Small changes for big results: efficiency is key

Work Smarter circled in red pencil with Work Harder text

By Tia Norris, December 2019 Issue.

Have you been exercising for several months or years, but haven’t seen the results you feel you deserve? Do you feel like you put in your time in the gym (or in the pool, on the pavement, or in your sport otherwise), but your goals still feel far out of reach?

If you answered yes to these questions, this article is for you.

I find that often, people are doing one or two of the big things correctly but are doing many of the small things incorrectly. Having those small leaks in the hull will sink a fitness battleship entirely. Here are four seemingly small, but ultimately critical, corrections you can make to increase your efficiency with your fitness program. 

1. No goals, no definite direction

This is a mandatory step one, and it’s devastating how many people fail to set goals. Read this carefully: it’s not enough to simply show up and do the time at the gym. Your fitness program is like a symphony, made of several different instruments and timings and complex rhythms all working in concert; you need to be sure that all of your efforts are synergizing together, instead of un-doing each other.

People make the grave mistake of trying to do everything all at once, in the same program. All of the following programs are largely incompatible, and you can only work on really one or maybe two, if you’re experienced and smart, at a time: strength, building muscle, losing body fat, rehabbing an injury, and increasing endurance. Choose carefully, and wisely, and then: tailor your reps, sets, rest, tempo, splits, exercise selection, exercise sequence, and all other variables in your single program accordingly.

2. Time management: before, during, and after workouts

Time is everything. Before your workouts: take at least five minutes, or ideally more if possible, to get your mind right. Take time to disconnect from the stress of your day, and to then connect into your fitness. Review your goals, why they’re important to you, and what you need to do today to get closer to those goals. This “centering” effect can help your physical performance immensely.

During your workouts: don’t waste time, slacker! Get off your phone, stop chit-chatting, and watch the clock. Most people don’t need to be resting for more than a minute or two in the gym, but it’s tragically rare for me to actually see someone adhering to that critical rest window. Get serious about your rest periods, it’s one of the most powerful manipulations you can make to your lifting program. Stay focused.

After your workouts: consider making time to de-compress after workouts, both mentally and physically. Most people are so time-crunched that they sprint out of the door when their workout is complete, without any time to reflect on successes, failures, or appreciation for what they just did. They are missing some crucial mental and emotional opportunities for closure and progress moving forward. Additionally, spending 5-20 minutes after a workout stretching, rolling, and doing other self-care could be a game-changer in your mobility routine. Manage your time and watch your physical performance skyrocket.

3. Changing programs too often

Patience is the number one thing that most people are missing when it comes to seeing results in fitness. They want it now, and they want it easily … but of course, if it were easy, everyone would be walking around with six pack abs and rippling bicep muscles. Remember the mastery principle: it takes 10,000 hours to ascend to mastery level of any skill — that’s years or decades in most cases.

Pick your goals and pursuits carefully. Remove your ego (ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black?) and ensure that you’re deeply in touch with your motivations and passions before you dive headfirst in the deep end of any new sport. Once you’ve picked your horse, I’d recommend riding that one single horse for a long, long, time. Do you want to build muscle, build strength, or run a marathon? Train that for 6-12 months. Do you want to reduce body fat and be more comfortable in a bathing suit? Train that for a few years, cycling between building muscle/cutting fat several times to figure out what your body needs.

Remember, it takes time to see results and to find your unique formula for each phase. Patience is a virtue.

4. Not mastering the basics and the technique

Along the same lines, don’t overlook the importance of the basics. Elite athletes in every sport have all paid their dues and have drilled deeply into the basics. Spend considerable time, both in the beginning and regularly throughout your intermediate and advanced level trainings, on basic techniques. The technical athlete will avoid injury, forge a sharper precision of movements and muscles involved, and will ultimately rise further in their sport with a more masterful understanding how, when, and how quickly to move.

Some examples of basics in the gym that are worth your time: a grip of steel, strong wrist mechanics, serious understanding of lats and glutes, ability to control footwork (toes pointed in the right direction, heels grounded, no supination/pronation), spinal integrity (no rounding, control of chin/neck), bilateral symmetry, basic stretching, and basic foam rolling. All of these should be old hat for any weightlifter that calls themselves more advanced than novice.

Guard your goals, time, commitments, and techniques extremely carefully; they’re non-negotiable when it comes to succeeding with fitness. Details matter. Don’t leave your success to chance with these small but wide-reaching pieces to your program.