I know how you feel. You are working your butt off, you’re not seeing the results some of your friends are seeing, and you can’t put your finger on why. Progress – whether it’s for body composition, for physical fitness, or for both – takes time. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting out with your fitness journey, at some point you’re going to plateau and feel discouraged. The bad news is that it’s going to happen and it’s going to be frustrating. The good news is that I’m about to tell you 5 things you can change immediately that will improve your performance. Let’s cut the small talk and jump right into ’em.
1. More Sleep
The experts at the Michael Johnson Performance facility in McKinney, Texas have done a lot of research surrounding sleep and performance. Here’s the gist: Sleeping rejuvenates your central nervous system (CNS) and replenishes your energy stores. Your CNS needs to be rejuvenated and rested because it is what sends signals to your muscles to tell them to contract. Better functioning CNS = better functioning muscles. Furthermore, your muscles recover at a quicker rate while you sleep, so they are more likely to be fully repaired and allow you to work hard the next day if you get better sleep. What is “better sleep”? The number of hours isn’t necessarily as important as the quality of sleep. If you can get a deep sleep for 6 hours that’s good, poor quality sleep for 8 hours isn’t that good. So let’s start by saying shoot for 7 to 8 hours of DEEP SLEEP. Turn out the lights, shut off the electronics, and pass out.
2. Better Hydration
The capacity to perform high-intensity exercise can be decreased by up to 45% if the athlete isn’t properly hydrated (Sawka, Young, Cadarette). The bottom line is that if you’re not hydrated, you aren’t going to be performing at your highest potential capacity. If you work out later in the day, be sure to drink water all day up until that point. If you work out early in the morning (I personally coach classes at 5:30 and 6:30 am every day – my members who come tothese classes should heed this advice), drink a big glass of water immediately when you wake up, preferably at least 30 minutes before starting your session.
3. Sufficient Protein
We aren’t going to dive too deep into nutrition here (read my other posts for that info), but we are going to make the claim that most athletes aren’t eating enough protein. They’re also probably not eating the correct amount of carbs and fats either, but that’s for a different time. Be sure to ingest somewhere between 20 and 40 grams of protein after your workouts, and include a protein source in every meal throughout the day. Your body needs protein to build muscle and the classic American diet is actually lacking in protein. Protein supplements are fine, but whole foods are better.
4. Warm Up
You’d be surprised at the amount of athletes I see that try to do high intensity workouts without warming up properly, and then crash and burn. Not only does warming up decrease your risk for injury, it LITERALLY WILL MAKE YOU PERFORM BETTER. Your muscles need to be activated in order to fire correctly. If you’re trying to squat and all of your leg muscles are firing at weird times and don’t have proper blood flowing, you clearly aren’t going to be able to squat as much as if you were sufficiently warm. I know you might think that if you warm up too much you won’t have enough energy to perform the workout, but that’s not the case. Get a sweat going before you really start your workout, do some specific dynamic stretches or activating movements, and then crush it. This also brings me to my next point.
5. Move Correctly
Elite athletes are elite for a lot of reasons, but one of the huge reasons is that they have incredible “movement economy”. What that means is that they are moving in mechanically efficient patterns, so their body needs to produce less energy to perform the movement. Let’s take the example of a runner. Elite runners have their form down to a science, which means they are moving super efficiently, which means their body doesn’t need to waste much energy to get them to run, which means they can run longer or faster (or both) than the rest of us even though we are expending the same amount of energy. This same principal is true for squatting/biking/rowing/lifting/everything. You need to work on using correct form, because it will literally make the movement easier, which means you’ll be able to do it better than you would with bad form even though you aren’t working any harder.