Ever get to the gym and just don’t feel ready to train?
Maybe you’ve come straight from a long day at work and your head’s mashed, maybe you’ve got a lot on in your personal life or maybe you just haven’t got a clue what you’re going to do at the gym that day and it takes you half an hour to wander around and find the right machines. Compound this with the fact the gym is usually rammed when you go, and you end up feeling like you’ve just wasted your time.
Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. No matter what time you train, what you have on in your professional and personal life or how busy you are, you can still have workouts that are fucking epic and bring you closer to your goal rather than spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.
But first we need to start with a little basic physiology.
The Nervous System (Briefly) Explained
So in order to have epic workouts, we need to first understand the systems that govern our ‘readiness to train’. Understand that there are reasons behind the way you feel, your energy, mood and motivation, and many of them come down to how good you are at manipulating your own nervous system.
For the scope of this article, when I say ‘nervous system’ I’m referring to a specific part of the nervous system known as the ‘Autonomic Nervous System’. As the name would suggest, this nervous system works automatically without any conscious thought or input from us.
The autonomic nervous system is split into two parts: The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS).
The PNS is responsible for our ability to chill out – we can think of this as the ‘rest and digest’ system. This is the area we want to hang out in for 90% of our day. When PNS activity is high we feel relaxed, stress free and happy. This is perfect for enjoying life outside of stressful work or training, and it’s essential to take advantage of this as much as possible if you want to make progress towards your fitness goals (and generally be a good person that isn’t a complete bellend).
In contrast to this, the Sympathetic Nervous System can be thought of as our ‘fight or flight’ response system. This is the system responsible for all stress, both useful and otherwise.
We must remember that not all stress is bad. The word ‘stress’ has a ton of negative connotations attached to it, but without a response from the SNS we wouldn’t instinctively move out the way of a speeding train or understand that it’s not a smart idea to try and ride a lion bareback (although now I say it, I kinda wanna do it. YOLO).
The SNS is also responsible for how good (or poor) our gym sessions are. When we’re in the gym we’re essentially trying to harness the SNS and it’s ‘fight or flight’ response to get the most out of our bodies and gym sessions. If we’re too relaxed or distracted before heading into the gym, the SNS will either be too underactive or too overactive & preoccupied with something else. If you want your workouts to be epic and get you closer to your physique goals, you need to harness the power of your SNS.
Now, I’ll stop trying to bore you with GCSE science but it’s important you understand the difference between these two systems. It’s useful to think about your body having an internal ‘switch’ that you can manipulate and flick between the PNS and SNS when you need to use one or the other. How do we do this? Through intelligent planning and sticking to regular routines. Let me explain.
The Pre-Workout Routine
Now, no matter what you’re doing before the gym, whether it’s working on a tight deadline in the office, lugging heavy bricks around on a building site, looking after the kids or just chilling out and scratching your balls on the sofa, you need a pre workout routine in order to flick that internal switch and get ready for war in the gym.
The specifics of this routine will be subjective. My advice first and foremost is to find what works for YOU. However as a guide, I will break down my own pre workout routine and why I choose each element of it.
So 3-4 hours before my training session I’ll have a carb heavy meal (unless I’m training super early). The reason for this is to give me a good amount of energy, but allow a good amount of time for the hormonal response (serotonin, dopamine etc) to clear and not affect my mood, mental clarity or make me feel lethargic in the gym. I’ll then continue with my day (usually seeing clients) until around an hour before my workout is set to go down.
This one hour window between finishing work and starting training is pivotal to the quality of my workout and I’m very protective of this time. I won’t be working during this time, I’ll be getting my body in a prime state to train. I’ll have a pre workout meal (normally a small amount of protein, salt, coconut water and fats) – my choice is normally tuna & sea salt, coconut water & coconut oil. This gives me fast energy, sodium, electrolytes & potassium to perform at my best in the gym, without being too heavy so it sits in my stomach and makes me feel sick in the gym.
I’ll then have a pre workout coffee to make sure I’m awake and whack some heavy music on (I say heavy, sometimes a guy just wants to listen to some ABBA to get him hyped up).
That’s pretty much it. I don’t do anything special, I don’t rely on special magic pre workout supplements to paper over the cracks in a shit nervous system, I simply have a few physical cues that remind my body it’s now my time to go to work in the gym. I clear my mind of all the shit that I’ve been thinking, worrying and stressing about in this period so it isn’t playing on my mind in the gym. It’s normally a good idea to put your phone on aeroplane mode or do not disturb mode so no one is bothering you during your workout too.
The point is, this is my one hour window to ‘flick the switch’ over to optimise my SNS for an epic workout. If you need to write your training plan, it’s a good idea to do it in this window too. Plan it meticulously so that when you enter the gym, you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing.
There should be no time wasted once you walk through that door for your workout. Every aspect should be planned for and all you need to do when you get there is execute.
I hope this article was useful and gives you a small insight into how to improve the quality of your training sessions. Remember – shit training sessions equal shit results. OWN your time in the gym and you set yourself up to win in the long run.
Here’s to some epic workouts
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