Training sessions are critical to any fitness goal. If we’re building or maintaining strength, gaining or maintaining muscle mass, or pursuing overall health, it’s unavoidable. While we can lose weight through manipulating our nutrition and eating in a calorie deficit, strength training is required to maintain muscle mass and, again, to improve overall health.
We should strive to get the absolute most out of our training sessions. And, while I’ve talked about having a great program, making sure you’re working within your movement capabilities, and other factors, I have yet to touch on one variable: the pre-training routine.
Just like we have a morning or night routine, we should likely have a pre-workout routine as well! This functions as our time to get in the zone and get ready to TRAIN. It puts us in the right headspace and ensures that when we do the first rep, we’re set and ready to go.
For me, I have three non-negotiables that I use when preparing for a training session. These include supplements and food, setting a session goal, and getting in the zone.
Pre-workout supplements and FOOD.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of this routine is FOOD. Regardless of the type of workout you do, food is going to be necessary. For the sake of this article, we’re going to talk in terms of general training – a workout with some strength components and some cardio components. However, as I’m sure you know, there are many types of training and how we fuel for each will have some differences. But, for today, let’s focus on training, in general.
As with the rest of our lives, food is the main priority and supplements fill in the gaps. So we’ll start there. Ideally, we would eat something carbohydrate and protein focused pre-workout. Carbs are the body’s main source of fuel, so we want to have some readily available when we step into the gym for our workouts.
But eating prior to a training session, especially when it’s early in the morning, isn’t always feasible. In those cases, we’ll want to make sure we have a shake or breakfast ready and waiting for us post-workout, especially if we’re running into work or right on with the rest of our day. Taking time before the workout or the night before to prep this can set us up for success not only in the workout itself, but in the rest of the day as well.
The second part to this is supplements.
Pre and intra workout supplements can further fill the gaps – especially intra if we’re not eating prior to a workout. An intra-workout essential amino acid drink can help the body maintain protein and muscle, while utilizing fat or stored carbohydrates as fuel during workouts. If we’re consistently working out fasted, we’ll likely want one of these EAA supplements. If it’s a hot, humid day and we’re sweating heavily, an electrolyte supplement may also be warranted.
Backtracking to pre-workout, these supplements, while not necessary, can provide that push of motivation that we sometimes need. They can also promote blood flow and, in turn, improve performance during the workout itself. Among other ingredients, caffeine is a common one in these pre-workout supplements. Instead, a cup or two of coffee can do the trick.
Set your goal for the session.
We’re fed, supplemented…or at least have those things with us for the rest of the day. Now it’s time to get into the session.
In my opinion, each session should have a goal. That’s how I program as a coach. There are some sessions with a goal of feeling better, some more focused on strength in a specific area or improving power. There are infinite number of goals that can be at the forefront as I program for someone.
However, none of these are as important as the goal you set for yourself.
When you step into the gym, what is the goal for that session you’re starting? If you don’t have one, you may be leaving progress on the table. Because when we have a goal, we can work backwards. We can frame our decisions in the context of that goal.
First, we define the endpoint. Then, if an exercise, rep count, set number, etc. brings you closer to that goal, it’s a yes. If it moves you further away from that goal, it’s a no…or at least it’s a “not right now” during that session.
Setting a goal provides a focus and direction, which is why I think it’s an integral part of the pre-workout routine.
Get in the zone.
Finally, we get in the zone. Setting your goal for the session actually started this process, but then we finish it as we step into the gym. Because when we’re in the zone, we’re dialed in. We’re not focused on the things outside of the gym. We’re focused on dialing into the session at hand. We’re focused on completing the reps to the best of our ability and improving, within the context of the goal you set, during that session.
Arguably, even though this is the last one on the list, it’s the most important one. Because dialing into our session makes all the difference in the world. It’s what separates mediocre sessions from great ones. It can take a session to that next level we’ve been pushing for…But it doesn’t come without that intentional action from us.
Reassess your pre-workout routine. Are you in the zone when you walk into the gym? If not, reassess. What can you change and improve to get more out of your training session? Take those actions during this week and see how it changes your training. Note the differences and continue what helps, stop what doesn’t, and adjust as you see fit!