Regardless of your specific goals, the underlying theme should always be progression — in your workouts, your physique, your career and your relationships. If you make the effort, every year can be better than the last. To help, we’ve rounded up 50 favourite training, nutrition and lifestyle tips we know will make a difference.
By Sean Hyson and Dean Stattmann, Photography by Patrik Giardino
1 GREASE THE GROOVE
To add lots of volume without frying your muscles, try a training technique beloved of the Russian military: simply do lots of low-rep chin-ups or push-ups throughout the day. Or just hit one max set in the morning, preferably before you get in the shower.
2 IMPROVE YOUR DATING PROFILE
A study by dating site OkCupid found that dating profile pictures taken with bright light add seven years to your face, drawing eyes to the very wrinkles and blemishes you’re hoping no one will notice. Instead, take profile photos in the late afternoon in soft, natural lighting — study participants rated those as the most attractive.
After examining 372 subjects, a study at Southampton General Hospital in the US found that those with high blood levels of lutein, a natural antioxidant responsible for absorbing harmful blue light, had a significantly lower risk of developing cataracts. Lutein is highest in kale and spinach.
4 FUEL YOUR FURNACE
Following a high-protein diet — 40 percent of daily calories from protein — for eight weeks has been shown to lead to significant reductions in abdominal fat compared with a low-fat, high-carb diet. Shoot for at least two grams of protein per kilo of body weight.
5 DO THE TWIST
When you perform dumbbell bench presses, rotate your wrists outwards as you push the weights up. Your pinkies will face each other at the top. According to US bodybuilder and trainer John Meadows, you’ll feel a greater contraction in your pecs.
Kamut — a grain you might have never heard of — is a branded version of the grain known as khorasan. It contains more protein than standard wheat (kamut flour contains 40 percent more protein than white four), as well as 65 percent more amino acids. It’s available through organicsaustralia.com.au.
7 PROTECT YOUR BACK
Do back extensions on leg days. Squat and deadlift variations take a lot out of your lower back — an area that, when injured, can derail your training entirely. So it makes sense to concentrate your direct lower-back work on lower-body days, not during upper-body sessions when it could be recovering.
8 STAY HYDRATED
Start the day with at least 500ml of water. It’s filling, and getting more will improve your recovery after workouts. Aim for 3 litres a day.
9 SWITCH HANDS
Try eating with your non-dominant hand. Subjects in a US study ate more popcorn, even though it was stale, with their stronger hand than those who were forced to use their weaker side, suggesting we continue to eat out of habit even when the food isn’t tasty.
10 STAPLE YOUR ELBOWS TO YOUR SIDES
We mean this figuratively, and we mean it on curls. Allowing your elbows to drift behind your body as you lower the weight means you won’t fully extend your arms, and incomplete reps rob you of muscle growth.
11 GO NUTS FOR ALMONDS
Some guys avoid them because they are so calorically dense — 140 calories for 20 almonds — but the monounsaturated fats in these nuts are great for heart health. “Per serving, they also have about three grams of fibre and six grams of protein,” says dietitian Jessica Crandall.
12 TAKE DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Packing on muscle means eating more, which leaves you more prone to bloating, gas and other digestive problems. Supplemental enzymes can help you break down the extra food and absorb nutrients better. Look for ones that include protease, amylase, lipase and lactase.
13 TRAIN WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE
Working out in a gym surrounded by people who are equally as passionate about achieving their goals as you are, will push you further and do more for your progress than any other factor.
14 BEAT DOWN BODY FAT
Boxing training is the ultimate form of high-intensity interval cardio, perfect for building your stamina and losing weight — and hitting every muscle in each session (pardon the pun). Get to a heavy bag and wear appropriate wrist wraps and bag gloves. Manoeuvre around the bag, throwing periodic punch combinations, for three to four three-minute rounds. Rest for one minute between rounds. Try to maintain an even pace throughout the workout.
15 ADD SPICE TO BURN FAT
Capsaicin, a compound found in spicy foods such as cayenne, may help you burn more fat, according to research from the University of California’s Center for Human Nutrition. Classified as a thermogenic, capsaicin literally raises the body’s temperature and helps it burn more calories.
16 BE A TIGHT-ARSE
Squeeze your glutes during every heavy lift, particularly bench and overhead presses. It increases stability in your torso so you can handle more weight.
17 SNACK SMARTER
Whey protein bars build muscle and curb appetite.
18 GO BAREFOOT
Take your shoes off for deadlifts. It will decrease the distance you have to pull the bar, giving you a mechanical advantage.
19 HEAVY, LIGHT, HEAVY, LIGHT
To hit the entire spectrum of muscle fibres, set up your workouts so you train heavy one day, then lighter with more reps later in the week.
20 GET THE BLUES
When shopping for new dinner plates, look for anything blue and small. Studies show that the colour blue has an appetite-suppressing effect because we’ve evolved to be wary of blue foods, which indicate poison, mould and the existence of bacteria. A smaller plate will reduce the amount of food you can pile onto it.
You don’t have to give up red meat to eat lean. There are more than 20 beef cuts that have less than 172 calories, 95g of cholesterol and 10g of fat per 80g serving.
THE TOP 10 LEANEST BEEF CUTS
- Top sirloin
- Bottom round
- Eye round
- Scotch fillet
- Top round
22 GO TO THE BAR TWICE A DAY
No, not the pub. To increase your reps on the pull-up bar, do one set of as many as possible in the morning and then one more set in the evening. Repeat this every other day. “After 30 days, re-test your max,” says Chad Waterbury, author of High Frequency Training. “You can expect an increase of 8-10 reps.”
23 EAT MORE SUSHI
One sheet of nori seaweed (typically used to make a standard six-piece sushi roll) contains as much fibre as a cup of spinach. It also boasts as many omega-3 fatty acids as a cup of diced avocado.
24 WARM UP PROPERLY
Do five to eight warm-up sets. Your body needs it to lift the heaviest weights on barbell exercises. Another way to think about it is to aim for 40-45 reps in total, using sets of mostly five reps or fewer (your first set, using just the bar, can be 10 reps). The point is to warm up your body and central nervous system without fatiguing the muscles.
25 DON’T BE DENSE
Energy density is defined as the number of calories divided by the number of grams in a given food item. Every food has an energy-density value from zero to nine. To lose weight, choose items with a food density of around two or less as often as possible.
26 GET A GRIP
Fat Gripz (fatgripz.com.au) and Grip4orce grips (nutrapura.com.au) are rubber sleeves that slide onto a bar or dumbbell handle, thickening it. They make your grip work harder and activate more muscles in your hands and forearms. They also spread the load more evenly across your joints to ease elbow, wrist or shoulder pain.
27 BE YOUR OWN DJ
If your gym plays shit music, crank up your own playlist. Research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that rates of force and velocity development on the squat jump were greater when the lifters trained to music they chose. The researchers determined that self-selected music might enhance power production.
28 CHILLER WITH VANILLA
German researchers at Humboldt University found that the scent of vanilla reduces the startle reflex in both humans and animals. Light a vanilla candle to de-stress after work or to calm an unruly pet.
29 DIP AND DRIVE
If you’re coming back from a shoulder injury and doing overhead presses, dip your knees and use momentum to press the bar up before you start the set (i.e. do a push press). Now lower the bar to shoulder level to begin the first rep. Your stretch reflex will kick in, helping you press the bar up. Overcoming inertia at the bottom of the lift is the most dangerous part of it for the shoulders, and an initial push with the legs overcomes it.
30 USE WAVE PERIODISATION
Here’s an easy-to-follow formula for big strength and muscle gains in nine weeks — use it on any variation of a bench press, deadlift or squat. Work up to an eight-rep max in Week 1 (the heaviest load you can handle for eight), a six-rep max in Week 2 and then a four-rep max in Week 3. Skip these lifts in the fourth week and then come back in Weeks 5, 6 and 7 with seven-, five- and three-rep maxes respectively. Take a break again in Week 8 and then test your one-rep max. Waving your loads like this will allow you to get progressively stronger without overtraining.
If you want to find out the benefits of what you’re buying, just look at the colour, says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesman Manuel Villacorta.
Blues and purples
BRAIN AND MEMORY
- Purple cabbage
VISION AND ORAL HEALTH
- String beans
- Brussels sprouts
Yellows, oranges and reds
32 DITCH COLA DRINKS
Opt for water as your go-to beverage and skip sugary soft drinks whenever possible. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that people who switched to water were twice as likely to lose five percent of their body weight after six months of dieting compared with people who followed a diet with a similar number of calories but were still drinking soft drinks.
33 BENCH WITH YOUR LEGS
Drive your toes hard into the front of your shoes as you press the bar off your chest. It creates tightness throughout your body and will make you more stable during the press.
34 DON’T NUKE YOUR NUTS
In a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, Argentinian researchers found that close exposure to Wi-Fi can leave up to 25 percent of your swimmers dead in the water, and as much as nine percent with DNA damage. To lower your chances of infertility, keep your Wi-Fi-enabled devices away from your baby-maker.
35 FLIP THE PREACHER CURL
If you want to isolate your biceps, turn around and use the back of the preacher bench — the side that’s vertical. Curling on the 45-degree side allows your biceps to rest at the top of the movement and can lead to hyperextending your elbows at the bottom.
36 USE THE TOTAL-REP METHOD
Instead of doing three sets of 10, choose a load you can get 10 reps with and perform as many sets as it takes to get 30 total reps. Perform the reps perfectly and with explosive speed. “As soon as you feel yourself slowing down, end the set,” says Chad Waterbury, author of High Frequency Training. You’ll end up doing the same volume (amount of reps), but the effect will be different. You’ll never go to failure (i.e. risk injury) and every rep will work your biggest, strongest muscle fibres.
37 PUT YOUR BALL TO THE WALL
Before any pressing workout, take a light medicine ball and push it into a wall with your palm. Your arm should be extended. Start tracing the alphabet against the wall — roll the ball around in the shape of all 26 letters. “Keep pressure on the ball and it will fire up your rotator cuff,” says Keith Scott, owner of backtoformfitness.com.
38 DON’T WEAR SUNGLASSES IN THE MORNING
Your eyes play a critical role in regulating the biochemistry and rhythms of your body. “For some people, their retinas are insensitive and therefore need more light to maintain normal functionality,” says Dr Stephen Josephson. The more early-morning sunlight that enters your eyes, the less melatonin your body produces, making you much less lethargic throughout the day.
39 FOLLOW PRILEPIN’S CHART
When in doubt about how many sets and reps to use, stick with the parameters on Prilepin’s Chart (google it), a table of rep ranges and total numbers of reps associated with various percentages of your max weight. It works great for big barbell exercises such as the bench press and squat. Simply choose a load you want to use and look up the corresponding number of reps you should be able to do with it. You’re guaranteed to see gains.
40 TAKE HER ON A CRUISE
A 2012 survey of 1000 people in relationships found that 62 percent of couples who recently took a cruise together reported better sex than normal — and nearly three-quarters said that spending time with their significant other on a cruise improved the relationship.
41 COOK THE PERFECT STEAK
As reference points for cooking “done-ness”, feel your cheek (rare), chin (medium-rare), nose point (medium), nose bridge (medium-well), and the bottom of your shoe (well done).
42 SMILE MORE, STRESS LESS
As reported in the journal Psychological Science, researchers used chopsticks to manipulate and hold three different facial expressions on subjects’ faces: a neutral expression; a standard, polite smile; and a Duchenne smile (one that reaches the eyes). The rest of the participants were asked to smile naturally. All were then asked to complete a number of stress-inducing activities with their facial expressions intact. The researchers found that those who were smiling — both naturally and forced — rebounded faster than the straight-faced group.
43 DOUBLE DOWN FOR GREATER GAINS
“To gain muscle, take the diet you’re currently on and double the size of your post-workout shake,” says Dr Mike Roussell, author of The Six Pillars of Nutrition. “Then add another shake at some point in the day.” The two shakes together will add another 500 calories, at least.
44 BRING BACK DATE NIGHT
Rekindle the romance from when you first got together by making sure to spend at least one night a week as a couple. And get outside the house. You’ll be amazed how much your relationship will benefit, and it will take care of that whole “communication” thing she keeps bringing up.
Research from Michigan State University in the US shows that man’s best friend can be a powerful motivator to get us to exercise. The researchers found that study participants who owned dogs were more likely to be active than those who did not.
46 PEEL AVOCADOS BY HAND
The dark green flesh nearest the skin contains the highest concentration of cell-protecting carotenoids, which fight cancer.
47 AVOID INSECT BITES NATURALLY
Look for natural repellents containing the herbal agent geraniol. It’s safer and almost as effective as the toxic chemical DEET.
48 FALL BACK ON DEADLIFTS
As you pull the bar up, shift your weight back on your heels. You can even try to fall backwards (the bar will balance you).
49 GET ENOUGH SLEEP
“Good-quality sleep increases melatonin production, which lowers your levels of a hormone that encourages fat storage,” says strength coach Mike Mahler (mikemahler.com). “Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant and prevents the accumulation of stomach fat and increases insulin and leptin sensitivity.”
50 GO TIME
Research has found that while men and women’s levels of sexual desire fluctuate throughout the day, 9pm is the one time when both sexes are at their peak.