains in strength. To build muscle size, 30- to 90-second rests are appropriate. Demanding lifts like the squat and bench press should be done with longer rests between sets, whereas accessory work, such as lateral raises, curls, and other isolation movements can have shorter breaks.
Chalk up: Most commercial gyms offer slick barbells with poor knurling (the rough patches on the bar that you grip), making them hard to hold on to and control when using heavy weights. Gyms also tend to frown on using chalk—which keeps your hands dry—and don’t carry it, compounding the problem. “A chalk sock can help you get a better grip without creating a mess,” Bruno says. Found in outdoor adventure stores that cater to rock climbers, a chalk sock is a permeable pouch you can fill with magnesium carbonate. You can squeeze it to chalk up your hands.