Maximize Your Open Gym Time

If you’re an experienced athlete, you probably feel you have a pretty good idea what you’re doing at the gym. You might even feel capable enough to program and coach yourself. Feeling confident and eager to become more fit, it soon becomes tempting to want to show up to open gym time to work on specific skills on your own time.

Oftentimes, though, when athletes show up in the off-hours at the gym, or stick around after class, they don’t end up maximizing their time in the gym because their training session often lacks focus and intention.

The other day I watched an athlete show up and immediately start back squatting (no warm-up even). Then she stood in the middle of the gym for a moment looking around; it was almost like I could see her brain trying to devise plan about what she should do next. She settled on wall balls. She did a couple random sets—one set of 23 and one set of 14—and then put the medicine ball away and hopped on the bike for a bit. After that, she did some ring rows and a plank or two, wandered around for a bit, and called it a day.

While there is nothing wrong with squats, or wall balls, or biking or ring rows or planks, it was obvious her workout didn’t have a purpose. Sure, she sweat a bit and it was better than sitting on the couch watching Netflix, but it still lacked any kind of intention.

I often hear people saying things like:

“That’s a great workout! You have to try it!” 

Or, “Savage workout today!” 

Truth is, though, you can’t look at any individual workout in a vacuum in order to label it “good” or “bad.” (Well some workouts are bad, but you know what I mean). To decide if a workout is good or useful, you have look at in context with the entire week, month, training cycle, and year of programming. For a workout to be a good, valuable workout, it should have an intended purpose that falls into a big-picture plan.

Check out this story ( about Chris Hinshaw—aerobic capacity expert—about the importance of preserving a workout’s intended stimulus.

In the article, Hinshaw said this: “Each workout should have a very specific stimulus, meaning a prescribed pace and intensity. Everything I do, I prescribe very specific intensities—the intensity needed for a specific adaptation.”

The point is, coming in to workout on your own with no real plan or intention in mind— while it’s not necessarily destructive to your fitness—is also probably not helping you as much as you think.

Strive for more!

So what is better for your fitness?

Here are some options if you’re looking for more than group classes:

Individual Program: Talk to your coach to devise a systematic individual program that fits nicely into regular group class programming, and that caters to your strengths, weaknesses, needs and goals.

Extra homework: Often times, athletes stick around after class to work on something they want to get better at, like pull-ups. Usually what I witness is the athlete hops on the pull-up bar three or four times, logs a handful of reps, and then leaves. Again, talk to you coach about prescribing you homework. You will be amazed by the gains you can make just sticking around for 20 minutes after class twice a week to work on a specific skill/movement.

Personal training: If what you need help with is something like snatch technique, an individual program will help, but what you need even more is hands-on coaching. Book a one-on-one session with your coach if this is the case.

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