I have mentioned before that it can be hard to find/make the time to train. Yet once you create that time, there is no excuse to waste it.
This applies to more than just a session as a whole, but down to the reps, sets and rest. Focus on the task at hand is key, and a lot of people sell themselves short for a number of reasons. Lets have a look at each area and how to ensure you are putting the effort in.
A rep in essence is the contracting and lengthening of some target muscles. Grouped up, they can form a set - but each individual rep counts - here is what you should focus on.
ARE YOU PERFORMING THE EXERCISE CORRECTLY?
Lets take a bench press as an example. To perform the exercise correctly there are lots of factors at play, but range of motion is a big one. Namely, if the bar doesn’t make actual contact with your chest - then you have no right to walk around saying that you bench pressed it. You fool only yourself, you haven’t got stronger in a meaningful way because it didn’t count! You have reduced the potential stress from the rep by making it less stressful!
DO YOU FEEL THE TARGET MUSCLES WORKING?
Now if you do a bench press and your target muscles (chest, triceps) feel fine, whilst you feel a huge strain in your calf - chances are you are doing it wrong! One can only imagine how? Understand what muscles should be working, and move in a way that helps you feel them.
IS IT SAFE?
Most of the time, there is some risk in the reward of strength. Like crossing a road, there will always be an element of potential peril when you push a weight over your face/head/neck etc. Be safe, however, don’t let minimal risk cripple you into not pushing yourself. Practice the movement under light/no load until it becomes second nature. If in doubt - use a spotter. Just don’t wimp out! With experience, you learn the trade off of risk and reward and will adjust the variables accordingly, until then - practice makes perfect!
IS IT EFFICIENT?
Its efficient if you are getting stronger session by session. The only way you will know this is if you log your reps. The moment you fall short (which will inevitably happen) assess your recovery time, training frequency and exercise order.
When performing a set you should focus on:
THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE SET
Before you start, you should have a target in mind. How many reps do you want to get from this set? What did you get last time? Can you beat it?
If you have to go to failure consider that you will be performing as many reps as you can under good form despite your best effort. That last rep, should look like you are going for a max effort rep on a weight only slightly too heavy. You will pull or push to the point where you freeze in a deadlock - everything will be tight and then you will fail. There is nothing more frustrating that seeing a set to failure when someone ‘gives up’ after they have completed a rep without even trying to get another. That extra bit of effort - is everything! Consider the exercise when you do this, because failure on a lat pulldown offers no risk in comparison to a barbell back squat. Failing on a pulldown results in the bar going up at a controlled pace, on a squat - its a barbell coming down on top of you. Be sensible!
EACH REP INDIVIDUALLY AND NOTHING ELSE
Think about all of the factors I outlined for reps and there won’t be much room to focus on anything else. If you are feeling the target muscles lengthening and contracting and applying your best effort to the weight - you won’t be worrying about what you are having for dinner when you get home!
The time in-between sets where many like to chat, play on their phone and look at themselves in the mirror. Instead.
LOG YOUR PREVIOUS SET
Logging your set is obvious, how will you know what to beat next time, if you don’t write it down.
ASSESS YOUR PREVIOUS SET
Assess your performance, did you beat your target? Did the set meet the demands and requirements of exhausting the target muscles? Was there anything that you felt was holding you back?
The main aim of rest is to get your breathing back to normal and be as strong as you reasonably can for the next set. Do whatever you need to do to make this happen.
Look strong and you will feel strong! Chin up, stand up, spread out and tell yourself that you are going to tear up the next set. If you find yourself crumpled on the floor in a ball or with your head down, your body is enforcing your brain that its tired and broken. This can make you drop a rep on the next set.
So there it is, don’t sell yourself short and apply all of the above factors. Even if you are in a bad mood, feel tired or can’t be bothered. The input should be the same if the above factors are adhered to, its just the output may not be as strong as it could have been. You can't expect to fire on all cylinders every session - you should expect to try just as hard!