Want to maximize your results? Want to train more effectively? Of course you do. Here are a few tips to help you improve your relationship with the iron.
1. DON'T micro-rep!
I've said this a million times, and I'll probably have to say it a million more: if you can't do full reps with the weight you're trying to use, YOU ARE TRAINING TOO HEAVY. If you can't perform or control the full eccentric portion of the rep (the negative, or "lowering" portion) because you'll lose momentum, you are training too heavy. If you can't complete the concentric portion of the rep either, you are training too heavy. If you can only do two or three of these types of reps, you are also training too heavy. This is the number one mistake I see people make, and I honestly don't understand why people can't get a clue and lighten up--literally!
Pro tip: Think of skeletal muscle like a simple hydraulic set-up--you have to extend the two cylinders before you can compress them and achieve force, right? Well, you have to stretch and compress the filaments in your muscle fibers too. Imagine trying to blow up a bicycle tire by only filling the pump 10% each time--it's going to take forever to fill that sucker! Trying to get huge by only using 10% of the rep is going to take just as long.
2. DO warm-up!
Don't be that guy who waltzes into the gym, tosses 135 on the bar and just starts going to town completely cold. If you really want to maximize your strength tomorrow, you also have to maximize your strength today, and that means priming the muscle properly. Don't let your ego get in the way of a great workout; there's no shame in working up to your main sets in a nice, even progression. Give your connective tissue (which has poor circulation relative to skeletal muscle) a chance to get with the program. Warm up secondary and tertiary movers too, not just your target muscle--give your body a chance to function optimally!
Pro tip: "Warming up" shouldn't get you anywhere close to failure and should be performed with ultra-light weight--so light that people think you're a total wimp.
3. DON'T over-train!
I know it feels good to pump up your entire body and just keep going, but this method is rarely effective when it comes to growth and strength. Especially with the use of isolation exercises, the need for additional working sets decreases significantly. Even the huge muscles in your lower body don't need more than 3 or 4 hard working sets to grow--imagine what 6+ sets is doing to the tiny-ass muscles in your upper body! Training injuries almost always come from training too much, too frequently--rather than from specific acute events. See point 1 and 2.
4. DO bilateral exercises bilaterally!
The human body is a (mostly) symmetrical organism. There are small differences from side to side, and in the case of internal organs, there are some solo players too, but when it comes to skeletal muscle, everything is paired off. The body is designed to function both unilaterally and bilaterally, but some exercises are more suited to one or the other, and here's why: Loading target muscles one side a time has its benefits, it's true, but attention needs to be payed to how the spine is affected by unilateral loading--is using one side at a time putting uneven and unnatural stress on your spine? For instance, in an open chain exercise such as biceps curls (especially given the generally smaller poundages in use for the biceps), the spine is already in a loaded position just holding you and the dumbbells upright, so using one arm at a time really doesn't change things much. However, when we go to an open chain exercise such as chest press where the spine is greatly affected by side-to-side imbalances, using one side at a time becomes unwise. This is especially true of closed chain exercises such as squats--never unload your spine unilaterally when the spine is a major factor in the exercise! Those kicking lunges you're doing with 135 on your back? What the hell is that and how do you think that's helping?!
Pro tip: Here's an easy-to-remember rule of thumb: If you're performing a bilateral exercise and your spine is loaded, either because you're resting weight on it or because you're laying on it, the exercise should be performed bilaterally. Getting fancy in these cases will only get you hurt.
5. DON'T assist on the negative!
Skeletal muscle is 30% stronger during eccentric movement, meaning that your muscles are able to lower weight more easily than they can lift it. So it seems like a no-brainer to get the most out of that part of the rep then, doesn't it? Yet time and time again I see bros spotting each other on the entire rep, one after another after another--and then going heavier. See point 1, dudes, srsly.
6. DO pay attention to form!
This one speaks for itself: If you want to be effective in the gym, you have to pay attention. You can just go for it, but you won't get the results you want and you'll probably hurt yourself to boot. In most cases, form breakdown comes from training too heavy (see point 1, again). But sometimes it comes from ignorance--I've been there too. Ask questions, watch videos, do research. If nothing else, get a copy of Arnold's book The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, it explains nearly every known exercise. Read Dorian's book Blood and Guts (and watch the video). Watch Ronnie's movies, watch Iris Kyle and Hidetada train on YouTube, trawl (not troll) the forums.
Pro tip: When performing an exercise on a non-fixed cable pulley, make sure the pulley isn't wobbling around while you're working. While performing leg exercises, make sure your knees don't change position too much (in or out), and make sure you're pressing through your heel on leg press or squats. Keep your back straight, keep your abs tight, and keep working on the little things that make light weight seem more difficult.