The workout checklist

Gym workout
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Have you…

Taken time over each set?

The training effect and new muscle growth that you unlock during a workout depends on the time for which your muscles are under tension. Each rep of an exercise should take four to six seconds, so that each set takes 40-60 seconds to achieve muscle growth. Time yourself and either slow things down or add more reps up to a maximum of 12 per set.

Lowered the weight slowly?

It’s tempting to let gravity take over and let the weights drop after you’ve busted a gut to lift them. But this has several drawbacks. Not only do you risk cracking your sternum with a barbell or overextending a joint, you’re also missing out on at least a third of the training effect. By lowering weights slowly you put an eccentric (lengthening) contraction into the muscle and extend the time under tension, increasing the workout’s muscle pay-off.

Lifted to failure?

‘Lifting to failure’ means not being able to complete the last rep of your last set for a particular exercise with perfect form. At the start of the workout, choose a weight that you can lift for the required number of reps until the very last set. By the end of this exercise the muscle fibres required to perform it should be completely exhausted – job done, and you can move on to the next exercise.

Used the right exercises?

Many people think that exercising one part of the body will build that part of the body – that exercises that isolate the quads, say, will give them bigger legs. But the training effect of single-joint, single-muscle exercises isn’t that great because the amount of weight you can lift is limited and the body as a whole isn’t put under much strain. Multi-joint exercises that enlist more than one muscle group into the effort can lift more weight, drive up your heart rate further and push more muscle-growth hormones and nutrients into your blood. So for the best results, mix big compound moves with smaller isolation ones.

Avoided using momentum?

Introducing momentum into a lift is the classic weightlifter’s cheat. Temptation strikes when you can’t quite get a weight past the sticking point and you move another part of your body to generate momentum and give it a boost. The problem is that you’ve let the muscle being trained off the hook and placed an unnatural load on another joint, putting it at risk. Focus on using the muscle you’re targeting at all times.

Depleted your energy reserves?

There’s a reason most of MF’s muscle-building workouts take around 40 minutes. After this, intense exercise will take energy from your muscles and liver. Once these reserves are used up the body turns to the next most readily available form of energy – muscle tissue. So to exhaust your muscles without tipping over into a destructive metabolism, keep your workouts under 50 minutes. If you still feel energetic at the end, increase the intensity.

Balanced your workout?

It can be hard to stop your stronger side from dominating exercises, doing all the work and getting all the growth. Try to do one-sided moves, training your weaker side first. Another way to end up with a mismatched physique is to do too many upper-body exercise and not enough lower-body ones. Keep a training diary so that you can even out the workouts.

Progressed your workout?

The theory of building muscle depends on doing progressively harder workouts as your body adapts to the training and becomes stronger. It’s easy to get stuck on a plateau where you are working out every week, but if you do you won’t see any new results. Avoid this by making small, steady progressions, adding a small amount of weight or increasing the number of sets that you do every couple of weeks.

Eaten properly?

Just hoisting weights around alone won’t get you the muscular body you’re after. Have a carbohydrate snack an hour before your workout so that you have the energy to work your muscle fibres to exhaustion. If you supply your body with enough energy and protein after your workout, it will then repair your muscles, enabling them to grow in size and density. Within 15 minutes of your session ending, eat a snack that has one gram of carbohydrate per kilo of your bodyweight and is three parts carb to one part protein.

Mixed it up?

If you don’t change your workout, it will get easier over time – it takes only four to six weeks for your body to adapt to the training regime that you have set it. When it does, you’ll start to lose the gains you’ve worked so hard for – and risk picking up an overuse injury. Besides that, you’ll get really bored. So mix up your training by finding some new moves and workouts – Men’s Fitness is always a good place to start looking.

Coach Staff

Coach is a health and fitness title. This byline is used for posting sponsored content, book extracts and the like. It is also used as a placeholder for articles published a long time ago when the original author is unclear. You can find out more about this publication and find the contact details of the editorial team on the About Us page.