BY MIKE HOAD – International personal trainer and creator of The Lean Muscle System
Professional athletes are some of the most admired people in modern society. Everybody wants to be them. Often they go on to be successful in business after they retire from their sport. Are they genetically different from the rest of us or do they simply work harder? The truth is it’s usually a combination of both. The key question is how do these pros approach their training? What can we learn from them and how can we apply what we know about pro athletes and their routines?
Unfortunately I see a lot of regular gym users go to the gym without achieving much. They might do 30 minutes on the x-trainer and 30 minutes on the bicycle. They finish off the session with some half-hearted weights. The result is an hour and a half session where not much is actually achieved and subsequently they give up training after a month or two. What if we could take the motivation and drive that a pro athlete has? What can we learn from them and use in a practical setting to improve our own performance?
1. How Often Do They Train?
Some people might think that athletes train everyday, this simply isn’t true. Rest is a part of the training process. Recovery is what allows you to adapt to the hard work you’ve done so training everyday will just leave you tired and frustrated. With that said athletes do train a lot more frequently than the average person. Depending on their sport athletes can train up to 2-3 times daily. For example a judo athlete may train a number of different sessions in one day. One of the sessions would be judo technique and the other might be strength training in the gym. Frequent training sessions are commonplace amongst athletes.
How can you apply this?
If you have the time you can train twice in one day. However, there are certain rules you need to stick to make sure you get the best out of your workouts and not simply tire yourself out. For example, you should keep the sessions short at around 45 minutes each. Also, you should leave at least 6 hours between sessions, so ideally it would be one training session in the morning and one in the evening. I suggest focusing on the same body part in one day and training with heavy weights and low reps in the morning and lighter weight and more reps in the evening. Also, be sure to consume enough good quality natural food in between sessions.
2. Lift Heavy
There is a common misplaced fear among regular gym users that lifting heavy weights will be detrimental to your health. Actually the opposite is the truth. Lifting heavy weights with good technique has actually been shown to improve health. Namely lifting weights that are challenging strengths your muscles, tendons and even bones. The key is to maintain proper form whilst you do this, especially in terms of keeping correct posture. Professional athletes have known the benefits of lifting heavy weights for decades and it’s not uncommon for athletes like Olympic gold medallist Chris Hoy to squat more then 2.5 times his body weight!
How can you apply this?
You may think how does this apply to me? I’m not suggesting you attempt to lift 2.5 times your bodyweight. The point is the weights you lift need to be challenging for you whilst you maintain good technique in the given exercise. A good way to start is to do 5 sets of 5 repetitions using a big movement. The bench press is a good example. Warm up gradually with one set of 10 reps and two further sets of 5 reps. Your warm-up could look like this:
Warm-up 1 20 kg for 10 reps
Warm-up 2 40 kg for 5 reps
Warm-up 3 50 kg for 5 reps
1st Work set 60 kg for 5 reps
3. A Winning Mindset
Mental strength and a positive mindset is a huge part of a pro athletes success. They work with sports psychologist and actively train their minds for competition and to gain an edge over their opponents. Athletes are obsessive goal setters, they practice positive self-talk and focus on the present. How can you change your mindset to one of a winner?
I encourage all of my clients to set goals, no matter how small. It could be a body composition goal, like to make it to 10% body fat or something more simple like to be able to do 1 full chin-up. The point is you need to have a goal. I suggest starting small with something that’s achievable. Set one short term goal (4 weeks) and one long term (6 months to 1 year).
Focus On The Present
Focusing on negative past events is a sure fire way to put you in a negative state for training. The present is what you can control right now so focus on that. Focus on performing well not on the outcome at the end. By focusing on the present moment in time we reduce the stress response of focusing on past or future events. This will give you more control and less anxiety.
Be aware of how you talk to yourself. All day long we have a running dialogue with ourselves. Often this can be negative and we focus on the worst possible outcomes. Sports psychologists advise athletes to replace any negative self talk with more positive messages. Research proves that an athlete who continually practices positive self-talk will improve his or her sports performance. The same can be applied to your average gym user. When you find yourself putting yourself down in your head, stop reassess the line of thought and put a positive spin on it.
In summary there is a lot we can take from pro athletes and their practices. Simply by making some small adjustments to your mindset will radically improve your training. You don’t have to give up your day job and train full time but if you take some of these principles and apply them to your everyday training things will drastically improve for you.
Michael Hoad MSc (Hons) is an international personal trainer and creator of The Lean Muscle System (www.theleanmusclesystem.com). Mike has extensive experience in sport science, martial arts and physique competition. During his 11 years of industry experience he has helped stockbrokers, doctors, hedge fund managers, athletes, physical competitors and people from all walks of life build impressive lean muscle.
After training huge amounts of clients in London on a 1:1 basis, Mike realised he had a serious talent for body transformation and decided to make his method accessible for all via the internet, meaning his training powers could reach beyond the boundaries of London, UK. The result is The Lean Muscle System, an impressive subscription based training platform, offering a full digital plan, incorporating muscle building workouts, nutrition presentations, fat loss recipes, nutritional supplement presentations and professionally shot exercise videos as well as Skype sessions for those requiring 1:1 feedback and motivational direction.