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Oh The Mistakes You’re Making — 14 Fitness Tips To Workout SMARTER And Maximize Your Results

fitness tips, workout tips, gym tips, workout rules, workout tips, workout strategies, how to workout, how to start working out, lifting tips

There’s nothing more frustrating than dropping hours on hours at the gym, pounding treadmill rubber, or banging out 1000’s of crunches and getting absolutely NOTHING to show for it. Like, not even a single ab. I’ve been there. It’s a bottomless pit of suck.

Don’t worry — it’s fixable. You just need to do a little workout reconstruction.

Everybody struggles when they first start. Most people do about a billion things wrong and spin their wheels voraciously in circles until anything changes. Hell, most of the people I talk to and work with still have major issues to correct, despite having a multi-year relationship with fitness. I still lapse and do things wrong.

Mistakes are expected. And that’s because working out is hard. Like really hard, and not just by default based on the amount of sweat you’re manufacturing.

Working out is an acquired skill—an exciting new world founded on complex science—that takes time to fully understand, and longer to master. It’s packed with complicated little nuances and intricacies, the smallest of which can derail a routine or empower it to completely reinvent a physique. Everything from squat depth and foot positioning, to cardio type and intensity, to the types of exercises you’re doing on a regular basis all severely impact results.

And that’s why lackluster results are so common. There’s so much noise about what you should be doing, that the most impactful tactics get watered down. The internet doesn’t help either. Misinformation—especially in a fitness context—is epidemic. Let’s simplify.

Powerful training boils down to the interplay between two main factors:

  • Effectiveness. Is your training working over time? Are your workouts focusing on the right things?
  • Efficiency. Are your workouts pumping out an optimal yield from the time you’re putting in? In other words, are you maximizing your time? Most people can barely squeeze in 30 minutes/day to exercise intensely — maximizing muscular breakdown, hormone levels, calorie burn, and metabolic shifts in that time are all critical.

OPTIMIZE. We’ve loaded up 14 fitness tips to workout smarter, maximize your results, and avoid the inevitable frustration that comes with (perceived) hard work, sans the results.

Stop wasting your time doing the wrong things.


14 Fitness Tips To Workout SMARTER And Maximize Your Results

fitness tips, workout tips, gym tips, workout rules, workout tips, workout strategies, how to workout, how to start working out, lifting tips


1. Intensity, Intensity, Intensity

Infuse a little intensity into EVERY workout. It’s mandatory.

Whether it’s vigorous lifting, HIIT cardio, spinning, or interval training, uber-intense activities elicit a response known as EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (aka afterburn).

Think of EPOC as oxygen debt. Your body needs oxygen to produce ATP and creatine phosphate, two cellular forms of energy that power everything from cell function to muscle contractions. It also uses oxygen to replenish the energy stores in muscle cells, known as glycogen. All of that stored energy is burned (to varying degrees) when you lift weights, sprint, jump, or run for distance.

You can’t perform without it.

After a ridiculously intense workout, the body needs extra oxygen to recover and return to a pre-exercise resting state. To catch up, it increases the rate at which it consumes oxygen (VO2) — that process increases metabolism, calorie burn, and fat-burning ability for up to 48 hours post-workout. It also gradually increases VO2Max, or the max amount of oxygen that your body can use during exercise, which improves cardiovascular fitness and exercise performance.12

fitness tips, workout tips, gym tips, workout rules, workout tips, workout strategies, how to workout, how to start working out, lifting tips

Translated: You’ll burn significantly more calories during your workout AND you’ll burn more calories when you’re at work, watching TV, sleeping, or out for drinks.

↑ intensity = ↑ EPOC.

Spike your heart rate during every workout. Lift HEAVY. Do compound exercises. Use kettlebells. Slash rest. And absolutely follow #2.


2. Stop Doing Distance Cardio

Unless you’re training for a marathon or long-duration event, or have an infatuation with scenic runs, distance cardio isn’t optimal for body reconstruction. Or performance enhancement. Stop it.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is the most efficient form of cardio and one of the quickest ways to incinerate fat. One study found that HIIT produces TWICE the fat loss in half the time. It’s that potent.

Instead of banging away on an elliptical for an hour straight—and inevitably going insane from the monotony—sprint it up and throw down for 25.

You’ll see better results, faster, especially because HIIT tends to preserve muscle mass better than steady state cardio does (glycogen, your stored carbs, are the primary energy source; not amino acids). A lot of that comes from a heavy EPOC effect. Additionally, it’s an exceptional way to boost overall health and cardiovascular fitness. HIIT builds power and acceleration, helps improve blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, and increases VO2Max, which subsequently benefits endurance running.

Need a workout? We’ve got 5 killer HIIT protocols teed up.


3. Compound > Isolation

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Priorities, priorities, priorities. Time is our most valuable asset. Increasing the efficiency of your workouts and maximizing the impact of each and every set is absolutely crucial.

Consolidate. Compound exercises, not isolation lifts, should anchor the foundation of every workout. They burn significantly more fat and rev metabolism; stimulate the production of muscle-building hormones, including hGH and testosterone; compress the core; and blast multiple different muscle groups at once. Most compound exercises are also the single best way to build a killer six-pack.34

Compound lifts hit hard like a sledgehammer, blast fat stores (again, intensity), and build all-around muscle mass; isolation moves dig in like a scalpel and help accentuate individual muscles. Both are important, but the former should always be your priority.

Examples of compound lifts include:

  • Legs — Squats, Lunges
  • Back — Deadlifts, Rows
  • Chest — Bench Press, Dips, Burpees
  • Shoulders — Clean & Press, Kettlebell Swings, Military Press

In my mind, you’re not allowed to do ANY isolation moves (bicep curls, tricep pulldowns, lateral raises, etc.) until you finish at least 2 series of compound lifts. Stop doing 14 sets of biceps curls and hammer curls when you vehemently refuse to do rows, deadlifts, or pull-ups.

Get your squats and lunges in, and then do calf raises. Consider isolation moves as workout dessert.



4. Follow This Sequence

Order matters. Follow this hierarchy. Think of it as workout logic, as if you were taking the SATs.

  1. Do strength/resistance training before HIIT cardio.
  2. Do HIIT cardio before distance cardio.
  3. Do distance cardio as the last part of your workout.

The sequence does two things — it ensures that your energy stores will always be full for resistance training, where optimal performance is paramount. Especially as you progress, growth can often come down to 1-2 additional reps and a few extra pounds on any given set. Going in with minimal fatigue is critical.

Second, you’ll burn more fat. By doing high-intensity, anaerobic activities first, you quickly deplete your stored carbs (glycogen). That leaves fat exposed as the primary energy source—your body eventually relies on it—and ready to sizzle. For workouts that progress from lifting → HIIT, you’ll be digging almost exclusively into stored fat throughout your HIIT session.



5. Progressive Resistance

fitness tips, workout tips, gym tips, workout rules, workout tips, workout strategies, how to workout, how to start working out, lifting tips

Muscles grow based on progressive resistance. Effectively, muscle size and strength increase as the weight, resistance, or exercise difficulty increase over time. Get competitive and do MORE than you did previously.

Challenge → change.

Always push yourself to beat your previous lifts during each subsequent workout. Increase the weight, do more reps with the same weight, or score a better time for circuit-based workouts. Do hanging leg raises instead of hanging knee raises. Try a barbell clean & press instead of the typical military press. Up. The. Difficulty.

A productive workout-over-workout progression could look like:

  • Workout 1:
    • Set 1 — 12 reps, 135 pounds
    • Set 2 — 10 reps, 155 pounds
    • Set 3 — 8 reps, 175 pounds
  • Workout 2:
    • Set 1 — 12 reps, 145 pounds
    • Set 2 — 12 reps, 155 pounds
    • Set 3 — 10 reps, 175 pounds

As a general training rule, once you’re able to do 12 reps with a given weight (or whatever the prescribed # of reps is), jump up to the next available increment. PUSH.


6. But…


ALWAYS prioritize form > weight. Your ego is a verrrrrrry dangerous thing. I’m all for pushing yourself and lifting heavy, but if you’re quarter-squatting 275 pounds, or half-pressing 100 pound dumbbells, realize that you’re getting absolutely no benefit. You also look really stupid.

If a weight causes a form breakdown towards the beginning of a set, or if you can’t move through the full RoM, it’s WAY too heavy.

Not only is there a massive injury risk—smaller stabilizer muscles can’t handle overly heavy loads—but you’re getting very little muscle activation and breakdown; especially in deeper tissues. It’s also a quick way to develop imbalances, as stronger muscles help overcompensate for anything that’s lagging.

Emphasize a full range of motion and proper form. You’ll see better results, build a well-developed physique, prevent any long-term injuries, and develop the foundational strength needed once you start picking up big boy weights.


7. De-Mechanize

See: intensity, #1.

Stop using machines. All of them. They’re the training wheels of the lifting world.

Push yourself to rely exclusively on free weights (dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells), body weight/calisthenics, and cables — they’re significantly more intense. You’ll add an element of stabilization, develop functional movement patterns, burn more fat, and get significantly more muscle activation.

Use our library of exercise ideas if you need a little inspiration.


Pages: Pro Tips 1-7 | 8-14


References, Notes, Links

  1. Melby C, Scholl C, Edwards G, Bullough R. Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1993 Oct;75(4):1847-53. []
  2. Osterberg KL, Melby CL. Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise oxygen consumption and resting metabolic rate in young women. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000 Mar;10(1):71-81. []
  3. Fry AC, Lohnes CA. Acute testosterone and cortisol responses to high power resistance exercise. Fiziol Cheloveka. 2010 Jul-Aug;36(4):102-6. []
  4. Schwab R, Johnson GO, Housh TJ, Kinder JE, Weir JP. Acute effects of different intensities of weight lifting on serum testosterone. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993 Dec;25(12):1381-5. []


Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Owner & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
Bryan DiSanto is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a culinary student at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, an ACE-CPT & CSN, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness/nutrition nutjob.

He also contributes to Men's Health Magazine.

When he’s not working on his (or somebody else’s) abs, whipping up Eggocados, or running a Tough Mudder, he’s probably off yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
Bryan DiSanto

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  • Erin Kelly

    LOVE this article! Love this website, it is the perfect addition to my training as well as my studying towards becoming a personal trainer. I could spend all day on this website…but it’s time to work out 😉

    • Bryan DiSanto

      Thanks a ton Erin. HAHA — in that case, I’m sort of undermining all 14 rules. If you ever need anything or have any questions, give me a shout.

  • Jason


    Thank you so much for posting this! I needed a refreshment for my workout habits. I found this site over a year ago and I keep it my ‘secret weapon.’ I agree with Erin that I could spend ALL DAY on this site. I love your writing style. It keeps me focused and takes root easily in my psyche. Keep. It. Up.


    • Bryan DiSanto

      Thank you, thank you, thank you Jason! If you ever have anything you’re curious about, or any article suggestions you’d like me to deep dive on, let me know! (Insta or Twitter are the best — @brydisanto and @leanitup, respectively).

  • Rita

    Hey Bryan - with regards to machines. I’ve been using machines exclusively for my compound exercises because the Body By Science book explains that machines are the safest way to reach muscle failure. You seem to disagree?

    • Bryan DiSanto

      Hey Rita —

      Sure they’re “safe,” especially if you’re just starting out, but you’re seriously cheating yourself out of incredible potential — both for muscle growth and fat burning (again, intensity).

      Invest the time to learn and master compound moves—hire a trainer for a period of time, if necessary, for guidance and direction—and make it a priority. We’ve laid out a ton of exercise demos, and YouTube is an awesome resource. Start with a light weight and you’ll gradually get each move down.

      Make an effort to do more “free” squats, rows, lunges, presses, bodyweight work, etc. until they’re exclusively what you’re doing.

  • steph

    Hi Bryan, well.. my first post was very nice and lengthy.. but it was deleted so i’ll keep this one short. :)
    1 - love your website, follow you everywhere
    2 - i really enjoy lifting, and usually go freeweights only. HOWEVER, im trying to build enough strength to do pull ups, but cannot find the substitute other than a lat-pulldown cable machine.

    any suggestions? I want to end 2014 being able to do 3 pull ups! :)


    • Bryan DiSanto

      Thanks Steph!!! Progressively upping the weight on a LPD machine is your best bet to directly train for pull-ups, if your gym doesn’t have an assisted pull-up machine (the machine with a weight stack and level).

      You should also do DB pullovers and high cable rows. If you focus on some combo of those moves, you’ll get there with a little bit of time.

      Pull ups are THE hardest bodyweight exercise to do. You’ll get there, keep pushing!

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