Sometimes it’s a challenge just getting yourself to the gym, and for that, you totally deserve a round of applause.

However, showing up and going through the motions – while still better than skipping the workout altogether – isn’t getting the most out of your time in the gym.

There’s more to it than just doing the lifts, you need to be doing the lifts properly in order to ensure both safe and significant gains. Try and remember to do these few things for every exercise to keep those muscles engaged and working to the max.

1. Think about the muscle group you’re targeting

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This is the simplest yet most effective way to make sure every exercise is as effective as it can be. By concentrating on the muscle group you’re working you can be sure that you’re not cheating or recruiting other muscles to complete the movement.

2. Squeeze the target muscle

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Thinking about the muscles you’re working is one thing, now give them an extra squeeze at the top of every rep. This will get all those muscle fibres firing and will make each rep count.

3. Control the movement up

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It can be tempting to load up the bar and give each movement all you’ve got, but if you can’t properly control the movement you’re likely recruiting other muscles – as well as a fair bit of momentum – to complete the your reps. You may feel proud that you’re lifting a heavier weight, but if you’re swinging all over the place, are you really lifting it or flinging it?

4. Control the movement down

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The lowering phase of a movement is just as important as the lifting part. Eccentric training exposes your muscles to stress for the longest part of the lift, drastically increasing the number of muscle fibres activated. Sometimes it’s necessary to drop the weight down in a dramatic and manly fashion, but in order to get the most from each move, try working with a weight you can control on the way up and down.

5. Keep your muscles tight

Rather than letting your joints lock out at the top of each move, aim to keep tension in your muscles by keeping the joints straight but soft. If you’re working with a lighter weight, on machines, or performing isolation moves, this will work your muscles non-stop from the first rep to the last.

Note: The only time that it’s actually safer to lock your joints is during heavy compound lifts like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses.

6. Brace your core

Your core should always be engaged, whether lifting twice your body weight on the squat rack or just doing a few 5kg bicep curls. In fact, try and brace your butt at the same time. Engaging your abs and your glutes will make your entire body more stable and give each lift a little more power for every rep.

7. Squeeze the bar

The simple act of squeezing the bar before you start your set will send a signal to your brain to recruit muscle fibres and help you perform the lift. It also helps to focus your mind and get you ready for the movement.

8. Breathe

A lot can go wrong if you forget to breathe, it’s kind of important so that you don’t die. Taking controlled breaths helps you maintain a strong and stable form throughout each rep. Inhale before you start and exhale during the exertion.

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