You may scoff at the meathead who’s angling to become the next cast member of “Jersey Shore” or at the cardio bunny who’s always hogging the treadmill, but these dedicated gym-goers know a thing or two about working out. For all their eye roll-inducing behaviors, the exercise-obsessed are, if anything, efficient, consistent and cut. Luckily, you can cherry-pick the best of their habits to amp up your own workout, while ditching the excessive grunting and posturing.
Here are gym-rat habits worth adopting for bigger gains and faster results:
1. KNOW YOUR REST TIME BETWEEN SETS
Gym rats don’t just count their sets and reps, they monitor how much down time they’re taking between sets, too. “If you change the rest interval, you basically change the entire program,” says Alywn Cosgrove, co-owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, Calif., and author of “New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle.” “Your ability to do the next exercise is dependent upon your ability to have recovered from the first exercise.” Optimal rest times vary according to your goal, according to a 2009 review in the journal Sports Medicine. If you want to develop sheer explosive power, rest for a minimum of 3 minutes, allowing for full recovery. If you want to train for endurance or bigger muscles, 30-60 seconds should be enough. This rest time is also associated with a spike in human growth hormone levels.
2. STREAMLINE YOUR ROUTINE
You’re not alone if you’re wary of being the gym geek, referencing a book after every set throughout your routine. But having a plan when you start exercising can transform your workout – and your body. “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” says Charles Staley, a strength-and-conditioning coach based in Phoenix and author of “Muscle Logic.” “There are a million ways to structure your training, many of which work, but you can become paralyzed by all the options. If you come in with a plan and work within it, you’ll see better results.” In other words, don’t improvise – strategize. Find a workout tailored to your goal before you set foot inside the gym. If you’re hoping to burn fat during your treadmill session, adopt an interval training plan. For bigger strength gains, change up your rep ranges every two to four weeks, or as frequently as every workout.
3. KEEP AN EXERCISE LOG
Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is (weight loss) power. Carrying around a food and exercise journal may seem obsessive, but keeping track of what you’re eating and how much you’re benching is one of the easiest and most effective ways to see faster changes in your body. A new review in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that those who self-monitor – whether through food diaries, exercise logs, or daily weigh-ins – are more likely to lose weight than those who don’t maintain a log. “With a smartphone you can keep a digital version, but it’s easy enough to track with just a pen and paper,” says Cosgrove. “All my trainers are required to log every workout with our clients. We record the exercise, the sets, reps, load used and rest between sets.”
4. EXERCISE IN THE MORNING
Planning on becoming the next mayor of your gym on Foursquare? Make like a gym rat and schedule your workouts in the morning. If you hit the gym early, you’ll hit it often, since morning exercisers are less likely to skip out on their workout routine, according to research. In addition to improving your consistency, early-hour workouts have benefits that last throughout the entire day.
Getting your heart and endorphins pumping can improve your mood, boost energy and help you overcome a case of the Mondays. Plus, a study in the journal Sleep found that overweight women who started their days with an early workout slept better than those who exercised in the evening.
Not a morning person? The secret to rising early is simple: Go to bed by 10 p.m. the night before and plan ahead. “When I want to train in the morning, I’ll set my workout clothes out at night, set the coffee to go off before I’m even out of bed, and have my workout written down, my iPod, and my water ready to go on the kitchen counter,” says Kara Mohr, owner of Mohr Results in Louisville, Ky.
5. EAT POST-WORKOUT PROTEIN
Before you poke fun at the guy guzzling whey powder by the canister, consider this: Your body is more sensitive to nutrient uptake right after a workout, so your post-exercise meal is crucial to recovery – and results. University of Texas researchers found that eating a carbohydrate-and-protein snack is better at building and repairing muscles than refueling on carbs alone. When you work out, muscles tear and break down, and your body starts burning its ready energy supply. You need carbs after your workout to restore your glycogen supply, but it’s the protein that helps build and repair your muscles.
Refuel with a protein smoothie and a piece of fruit or a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. Chocolate milk is also a popular post-workout recovery drink. It contains both the quick-digesting protein (whey), which helps muscles grow and repair, as well as the slow-digesting form (casein), which inhibits further muscle breakdown. The chocolate adds a quick hit of carbs, which helps increase the rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis.