3 Training Resolutions You Can Actually Keep This Year

By the end of December, the internet turns into one huge black hole of New Year's resolution-themed blog posts. Which is why we're keeping ours short, sweet, and to the point. If you're an athlete or you train like one, here are 3 quick, attainable training resolutions you can take into 2017 and (insert drumroll here) ACTUALLY stick to. If you keep these 3 resolutions, I guarantee your training will be smoother, safer, and all-around more enjoyable.

1. DON'T SKIP YOUR WARM-UP

We love to harp on this topic here on the Volt blog, and for good reason! Warming up before strength training accomplishes several important goals for your body:

It literally warms you up.

The primary objective of a warm-up is, you guessed it, to raise your core body temperature. When muscles are warm, it means there is more blood being pumped to them by the heart and circulatory system. During a workout, up to 85% of your body's blood supply is diverted to working muscles in order to facilitate the metabolic processes of working out (which is why eating just before working out will mess with your tummy, because your body puts less blood flow and effort into digesting food in order to focus on supplying energy to your muscles). More blood brings more oxygen to working muscles and helps remove waste products (like lactate) more quickly. Performing a light cardiovascular activity like riding a stationary bike for a few minutes before your workout helps your heart and circulatory system ramp up bloodflow to your muscles. Warmer muscles and connective tissues are also less likely to tear during a workout than cold tissues, so ALWAYS get warm before lifting!

Warming up primes the pathways between your muscles and your brain, much like an old-timey well pump thing.

Warming up primes the pathways between your muscles and your brain, much like an old-timey well pump thing.

It activates neuromuscular pathways.

A warm-up helps to prime the pathways between your nervous system (your brain) and the muscles being used. This is sometimes called "activation." Performing some hip and glute activation exercises before a workout involving back squats, for example, will help "turn on" those muscles before you start loading them. Think of an old-timey well, the kind with a pump: in order to get the water flowing, you have to "prime the pump" by pouring water on the pump mechanism thing (I am not a well specialist) and pumping the pump until water begins to flow. (I have never used the word "pump" so many times in one sentence.) Only then will the water pressure increase to full capacity. It's similar to what happens with your muscles during a warm-up: before you can squat heavy, you have to prime your glutes and hips to allow enough force to flow through them. This is a metaphor, but you get the idea. Performing some light, targeted exercises before lifting will increase the strength and firing rate of the neuromuscular signal from muscle to brain and brain to muscle, which primes your body to produce the most force (and therefore make the most physiological change) during your workout.

It helps to prevent injury.

Priming your body before strength training can help you avoid injuries resulting from muscles that are cold, chronically shortened due to lifestyle factors (like sitting all day), and/or deactivated due to broken movement patterns or lack of use. To accomplish this, we recommend a resistance-based, dynamic, specific warm-up prior to every training session. I personally use the Volt Dynamic Warm-Up or a similar variant before each and every workout: it consists of standing med ball (resistance) full-body exercises in every plane of movement, as well as complimentary core activation exercises like med ball toe touches and sit-ups. Then, depending on what goals I'm training for or what lifts are in my program that day, I will target specific muscle groups with a few reps of focused exercises. Today, I had hang cleans on the menu, so I made sure to specifically target my hips, glutes, anterior shoulders, and core  the muscle groups I recognize as my biggest limiting factors in the clean. By tacking 6-10 reps of these exercises onto the end of my med ball warm-up, I created the best possible environment for my body to be able to complete all sets safely.



2. TREAT YOUR REST DAYS LIKE A WORKOUT

Respect your rest days, and your body will respect your training goals. Honestly, this is the resolution I struggle with most. I LOVE strength training and I HATE rest days, so I sometimes skip them entirely (I KNOW, I should know better  trust me). But what happens when you ignore rest days isn't all that pretty, and far outweighs the temporary psychological benefits of an additional workout. If you view your rest days through the same lens as you view your training, your body will be so much happier. 

Here's what can happen when you skip your rest days:

It can hurt your performance gains.

Hans Selye's "General Adaptation Syndrome" model (from 1936) states that organisms make physiological adaptations to stress (in our case, strength training stress) once that stress has been removed. This is why rest days and unload weeks show up in all Volt training programs. Training introduces a new stress to your body (like bench pressing 8 reps for 4 sets), and your body responds by adapting (i.e., you get stronger)  but the body can only adapt to constant stress for so long. The stress has to be removed before your body hits what Selye called the "exhaustion" stage/phase (overtraining), otherwise you will stop seeing positive adaptations. Rest days provide your body with that much-needed break from constant training stress, so that physiological adaptations have enough time to fully occur. You will not see the same gains in strength, size, or speed if you skip your rest days. In fact, you will likely hit a plateau and stop seeing improvement altogether. To maximize your body's potential, you need to rest. Plain and simple.

The G.A.S. theory. Notice how the body develops the most resistance (adaptation) during the beginning of the "Resistance Stage," and how it plummets during the "Exhaustion Stage." Rest is a necessary mechanism to allow increased resistance (adaptation) to occur, while avoiding exhaustion.

The G.A.S. theory. Notice how the body develops the most resistance (adaptation) during the beginning of the "Resistance Stage," and how it plummets during the "Exhaustion Stage." Rest is a necessary mechanism to allow increased resistance (adaptation) to occur, while avoiding exhaustion.

It can hurt your body (and mind).

If you hang out too long in that "exhaustion" phase mentioned above, your body will begin to exhibit symptoms of overtraining. These can include elevated cortisol (stress hormone), increased inflammation in the body, breakdown of muscle tissue (catabolism), persistent muscle soreness and general fatigue, increased likelihood of injury and illness, irritability, depression, poor physical performance, and delayed recovery time from workouts (to name a few!). By skipping your rest days, you are flirting with overtraining and all the nasty symptoms that go with it. If you are serious about your athletic performance (and hey, I'm preaching to myself here, too!), you will treat your rest days with the same tenaciousness as you do your training sessions. By looking at rest days and unload weeks as critical to your overall performance, a Max Strength block or difficult conditioning session, you'll do your body (and mind) some big favors.

Blanche is my spirit animal.

Blanche is my spirit animal.

3. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Blah blah, listen to your body, blah. It sounds like mumbo jumbo, I know. But seriously, paying attention to what is going on with your body can make the difference between "good" and "great" when it comes to performance. I'm not saying you need to meditate for five hours every day, but I am telling you to take ownership of your body. Noticing how your body feels before, during, or after a workout; noticing when you feel unusually stressed, sleep-deprived, or irritable; noticing when a training session seems too easy all these are tools in your athletic toolkit that only you can utilize. Paying attention to your body can reveal some important information that you can take into a training session:



It will tell you when to back off.

This ties in neatly with the topic of overtraining, above. Checking in with yourself to see how you are feeling before, during, and after a training session can yield some valuable information that could help you prevent overtraining. Are you coming into a workout on too little sleep? Did you struggle through a workout on an empty stomach? Are you unusually sore after a training session? Being curious about your body is the mark of a great athlete, because each body is unique. Maybe you feel tired and sluggish because your body is telling you to eat more calories on training days  or maybe you're so sore from your last workout because your body is telling you you've been training too hard. Listen to when your body tells you to back off, and DO IT. 

It will tell you when to push harder.

Your body, miraculous stardust machine that it is, will also let you know when it's OK to push a little harder. If your workouts feel consistently easy and your body feels energized and fresh, maybe it's time to recalibrate your 1RMs. If you're in the middle of a conditioning session and your body feels good enough to pick up the pace, do it! Cultivating this practice of checking in with your body, as "woo-woo" as it may sound, can unlock some huge performance gains  if you let it.

THE TAKEAWAY

These resolutions are TOTALLY DOABLE! Committing to warming up before working out, observing your rest days religiously, and practicing "listening" to your body are all easily attainable, pain-free practices. And I GUARANTEE that if you resolve to practice them, you will reap some pretty awesome rewards. Happy New Year from Volt HQ  I'll be spending January 1st respecting my rest day, just to get a jump on these resolutions.


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Christye Estes, CSCS, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. She is an NSCA-certified strength coach and a Sport Performance Specialist at Volt.
Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye