Make strength training feel easier with these little-known (and totally easy!) strategies
Strength training should never actually get easier. It’s the sad-but-true secret that guarantees the workout continuously delivers results. As soon as a move starts to feel less tough, you add more weight or try a new variation (check out 3 Crunch Variations to Shrink Your Waist). But, all that is not to say that you can’t make pumping iron feel easier than it actually is. There are several strange ways, in fact, that help you do just that. Here, five of them to try next time you hit the weights.
Though we don’t recommend doing this while doing reps during peak gym time, breathing super heavy to the point where you sound like you might be having a minor panic attack can actually help your workout. How? “This brings oxygen into your muscles so you have fuel to bang out the next rep or two,” explains Holly Perkins, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and founder of Women's Strength Nation. Think of it like Breath of Fire in yoga. If you start to feel fatigued in the middle of a set, pause; inhale and exhale quickly for 5-6 breaths, then finish the set. It’s best to do this when you only have one or two reps left, suggests Perkins.
“Merely making the sound of a grunt helps to activate your deep core,” says Perkins. (Find out 7 Ways Noise Can Affect Your Health.) In fact, research supports this practice: Drexel University researchers found that study subjects who grunted—or even screamed—were able to use more force when squeezing a hand grip. Though the mechanism isn’t clear, researchers suspect it has to do with activating the fight or flight response, which helps muscles to contract more strongly (because you know, that would help you escape a bear attack or throw a car off of your child, which is why we have the fight or flight response in the first place.) Don’t want to draw extra attention to yourself at the gym? Rather than grunt, forcefully exhale. This can activate the core in a similar way, per Perkins.
“I demonstrate my effort level with my facial expression,” says Perkins. Just check out her looks in this Instagram video! “This legitimately helps you to put in more effort. When you really dig in and abandon what you look like, inevitably you won’t look camera ready." Perkins doesn’t know the exact mechanism behind this one, but suspects it has to do with the fact that, when you’re not worried about making the move look easy, you won’t be wasting energy making your face look awesome, so you can put that energy towards making your body work instead. “Just dig in, don’t worry about what you look like and do what you gotta do to get extra effort in,” says Perkins.
When doing leg exercises, like a leg press, really focus on your heels—and digging them into the platform or ground. (Squats work similar muscles to the leg press, sans equipment. Try this 6- Minute Super Squat Workout.) “This helps to better activate your glutes and hamstrings, large muscles in the back of the body, so the move feels easier,” says Perkins. Also, many women have weak hamstrings and glutes. This tip helps to fire up these muscles more during the movement, so though it will feel less tough, you'll actually be seriously working those important body parts, says Perkins.
Get your mind out of the gutter; we’re talking about while you’re in the gym! Similar to how grunting activates your abs, you can use your tongue to get them fired up to help you lift, as well as help keep your neck in alignment with the rest of your body (which can help prevent injury). Push your tongue up against the roof of your mouth as you perform the "work" part of an exercise (like the "up" portion of a crunch, or the press part of a should press).