There are very few things that feel quite as good as setting a new personal best at the gym. We all strive for improvement, which is why we hire personal trainers, work out in groups, and take caffeine-laced pre-workout supplements. However, I have found a few overlooked techniques that are free, simple, and may help you reach a new personal best the next time you head to the gym. Here are four uncommon workout tips that can make you stronger.
Work your grip strength
One often overlooked area of fitness is grip strength. Grip strength can be very important, especially when you’re trying to set a new personal best. For an example of how grip strength can help you, I first want you to make a fist. Now squeeze your fist a little harder. Notice as you squeeze how you begin to recruit the muscles in your forearm. Now squeeze a little harder. You can now feel that you’re beginning to activate the muscles in your biceps and shoulder. Now squeeze as hard as you can. By now, your entire hand, forearm, biceps, shoulder, and back are being activated just by squeezing your fist tightly. By recruiting more muscles as you lift, you can increase your strength—and the odds of potentially getting in at least one more repetition.
Practice breath work
The panicked feeling of running out of breath during a set can break your concentration and make you drop the weight before you’ve reached the end. One technique I’ve found that helps to counteract this feeling is breath work. By taking many deep breaths before lifting, you over-oxygenate your blood, which allows you to need less oxygen while lifting. I typically do a type of breath work that involves a quick and deep inhale and a normal relaxed exhale; kind of like controlled hyperventilating. I’ll typically do 30 of these before I lift. I’ve noticed that when I’m not feeling winded during my exercise, I am able to focus more on my form—which allows me to lift heavier weights more easily.
Stop looking in the mirror
This might seem counterintuitive, but staring at yourself in the mirror could make your exercise feel more difficult. Yes, there are some exercises for which a mirror can be helpful when examining your form from the side. But standing face to face with a mirror provides no feedback on your form and only acts as a distraction. By staring at the mirror, you take yourself out of your body and being, focusing more on your aesthetics rather than on the feelings of your body, of the resistance, and of the equipment. I have found that, especially with squatting, I am able to focus more when I face away from the mirror, which I believe makes the weight easier to lift.
Try counting backward
Research has shown that counting backward may actually increase the likelihood of finishing a physical task. Next time you’re at the gym, try adopting the habit of counting your repetitions backward, from 10 to 1, for example, instead of 1 to 10. Counting toward zero seems to feel more calming, which may increase your performance.
In the constant pursuit of improvement, sometimes little changes can lead to big gains. Whether it is a small physical tweak or a psychological one, combining these four uncommon workout tips may make the difference between an average day in the gym and setting your new personal best.