Every experienced trainer will tell you that a heavy workout is not just another training day—it requires a whole different level of endurance and concentration. For this reason, the lead-up to a big lifting sesh is crucially important. Make any of these pre-workout blunders and your personal bests will be personal busts.
1. Lifting heavy before lifting heavy
Many gym newbies think that getting strong means lifting heavy all the time. The result is that when the real heavy day finally rolls around, they’re burned out and under-recovered from their previous workouts. “One of my favorite things to remind people of is the fact that we don’t need to lift heavy to lift heavy,” says Justin Reeson, owner of LiftHacks and coach for Team Canada Powerlifting. “The key is to stimulate your muscles in the right way, rest appropriately, and always strive for maximum physical preparation.” Trust the process rather than your ego and let your results speak for themselves.
Ever come into work after only a few hours of sleep? (Honestly, who hasn’t?) Then you know how hard it is to cognitively function when you’re unrested. “Now imagine if you were lifting weights that were heavy enough to kill you,” warns Reeson. A lack of sleep will negatively affect strength, focus, coordination, central nervous system function, and of course, recovery. At the same time, oversleeping can cause grogginess and lethargy. Getting the right amount of sleep (typically eight hours) is crucial for ensuring peak performance. For this reason, many experience trainers find that tracking the amount of shuteye they’re getting is just as important as tracking diet and performance.
3. Skipping breakfast
Doing cardio first thing on an empty stomach might be a strategy for losing weight, but when it comes to building muscle, it’s counterproductive at best and disastrous at worst. To put it plainly, heavy training requires intensity and intensity requires fuel. “Whenever possible, it’s best to go into a heavy workout in a state of exaggerated hydration and with as much stored glycogen as possible,” says Reeson. “You want to feel full, healthy, and physically ready.” Undereating is one of the most common causes of underperformance, and the degree to which you’re underperforming will always be particularly soul crushing on heavy days.
4. Eating too much
The last thing you want to be worrying about at the bottom of a squat is why your tummy is rumbling. Aside from the obvious embarrassing consequences, eating heavy before lifting heavy can cause bloating and sluggishness, both of which can sabotage a workout. “Few things challenge our equilibrium more than gastrointestinal issues, and they can pose a huge stress on the body,” explains Reeson. Oftentimes, lifters will gorge themselves prior to a competition or intense workout in the mistaken belief that calories are more important than comfort. There’s nothing wrong with eating more—quite the contrary—so long as your body can tolerate the food.
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5. Drinking the night before
It should go without saying that drinking to the point of intoxication can result in dehydration, weakness, and delayed muscle recovery, all of which negatively impact performance. Overindulging also interrupts sleep patterns, contributes to weight gain, and impairs protein synthesis (the body’s production of new proteins). That said, a little liquid courage the night before a nerve-wracking workout or competition might be just what the doctor ordered. “For people who chronically over-analyze and can’t remove themselves from thinking about their competition or workout, a small amount of alcohol (one oz or so) can actually have a major benefit from an emotional standpoint,” says Reeson—although if you’re really that stressed may we suggest a warm bath or kicking back with a book to help you relax before reaching for the bottle.