by Robert Maxwell
When it comes to strength, what you do in the gym is only part of the equation. You've got to train heavy, but if that's all you're doing your results won't be as good as they could be. Just about everything you do affects your strength, and this realization gives you an edge when it's time to test yourself against a heavy barbell. There are things every lifter should do outside the gym to improve strength. Probably more common are things they should stop doing. Here are five common habits you should avoid to maximize strength.
1. Staying up late
Our bodies need a certain amount of sleep to function optimally. For most adults it's 7 to 9 hours a night. This might seem obvious, but it can be surprisingly difficult to achieve consistently. Addiction to television, late night parties and drinking, a strong desire to socialize or hectic work schedule can keep us from hitting the hay soon enough. Ditch these habits. This is easier said than done, but a crucial step if you're serious about strength and health. Sleep is far more important than many realize, and a sleep deficit will weaken you. Make quality sleep a priority and your life will improve, both inside and outside the gym.
2. Drinking too much alcohol
This is another one that should go without saying. Enjoying a little wine or beer now and then is fine. Healthy, even. But when your weekly beer turns into a 6-pack (not the good kind), don't be surprised when your strength levels fall short of expectations. Like many things in life, enjoyment of alcohol must be kept in balance or your body will suffer. It's common to finish a gruelling training session, perhaps the last one of the week, then unplug mentally from strength goals. "After all," you might rationalize, "haven't I earned a little relaxation?" You have. Just be sure that a little slumber, folding of the hands, and drinking doesn't turn into an alcohol-induced debacle. It happens more easily than you think.
3. Sitting too long
Here's one that's not so obvious, unless you've studied kinesiology. If you have a job that involves long hours of sitting and don't get up every 15 or 20 minutes and move around, you're hurting your body. I know from experience. My work as a videographer and web designer often requires many hours at the computer, and on these occasions limbering up for a workout is much harder. When I have to do computer work, I try to get up and walk, or even leave the office for a 2 minute run at least a couple times every hour. This might seem counterproductive, but it's the opposite. You'll be much more productive if you have a healthy and mobile spine, hips and knees. Sitting too long is damaging to each of these. Get up and move around. That spreadsheet isn't going anywhere.
4. Eating junk
More than anything else on this list, eating junk will sap your strength. Your body is a biological machine that needs proper fuel to perform under load. If you put gasoline in a diesel engine, very bad things will happen. The reason is obvious–gas is a solvent and diesel fuel an oil. The diesel engine simply isn't meant to run on gas. In the same way, your body's not meant to run on donuts and soft drinks. Stop shovelling in that junk! If you want to get strong, give your body the fuel it needs: beef, chicken, eggs, green veggies, milk, potatoes, and whole grain bread. Your mother's been telling you this since you started on solid food. It's time to do what she says.
5. Getting Stressed
Life is full of ups, downs, and potential stressors. Do yourself a favour and try not to sweat the small stuff. Or the big stuff. All the stuff, really. Stress might feel involuntary, but with time and practice you can learn to control it, young padawan. Everyone runs into potentially stressful situations. We can't always control what happens to us, but we can control our reactions. Stop playing victim to your stress and start looking for ways to chill out, man. Take a daily walk in the fresh air. Get more sleep (see item 1). Quit your crappy job and start that dream business. Learning to relax your mind may be the biggest favour you ever do yourself. Your mind is just as big a factor as your muscles when it comes to moving heavy weights in the gym. Stress kills gains, so kill the stress.