Work through a checklist in the gym

Every time I go into the gym, I have a list of things I think about and do. The list isn’t long, and some of the items on it are subjective in nature, but those often are the most important items to assess. Inevitably, taking shortcuts on this stuff is where failure creeps into my program. Ignoring my mobility usually leads to injury, for example.


Success or failure is in the details. Pay attention.

First Item: Assess how I feel that day.

Do I feel sore? Creaky in my joints? Are my muscles stiff? Am I stressed? Am I excited about training? Would I rather just pack it in and play videogames?

I enjoy training, and I’m very stubborn about making the lifts I’ve set out to do on a given day. So feelings like these are huge warning signs for me when I notice them. I have learned the hard way that paying attention to how I feel is a good way to avoid accidentally nailing myself to the wall. At 47, my mind is stronger than my body. It has taken me a long time to realize this, and to make the mental shift to permit myself to dial it back on days where I’m not feeling up to snuff.

That said, this varies widely for people depending on their personalities, and it is important to learn the difference between “I need to take it easy so I don’t hurt myself” and letting yourself off the hook and thus missing a good training day.

Roll out the big muscle groups.

In the past, when I was in a hurry, I tended to leave this for rest days, or skip it entirely. Big mistake. Breaking down the adhesions in the fascia between muscle fibers can make a huge, instant difference in mobility. Doing this first, before you do any sort of stretching or dynamic movement to loosen up, can make those movements easier, more effective, or (in the case of masters lifters like me) possible. Knowing how to roll, and where to roll, is its own article. Fortunately, there are a lot of those that have already been written.

Stretching and dynamic movement

At my age I really can’t achieve proper form without getting my body loose and warmed up. I find that doing some stretches to open up the hips, get the hamstrings a bit looser, and limber up my upper/mid back makes a very big difference in my ability to get into optimal positions during both the setup for lifts (especially bench) and during the actual lifts.

For younger lifters this will be less of a necessity from a I-can’t-actually-do-this-movement-without-warming-up standpoint, but it will still be important during heavy training cycles. It is very easy to let immobility creep up on you, and that will cause you to compromise your form in little ways that, left unchecked, will become big problems. And of course, at heavy weights, even little form issues can be the difference between making a lift and missing it.

Write down my training for the day in my log

I write my day’s training plan down in my training log before I touch a weight. Then, as I do each set, I check it off. I do this for several reasons:

  1. It means I’m committing to the sets and reps and weight I’ve just listed. It sucks to have to go back and scratch something out because I didn’t focus and thus missed a rep or something.
  2. It helps me envision my workout more clearly, which for me is very helpful in terms of moving through my workout efficiently and with minimal confusion about what weights I’m using, what to load next, and so forth.
  3. I get fuzzy-headed during tough workouts, and it can be hard to remember which set I’m on. Checking off each set as I complete it is a good way to keep track of things as I get tired. Having the next set’s weight written down keeps me from spacing out and loading the wrong weight. Usually.

So that’s it for my checklist. Having a few things you do every time you hit the gym can help you stay mindful and aware during hard training days.

This entry was posted in Coaching and tagged , , , by Dave Nix. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dave Nix

I run a powerlifting club in Houston, Texas. The athletes I coach come from all walks of life, and have found success in the gym and on the platform. As a Masters (over age 40) powerlifter, I've competed and placed at USAPL Raw Nationals, as well as winning and placing in numerous local Texas meets. Follow me on Twitter as @Coach_Dave_VS.

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