45 & Thrive: Gym efficiencies, best practices (and a few no-noes)

If you’ve followed this column for a while, or taken a look at previous articles or blog posts on 45 & Thrive, you’ve probably noticed that I am a strong proponent of efficiency and effectiveness with respect to training and exercise. Minimum Effective Dose (MED), functional strength training, and recognition of our evolutionary past and biological best practices informs virtually every aspect of what I believe serves us in striving towards ‘Robust Longevity.’ In that vein, today I would like to highlight a few best practices in the gym which help ensure efficiency and focus while training, while also noting a few bad habits (IMHO) to avoid.

  1. Best Practice: If while in the gym you need a reminder of the order of exercises, or the weight/resistance for each set, use a small recipe card or small, pocket sized note book. If you like to check off exercises/sets when they are completed bring a pen/pencil, keep it with the card/notebook and do this quickly at the end of the set/exercise. Then move on to the next exercise.
    Try to Avoid: Having your workout program on your phone and thereby needing to drag your device around with you while training. If you are like 90 per cent or more of people, you cannot ignore your phone nor its alerts/notifications. And that is exactly why they are built that way; to promote and encourage engagement and distract you from what you are doing. The gym time is your time. It is not a shopping spree, nor is it a time to promote your own personal brand (So no need to take selfies while training – ever!). If you must take your phone in to the gym, turnoff all notifications and use a very simple notepad list or workout app to keep track of what you should do. However, if you are serious about building habits and routines designed to enhance your wellness, and prepare for a vibrant second half of life, then commit to 45 minutes or so of phone free time. If you must have a personal playlist of workout tunes, use an iPod or similar device tucked discretely away in your clothing with your playlist set before you get to the gym. No need to scroll through several thousand tracks for the perfect tune while training. Oh, and every gym plays music over their in-house system… So, you might not even need that device.
  2. Best Practice: As you get familiar with the exercises in your program, plan ahead a little for the next exercise while in the middle of the one you are on. Know where you are going next, get there efficiently, and minimize downtime between exercises. This helps to keep up a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) pace throughout the resistance training portion of the workout (see last column). If you head to an exercise and the machine/equipment you’d hoped to use is being used by someone else, do not stand around waiting. Move on to a complementary exercise which mimics what you were going to do as closely as possible. For example, if you head over to do barbell bench press and all the spots are taken. Pivot, head to a chest press machine, or perhaps flat bench with dumbbells. Work your chest using one of these exercises and then return to the order of exercises you had planned.  Further, a bit of variety and change of pace in your workout is an excellent stimulus, particularly for the neuromuscular connection between brain and body which helps maintain coordination, balance, muscularity and strength. So, changing things on the fly when necessary is not a problem.
    Try to Avoid: Standing around, waiting, and being unproductive. The pace and intensity of your workout is one of its key components, so don’t compromise here. Also, please don’t be that guy/girl who completes a set and then uses equipment and machines as loungers (usually with a phone in hand). Recliners are called ‘La-Z-Boys’ for a reason… But they have no place in the gym.
  3. Best Practice: Notice who might be hovering nearby as you finish your set(s), return plates to racks and machine adjustments to safe positions and then wipe down the seats, handles and parts where you have or might have left sweat. This way, the next person can begin to use the gear efficiently and you’ve shown them respect and consideration likely to be reciprocated next time.
    Try to Avoid: Leaving machines sweaty, loaded with weight, and unwelcoming to the next person.  This is common courtesy and setting an example can act as a respectful, positive reminder of this once.
  4. Best Practice: Come to the gym and engage in your training with as few distractions, accessories and ‘things’ as possible.
    Try to Avoid: Bringing a water bottle with you; there is always a water fountain. You don’t need a protein shake, energy drink, or supplements to ingest while training; these do not metabolize quickly enough to positively effect your training and simply add to your list of things to keep track of during your workout. Take steps to simplify your workout and focus on efficient training practices.
  5. Best Practice: Use the mirrors to check form, to make sure you are doing the exercise correctly, and to glance around yourself so that your area is safe for yourself and others nearby.
    Try to Avoid: Preening, mirror selfies (but then again, you shouldn’t have your camera in the gym anyway), or staring at people training in the gym. This is your time at physical self-improvement. Use it diligently so that you can get on with enjoying the life you are curating to its fullest.
  6. Best Practice: Train independently so that your workout goals stay on track and you use your time well. This does not mean you have to train alone. By all means, head to the gym with a training partner or friend. Have them tuned in to your workout and to be prepared to spot and help when necessary. However, do yourself a huge favour and agree that gym time is gym time, and social time is social time. These are mutually exclusive. If you really want to get the most out of your workouts this needs to be the priority.
    Try to Avoid: Chatting mindlessly with training partners or other gym regulars. This changes the dynamic and focus of your session and negatively effects your training intensity.  It distracts you from being in tune with your mind and body while training and lengthens your workout unnecessarily.

Your gym workouts should be just one of the tools you use to support your best life. From mid life on we tend to become acutely aware of the value of time and how precious it is. ‘Robust Longevity’ requires physical exercise in support of other great physical activities, sports, pastimes and pursuits; it does not replace these. Focused, efficient, and effective training helps us be ready to take on physical tasks and chores around our home, play with our children and grand children, and maintain a physique tuned to fight disease and protect against accident or injury. Most of all, it helps use enjoy and appreciate what can truly be the best time of our lives.

Cheers for now,

Michael Patterson, M.Ed.
Lift long and Prosper

Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].

*Disclaimer: The information provided and discussed in this column is based on my personal experience, studies of physical and health education and my expertise as a lifelong fitness and health professional.  Any recommendations made about fitness, training, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided through this column, should be discussed with your physician or other health-care professional.

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