The best thing to do before starting any workout program or making any change in your life is to establish a set of ground rules. They are a means to keeping your eye on the ball, no matter what kind of distractions or old tendencies rear their heads. These are the tried-and-true rules that I’ve cultivated over the years that have helped me stay on track. 21 rules may seem overwhelming but just try them—each one is surprisingly simple to adapt to. Commit to following them for one week and you’ll find they’re much easier to stick to than you think.
It may sound cheesy, but a sunny outlook leads to real results. One study found that people who saw upbeat subliminal messages during a workout (like smiley face or encouraging words on a screen) exercised longer than their negative counterparts. Just thinking positive thoughts should help. Or, grab a partner that tends to more glass-half-full than you are—a separate study found that getting positive feedback from a friend can also boost endurance.
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Cell phone in airplane mode only
Researchers at the University of Utah say that driving while on a cell phone is as distracting as being drunk. So, it’s not too far of a stretch to assume that it could also be pretty distracting during your workout. Leave it in the locker or put it on airplane mode if you need it for music.
Loads of studies prove this truth: listening to music can enhance your workout performance. Get the most out of this tip by listening to tunes with a high BPM (beats per minute). Research shows doing so can push you to work harder.
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Protein first thing in the AM, always
The average guy needs about .6 grams of protein daily for every pound of body weight, according to recent research. And if you lift, you need even more. But don’t make the mistake of consuming 60% of your daily quota in the form of a massive steak dinner. Kick start the day off right with a solid protein-packed breakfast with eggs (they have 6 grams of protein a piece plus energy-enhancing choline and vitamins B12 and D).
That said, a bedtime protein shake is also smart. It can increase muscle synthesis by 22%, according to a Journal of Nutrition study. The guys in the study consumed a shake with 27.5g protein and 15g carbs nightly for 12 weeks.
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Load the plate with less food than you think you want
Each bite of any meal you eat will taste less delicious than the one before it, according to science. So, start small and be mindful of what you’re eating. If you’re still hungry, go for seconds—but only if you’re actually not yet full.
One study found that studying before an endurance workout could impact your gains by making you get tired more quickly—likely because using so much mental energy also impacts your body. So, take some time to relax after a particularly stressful day at work or school before you hit the gym.
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Superset your workouts
It’s one of the most efficient ways to structure your routines, according to a study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. That’s because you don’t waste any time resting—instead, one muscle group rests while another works. Guys in the study who supersetted benched about 10% more and rowed 23% more weight than the ones who did not.
Or, if that’s not an option, just go outside or look at awesome pictures of nature for just 40 seconds before you exercise. A study showed that doing so can help you focus and be more accurate during tedious, repetitive tasks (think: a weightlifting circuit).
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Lift! Lift! Lift! Don’t rely on cardio
You may think running miles on miles is the best way to get rid of your gut—but that’s just not true. Weight training raises your metabolic rate, meaning you torch more calories and fat during your workouts—and for up to 48 hours afterwards. Just look at the guys in a study in the journal Obesity for proof: The ones who did cardio gained nearly twice as much belly flab as the weight lifters over the course of 12 years.
However, cardio can help you to fast-track your weight loss results if you do the right kind and don’t overdo it. Running intervals is a great example. Just be sure to remember proper form: Keep your head still without any up-and-down or side-to-side motion, think about pulling up your back leg with your hamstrings rather than pushing off with your quads, maintain a constant straight bend in your knee, and focus on a straight back. Just like with lifting, doing cardio “wrong” can reduce—if not reverse—the benefits.
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It’s about more than just the gym
It’s not just about getting in a workout every day and eating right (though that’s obviously important). You also need to move throughout the day. Getting up and walking for at least two minutes every hour (try setting an alert on your phone!) not only helps you get in more steps for the day contributing to your overall fitness—it also lowers your risk of early death by 33%, according to a U. of Utah School of Medicine study.
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There’s a very clear connection between water and performance. For every 1% body mass you lose through sweat, your heart rate ticks up three beats a minute—which means it has to work harder, says the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. By drinking plenty before and during your workout you’ll keep your heart rate lower so you can exercise at a greater intensity.
Drinking plenty of green tea throughout the day can help you drop pounds faster. A study (granted it was done on mice) by U of Penn researchers found that mice that exercised plus had the equivalent of 8-10 cups of green day a day lost more bodyfat—especially around their “abs”—than the mice who didn’t get the tea. Sure, 8-10 cups is a lot and we’re talking about mice, but we’re thinking even adding a cup or two a day for humans could help.
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Veggies/greens are clutch
Fiber will keep you full for longer—be mindful of it. Aiming for around 38 grams a day from natural sources like veggies can help you lose weight, says a recent study.
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Get some sleep—or a nap
Getting seven to nine hours a night is more important than most people give it credit for. Skimping can make you eat more the next day, for one. It can also raise your blood pressure. The good news is that sneaking in a 30-minute nap the day after sleeping poorly could help reverse the negative effects says a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Look good, feel good. If you’re confident in what you’re wearing, you’ll perform better. One study found that wearing lab coats made volunteers more successful at a task—likely because the coats made them feel more important. The same could hold true for gym wear—if you look the part in the latest, greatest gear, you’ll feel more confident and it could help you perform better, too. Plus, simply putting on your workout clothes could make you feel more motivated to actually work out. So, there’s also that.
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Always warm up
You may think you’re saving time by skipping it, but you’ll pay for it by decreased gains in your workout. It literally gets your muscles “warm,” plus jump starts the mind-body connection, priming your muscles for exercise. Warming up enhances your performance by helping you go into a fuller range of motion during moves like a squat, for example. Aim to spend 10 minutes on dynamic stretches like butt kicks and walking lunges. Foam rolling before a workout can also help.
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Chill the f*ck out
Stress will make you eat sh*t food. Seriously—one study in the journal Psychological Science found that guys who were primed to feel stressed ate more high-calorie foods than those who were not. Keep it together. Mediate, do yoga, or just spend more time getting some R&R.
There is such a thing as working too hard for too long—just like your mind needs a break, your muscles do too. One study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that taking a short break away from the gym may help re-sensitize your muscles to m-TOR, a protein that signals muscle growth. That, in turn, can increase your training benefits and enhancing recovery when you do hit it hard again.
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Never give up on the shred
Don’t underestimate the power of perseverance. It’s a trait shared by many pro athletes—and separates the boys from the men in the gym. Just because you think you’re having a “bad” workout, stick it out—and go back the next day—and you’ll find that it becomes easier the longer you persevere.