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5 Simple Rules to Hitting the Gym without Prep or Plan

by Sports Team
31 Jul 2017 | 2:10 PM

We all know that following a carefully planned workout program is the smartest approach. There are times, however, when we just hit the gym without a plan in mind. Maybe you're not challenged enough with your current plan. Maybe you're between programs. Or maybe you just want to try new things and flex a neglected muscle group.

Whatever your reasons are, there's a right and wrong way to do things-even hitting the gym without a game plan. When people exercise without a plan, you often find them wandering around aimlessly between machines and doing an activity that could be putting them at risk. Simply put, these people are winging it wrong.


Here, we're laying some general guidelines that will make any workout safe and effective, even if you're not following an exercise program.

Heat Up

Warming up is basic in any exercise, but it can easily slip your mind when you hit the gym with no plan in mind. Going straight to the weights or the spin bikes without doing some kind of warm-up will likely lead to failure, if not an injury. For one, you won't hit your best performance. Second, you'll be jolting your unprepared muscles, which could result in injury.

We understand you probably skip warm-ups because they're boring, but you can do the prep work in just five minutes. If that's still not short for you, do inchworms and other warm-up movements that stimulate several muscle groups simultaneously. That way, you get to the fun stuff quicker.

Get the Feel of Things

Use indicator sets to gauge the right volume and intensity in your activities. To the uninitiated, indicator sets are essentially numbers and factors that let you know whether you have "it" that day or not. For instance, when following a plan, you could easily breeze through three sets of crunches at 15 repetitions per set.

There are days, however, when getting through the first set or to the 12th crunch knocks the wind out of you. When these off days happen, any attempt to push any further will likely not yield positive results.

While it's not a perfect (or a remotely scientific) system, being able to "feel" whether you have the juice to get moving that day is something that can be learned, and something you should pay more attention to. Remember that in certain cases, muscle soreness is not a reliable indicator of a good workout.

Equal and Opposite Reaction

Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion also applies in the gym. That is, for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. When working out, for every push activity (bench, leg, or shoulder press, or push-up), there should be an equal pull movement (deadlifts, pull-ups, rows, etc.) to balance things out.

Many people have weak pulling muscles because a lot of us sit at a desk with arms extended, drive a car with the hands extended forward, or we just bench press too much. Make up for this by doing pulling exercises for every push you do. Favoring one muscle region (by sticking to pushing exercises) can even cause performance issues and postural problems.

Carry the Weight

Hitting the gym and doing nothing more than bicep curls and triceps pushdowns is not going to be a productive workout. You're already at the gym with no plan in mind, so you might as well make the most of it with exercises that target several muscles at once.

Loaded carries, for example, are great for strengthening specific muscle groups and raising heart rate. The Farmer's Walk, the Waiter Walk, and other types of loaded carries exercises are simple activities that get the whole body moving. One of the best things about this exercise is you can do it with the small equipment, like kettlebells and dumbbells.

Push, Pull, Squat, Repeat

If you're short on time and patience, go for a challenging workout. Do a push variation, a pull, followed by a squat variation to hit all major muscle groups quick. You can hit your cardio and core needs with the right variation of these workout fundamentals. You'll also keep yourself from taking too many long rests and getting off track.

This full-body approach minimizes distractions and gives you a more challenging workout in a short amount of time. Especially when you're winging it, a small distraction like checking your phone or talking can make you lose 15 minutes without even noticing it.

A "bahala na" type of workout isn't always a waste of time. As long as you follow these guidelines, hitting the gym without a proper game plan can still be productive and challenging.