My checklist of what to put in my workout bag is pretty standard and predictable: water, towel, workout shoes, sweatband, post-workout snack..... and my brain.
By "bring your brain", I mean that we have to drop off all the baggage we are carrying around in our heads, so that we can focus on exactly what we are at the gym for. Lose the worries over the project that's overdue, the babysitter that's just quit on you, and what will you make for dinner. All that stuff has no business taking up brain space and energy while you're at the gym.
When we clear our minds of all that stuff, we can focus sharply on our form (are we doing that exercise correctly and safely?), and our end goals (what do I want to look/feel like in 4/8/12 weeks?). Worrying about other stuff during your workout won't solve those problems, but it will have a negative impact on your workout and your body.
Sometimes we feel guilty that we aren't paying attention to the baggage during our workouts - have you ever thought you just don't have time to work out, because there are so many things on your plate? Avoid that rabbit hole and remember that you have a responsibility to the body you walk around in. A lack of brain focus will lead to a half-baked job of exercise, and won't get the results we want.
The point of training is to better your body. However, more and more is not the answer in the long term. Overtraining refers to a combination of stresses such as too much training load, a heavy load at work, personal stresses and emotional burnout. Some signs of overtraining include weight loss with a lessened appetite, loss of motivation in physical activity, an increase in muscle soreness and exhaustion and increased anger and emotional outbursts, to name a few.
It would seem logical to keep piling on more and more physical effort to keep improving your body. But the fact is that humans are biological machines, and therefore need rest and lower stresses. Here is where periodization comes in.
Periodization is the planning of a workout program that starts in phase 1 to target the endurance fibres in the muscles, with lots of reps and a low load. Gradually over several weeks, the load is increased, but the volume (sets x reps) is decreased. In the transitional phases, the program switches from targeting the endurance fibres to the strength fibres. Rest and recovery between sessions are absolutely essential.
A trainer should be planning this transitional programming, with about two weeks in between changes in load or volume. It takes that long to adapt and get prepared for changes If you are having problems with excessive muscle soreness that persists longer than a day or two, mention it to the trainer and some regression is in order. When forward changes do happen, the trainer should limit the stress to about 5% increase.
Super setting is a technique we can use to maximize our workout time, building muscle in a very efficient way. We pair two exercises together, without much rest time between them. There are a few ways to do this.
Agonist super sets. This means the exercise all target the same main muscle (group), and will involve other muscles as well. You need to do all exercises at a weight you can just finish your reps with. For instance, if you want to develop stronger, bigger biceps, an agonist super set could look like this:
1. Cable curls, low mount. 4 sets, 6-8 reps.
2. Incline dumbbell curls. 4 sets, 4-6 reps.
Antagonist super sets. The exercise you pick for this will target first one muscle group and then the opposing muscle group. For instance, you could work on your chest and then your back. I suggest:
1. Chest - dumbbells flyes. 3 sets, 6-8 reps
2. Back - lat pulldowns. 3 sets 6-8 reps
3. Chest - pushups. 3 sets 15-20 reps
4. Back - cable rows. 3 sets 6-8 reps
Tri-Sets. This simply means adding a third exercise to each muscle group.
Staggered super sets. Here we use our rest time between sets to work other muscle groups. This maximizes your time spent and is a very efficient way to get a whole body workout done. For example, between your sets of pushups, do a plank for 30 seconds. Between your cable rows, do a set of calf raises, holding a set of dumbbells for extra effort.
Cardio and Strength super sets. Do a stint of intense cycling, followed by 2-3 sets of leg presses or squats. Since cycling is very quad-centric, the squats will force the tired quads (and hamstrings, glutes and calves) to work harder still. Or if your cardio is on the elliptical, your glutes will get a fair amount of work - hip extension. So then pair that cardio with lunges, focussing on squeezing the glutes, especially on the rear leg.