Your time is valuable, whether you are studying at school or university, working a stressful job, or raising a family, you should ensure the time you put aside to hit the gym is used as effectively as possible. An effective workout is not dictated by how much you sweat or feeling like you are going to collapse once you finish. Performing relevant exercises correctly, in an effective order, with the right number of sets, repetitions and rest, in addition to adequate nutrition and good quality sleep is essential for making the most of your time in the gym.
Determine relevant exercises
Which exercises are relevant is determined by your objective, which should be to improve your performance on the field. So think about the aspect you wish to improve most and the movements involved. These movements need to be replicated as closely as possible in the gym. If you are looking to become a more effective lifter in the lineout, you do this by performing squatting based exercises (back squat or front squat) with some form of shoulder press (military press).
Everyone understands correct technique is important to avoid the risk of injury. But it is also important to optimise your gains. Range of movement, time under tension, and/or the speed in which an exercise is performed has a significant impact on your progress.
The order in which you perform your exercises is essential to the gains you make. Deciding to squat at the end of your session could increase your risk of injury as well as limiting how much you lift. This will be due to reduced energy levels and contributing muscle groups being fatigued. By all means do some dumbbell flies and bicep curls, it is important to hit every muscle group at some point during the week, but determine the order of your exercises based on relevance to achieving your objective and how physically exerting they can be (compound exercises in general should be earlier in your session than isolation exercises).
To the left you have Sonny Bill Williams. He has plenty of muscle mass, explosive power and endurance. He is a top rugby player and boxer. He has truly mastered his training to become the machine he is today.
Sets, reps and rest
Performing the correct sets and reps, and allowing yourself sufficient rest in between sets is crucial for optimising your gym time. Discussing this point is an article in itself, but to keep it brief do the following. Define your objective (increase power, strength, mass or endurance) and research the relevant number of repetitions you should do to achieve this. If you are training to get bigger, and you think 3 sets of 4 reps will do this for you, you are wrong. Each objective requires a specific rep range to be worked in. This rep range determines your rest in between sets, and the total number of sets is dictated by the number of exercises you have and your overall training load. Do not underestimate the importance of your rest. Find out how much you should have in between sets and stick to it, don’t take an extra 60 seconds just because your ego will not allow you to drop the weight.
Eat and sleep
What you do away from the gym is just as important as what you do in it. After a workout if you decide to have a few beers with the boys, grab a burger on the way home, watch a movie until 2am and only get 5 hours of sleep before the alarm goes off, then you might as well not go to the gym in the first place. When you workout you put your body under a lot of stress, and you need to consider how you recover from this.
Drinking plenty of water, eating a sufficient amount of protein, getting vital nutrients, and having a good night sleep all contributes to how your muscles grow, recover and regenerate
Determine your objective, make your training relevant, find out how to structure your training sessions, lift correctly, and respect the recovery process. Tick all of these boxes and you will effectively use your time in the gym, and achieve your goal a lot quicker.