Many of my clients over the years ask me what is the best thing they can do in the gym for fat loss. They seem to think that there is some secret sauce to losing weight when they are in the gym. The problem with using weight loss for a metric of success for a fitness program is that it is not the main reason why somebody loses weight. The number one reason why people lose body fat is due to nutrition and metabolism. This is why you should be focused on performance in the gym rather than weight loss. Performance training will improve your metabolism and your body will have to adapt while your performance is improving. Here’s our guide to improving performance in your workouts.
Pick the goal
The first thing you need to do when you want to improve performance is pick a goal for what you’re trying to improve. I recommend finding something that you enjoy doing. Examples are body building, running, cycling, powerlifting, swimming or team sports. Team sports can be hard because it’s not as easy to measure your progress. Improving things like strength will help with team sports and are easily measurable. After you pick a goal it’s time to measure where you are currently and where you would like to go.
Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. An example of this would be if you’d like to run a marathon your focus needs to be on running and you’ll need to pick a date for the race. You’ll also need a baseline of your current fitness level so that your goal is achievable. When doing the training you’ll need to do training that is relevant to your goal like a lot of running or cross training related to running. Mapping this out before you set out on your goal is key to success and will help you achieve your goal. You can apply the same goal setting approach to powerlifting or swimming.
Tips for improving performance
The most important thing for improving performance is to track your progress. Using a notebook or app to track progress every week is a great way to make sure that what you’re doing is working. The easiest performance goal to track is building strength because the changes happen so quickly. Are you putting more weight on the bar each week? If the answer is yes then your performance is improving.
When it comes to running you don’t want to test your fitness weekly because this may lead to burnout and make your performance slow down. A recommendation for runners is to do a shorter race monthly to track progress. With running you might see a drop in fitness due to weather, poor sleep or high stress during your race or time trial. This can make you lose motivation if mentally prepare for these setbacks.
Using strength training as a metric to measure performance is one of the best ways to see if you’re on track. Tracking strength every week is a lot easier than any other metric of fitness. This is because you can measure the changes objectively week over week. The issue with doing this with running is that there’s a lot of factors that impact your running performance. Strength training isn’t impacted but temperature or nutrition nearing as much as a sport like running. The best way to use strength training to measure performance is to do 4-6 reps and go up in weight if you hit 6 reps and go down in weight if you can’t hit 4 reps. This will allow you to increase the weight on the bar incrementally. Strength training can be done with a barbell, dumbbells or machines.
If you like running it can be a great way to measure performance over time. The best way to do this is to do a time trial to see where your fitness level is at. I like to use a one mile time trial or a 5k. Once you do this you can build out a training program to improve your race time. I recommend doing mostly easy running with some speed work built into the program. Because running takes longer to see improvement it’s best to check your progress every 4-8 weeks.
Side note: Every run should not be a race. Running hard all the time will not improve your fitness level as fast as someone doing a combo of easy runs and speed work. The easy runs should be easy and the hard runs should be hard but not all out like a race. Running is a weird sport where you are working on different tools like speed and endurance so that you can have a fast time on race day. Constantly checking your race time will leave you burnout and under performing.
The best way to lose weight is to improve your eating habits. You may have heard the term you can’t outrun a bad diet and this is true. Trying to only use exercise to get your weight down is not the best way to reach that goal. Just like with your performance in the gym weight loss is a numbers game but with food not weight on the bar. If your goal is weight loss you’ll need to track and measure your food with a scale or measuring cups. Aim for a reduction of 500 calories per week and you’ll see plenty of results over time.
When your goal is to lose weight in the gym you should aim for performance over weight loss. This is because you can measure progress a lot easier for performance in the gym. When your goal is weight loss that will be done with a diet not working out. While working out is an important factor for weight loss goals it’s not even close to the importance of getting your eating habits in check.