Written By Laird Hamilton for MensJournal.com
Credit: Photograph by Peter Bohler
How you approach a workout — from the way you order your exercises to how you breathe, to what you’re thinking while you train — is as crucial to improving your fitness as the actual moves you do. Make small, strategic changes and you can boost your performance without working any harder. Here’s what I do to maximize each session and stay challenged.
1. Plan Out Your Fuel
I grab a drink to rev up my metabolism before I train, another to repair my muscles after. Right now, that’s an espresso pre-workout and a whey-protein shake within an hour of finishing.
2. Start with the “Can’ts”
Force yourself to first do the exercises you avoid. Choose one per workout and give it your all for five minutes. Make that right after you’ve warmed up, so you have full energy and power. I guarantee you’ll find that by putting in just a little work, you actually can do a dozen pull-ups or 100-meter sprint repeats.
3. Focus on Your Weak Side
To fix muscle imbalances, start a move on your weaker leg or arm (often your nondominant side) and put in an extra couple of reps.
4. Go Hard Enough to Fail
At least once a week, pick an exercise and push yourself until you can’t do any more reps, weight, or time. Hitting failure will break down your muscle fibers more — but encourage your body to get stronger, faster.
5. Visualize the Muscle
Picture your lats firing as you row or your glutes engaging during a squat and your brain will signal your nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers for the movement.
When you lift, inhale as you begin a rep; exhale as you finish it. The inhale tightens your core to help you brace against lifting the weight, and the exhale creates momentum to push through the movement.
7. Get on the Ball
A stability ball adds a balance challenge that forces your muscles to work harder during any move. My go-to: lying on the ball with feet planted on the floor for dumbbell chest presses. Close your eyes to make it harder.
8. Address Aches as You Go
When I work out, I use a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or even the handle of a kettlebell to knead tight muscles. Doing this while you train helps you push harder, eases next-day soreness, and prevents injury.
9. Prime Your Body for Sleep
You won’t see fitness gains if you’re not hitting six-plus hours a night. Period. To sleep sounder, I take a daily magnesium supplement. The mineral helps your muscles relax and fights insomnia, and most men don’t get enough of it through food alone.
10. Be Exact in Your Schedule
Plot workouts so that you never do back-to-back days of high-intensity intervals, body-crushing lifts, or long runs. You want your intensity level to be constantly up and down.
11. No Time? Do This
A burpee targets every major muscle group, boosts your cardio endurance, and burns some 14 calories a minute. For a lightning workout, do 12 every minute for five minutes straight. Brutal — but effective.