Despite the fact that I was a four-sport athlete in my high school years and worked a labor-intensive job directly out of undergrad, I firmly believe that going to the gym can still be a daunting experience. At the time of writing this, I am the heaviest and most out of shape I have ever been. It's not like I don't know my way around a weight room—I'm still strong enough to walk on my hands or carry all my grocery bags in on one trip—but I still feel an aversion to actually going to the gym. Maybe there's not enough hours in the day, maybe I'm lazy, or maybe it's all the people. More than anything else, I despise a packed gym; all the meatheads storming up and down the walkways with their chests puffed out, hassling me every time I take a break between sets, saying, "Hey, bro, you still on this?" We get it. You lift, bro. Witnessing all these gym antics, I've oftentimes wondered, "Are there any lifehacks every gym rat should know?" Well, if there wasn't before, this list will serve as one now.
You don't need all that pre-workout.
C4, KRAKEN, N.O.-XPLODE—these are just some of the names of the various powders I see going into shakers, causing the majority of gym rats to yell over the sound of their headphones and flush bright red as they crash free weights into each other. Have you actually read the back of all those containers you crammed into your gym bag, though? Regardless of the amount of B-vitamins, nitrates, and branch-chain amino acids, typically all of the various supplements have the same thing somewhere on the bottle: "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA." It may make your teeth rattle in your head, but it may also contain a low dosage of rat poison. The decision is up to you, but, if you want a simple pre-workout, try a cup of coffee before your workout, or maybe perform your own science experiment by hypothesizing whether or not marijuana improves your workout. Those supplements cannot be good for you.
You should definitely be warming up and cooling down.
Whether you spend ten minutes on the treadmill or simply try touching your toes (since you haven't been able to do that since middle school), you should definitely warm up before your workout and cool down afterward. The things in your arms that you're trying to grow function best when they are elastic. In fact, that's the whole premise behind growing muscles—repetitive flexion and extension to tear the muscle knowing that it will grow back stronger. If you don't get a little sweat going and instead jump straight into your max bench weight, you are very likely to hurt yourself. Alternatively, you want to work out all that lactic acid you've built up. Get your downward on, dawg.
If you're at the gym for more than an hour and a half, you're doing it wrong.
It may seem counterintuitive, but you need to trust me on this one. There are several studies circulating the web that speak about "diminishing returns." Your body can only take so much before all that effort eventually takes a toll on you. Spending four hours sculpting every muscle group in your body until you are a massive, gelatinous blob walking to your car is foolish. You are not a machine. You need sustenance, and you need rest. I don't care if you go to the gym for three 45-minutes sessions a day, just make sure that your body gets sufficient rest so it has the ability to grow stronger.
Drink plenty of water.
Most of you gym rats already know what I'm talking about, or at least it looks like you do since you're carrying that gallon jug with you everywhere. Regardless of that, though, water is definitely a workout must do. Consider your body a machine. (You probably already do.) It's standing there, glistening in sweat as you curl, curl, curl; your heart is working overtime to make sure enough blood makes it to your brain so you don't pass out from holding your breath. This function is causing stress on your body, increasing your core body temperature. When your body is stressed, a salt-based water emits from your skin, which you know as sweat. If your body perspires too much, and you don't replenish it, you pass out anyway. Do yourself and the people who will have to move you a favor, and make sure to drink some of that water instead of just carrying it around with you.
Change up your workout routine.
There are a number of ways to change up your workout routine, and we're not just talking about the body groups (read: calves) that need extra attention. German volume training dictates you should be doing ten sets of ten repetitions for each muscle group that you are working on that day. The DUP method is a progression: Day one shoot for four sets of four reps for each muscle group, increasing the reps on day two to four-by-eight, and then, on day three, lower the number of sets and increase the reps again, going three-by-twelve. If you want to strength train, "stronglifting" is half of the sets and reps of German volume training but with heavier weight. Alternatively, non-linear periodization is a combination of methods, starting day one with five sets of five reps and going into day two attempting to do four sets of twelve reps, then switching back and forth for maximum "gainz." There are plenty of methods to switch up your workout routine, and, if any of these don't pan out, you could always try alternative fitness regimens to really break through those plateaus.
This one is for all of you out there proud of your chicken legs. Leg day is, arguably, the most important part of a well-balanced workout routine. If you neglect to squat, your progress will be severely limited in the gym, as your quadriceps and hamstrings are integral body groups in your core. You also, probably, don't want people gawking at you while you're nearly tipping over re-racking your weights. That's the reason you started going to the gym in the first place, isn't it?
Buy yourself a fitness tracker.
If you're serious enough to worry about your protein intake, what brand of pre-workout you're ingesting, and how many hours you're at the gym, you are doing yourself an absolute disservice by not having a fitness tracker. What if, when you're 40 and overweight, you forget all the things you once knew as an amateur bodybuilder? If you don't know your caloric output, how are you to quantifiably measure your results? How, if you are at the last leg of your weight loss journey and you don't know your heart rate, are you supposed to know what to do aerobically to reach your goal?
Utilize deodorant sticks, not spray.
If you go to the gym, the main expectation you should have is that you are going to sweat. This is good for a lot of reasons, but it has the potential to make you smell like a barn. The old person next to you on the elliptical already hates you because you've been standing on the sides of the treadmill while it runs underneath you and you're sending a text, you don't need to offend their sense of smell too. On the other end of that spectrum, the stink from spray-on deodorants is, objectively, worse than your pit smell. If you wear cologne? You're a try-hard. Stick to stick deodorant, and maybe the girl on the leg press machine won't find you as abrasive as you probably are.
Eat 30 minutes post workout.
Some studies I've read dictate that, if you don't replenish essential nutrients in your body within 30 minutes of working out, you're cutting the effectiveness of your workout in half. Getting protein into you is absolutely essential, which is what makes post workout drinks so popular. Make sure to feed the beast in order to help it grow.
If you're going to take a gym selfie, go early or stay late.
Let's be honest, you don't have abs for you; abs are for Facebook and Instagram likes. If you're going to practice that perfect gym pose, stop taking prime gym hours from everyone else by standing in front of the mirror and flexing. Early mornings and late nights are your best bet for showing off your goods; foot traffic is low, and you can grab any weight or machine you want as a prop. Then, and only then, will these lifehacks every gym rat should know have granted you the chance to reflect on all of your hard work—the perfect gym selfie.