Ever felt like you wanted to level up your workouts? No, not necessarily by logging more miles or doing more squats—we’re talking about incorporating smart, effective workout tips to get the most out of the moves or routines you’re already doing. In fact, these don’t have to be big changes: Small tweaks to your workout regimen can make a really substantial difference in helping you make the most out of every sweat session. Whether your aim is to build more muscle, improve your cardio fitness, increase your endurance, or just move about day-to-day life more easily and comfortably, incorporating these workout tips can help you hit the gym ready to crush your goals and get the most out of your time there.
SELF asked five top trainers for advice on how to get a super-effective workout, every time. From easy mindset hacks, like hyping yourself with positive self-talk, to physical actions, like tapping your muscles for better activation, these workout tips can help you seriously up your fitness game.
1. Take a moment to just breathe.
The first step to an awesome workout is getting in the right mindset. Really! If you’re thinking about your to-do list or the drama on last night’s Bachelor, you might not be focusing on putting in 100%. “Before a workout, I focus on my breathing to reduce any stress from work or my commute that may be sitting with me, giving me negative feelings before hitting the gym,” Equinox trainer and martial artist Phoenix Carnevale tells SELF. You can even do a quick breathing video exercise on your phone—anything to bring you into the present moment.
2. Hype yourself up.
Once you’re feeling focused, remind yourself that you’ve got this. “I start with positive self-talk to prevent myself from giving up or being overly critical,” says Carnevale. ” I tell myself, It’s my time now.” You can also take a few minutes before your workout to think or journal about something you love about your body and what it can accomplish, Angela Mader, trainer and founder of Fitlosophy, tells SELF. Maybe it’s that your strong legs are capable of excellent squatting form, or that your core has progressed to being able to do a push-up with your knees off the ground. Whether you jot it down by hand, type something in the Notes app on your phone, or just repeat it to yourself a few times as a motto, this kind of thinking will start your workout on a grateful, positive note. And thinking positive thoughts may actually help you do better in your workout: Some research has indicated that positive self-talk leads to improved athletic performance.
3. Put on pump-up music.
Positive self-talk isn’t the only way to get in the right mindset. “It always comes down to music for me,” Amelia DiDomenico, CPT, owner of Amrose Fitness, tells SELF. One of her top workout tips is to repeat her favorite tracks a few times during her training session. Making a soundtrack of your most-loved jams won’t just put you in a good mood—it may also improve your workout performance. Various small research efforts have found positive associations here, such as a 2020 Perceptual and Motor Skills study, which concluded that people who listened to “preferred music” (music they liked) during their warm-up had improved exercise performance compared to listening to no music—but listening to non-preferred music (music they didn’t like) did not boost performance.
4. Eliminate distractions.
Avoid taking time away from your workout by putting your phone on airplane mode, says Carnevale. “It can be super tempting to respond to messages and emails or check social media, but it wastes a lot of time and causes people to lose focus. Be selfish! Your workout is the time where being self-absorbed is a good thing, so focus on you.” Especially if you are working toward something like building endurance, taking periodic phone breaks will undermine your goal—not what you want. (Of course, doing this successfully may require some prep work, like downloading any “best workout music of all time” playlists directly to your phone in advance.
5. Have a clear plan.
“A clear plan is your secret weapon—knowing what you’re doing and why is half the battle,” Jared Kaplan, founder of Studio 26, tells SELF. Having a plan of action for what to do when you get to the gym will help you feel prepared for your workout and on track, because wandering around aimlessly wastes time. Here’s an example of a balanced and effective weekly workout plan, for instance.
Carnevale also suggests having a good idea of the gym layout so you don’t have to lose time searching for, say, kettlebells when it’s time to do some swings. (A surefire way to lose your workout momentum is frantically searching for a piece of equipment mid-program!) If you’re starting out at a new gym or are trying a new workout, it’s a good idea to set aside extra time before your workout to get familiar and have all your equipment accessible.
6. Be flexible.
Your program says it’s time for bench rows, but there’s someone using the bench and they don’t seem to be finishing up any time soon. Rather than standing around waiting for it to free up, move on to the next part of your workout and come back later. The same goes for cardio equipment you might want to use. “Stair-climbing machines all busy? Find a flight of stairs, or hit the treadmill on an incline,” says Mader. So, yes, it’s good to have a plan, but be flexible—again, you don’t want to ruin any good momentum you have built up mid-workout!
7. Start your workout with foam rolling.
“Foam rolling helps break up ‘knots’ in muscles that can inhibit full mobility,” explains DiDomenico. This is also known as self-myofascial release because you’re “releasing” tightness and knots in your fascia, or connective tissue. As SELF previously reported, one small 2018 Sports Medicine – Open study found that foam rolling before a workout meant that it took less effort for a muscle to produce a given amount of force during the exercise.