How to increase performance in the gym without spending a lot of money

Man and Woman BodybuildersCredit: 123rf.comWant to take your workouts to the next level?  Here are 5 no-nonsense tips for hitting it hard in the gym, while taking it easy on your wallet:


A common practice of top bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other physique and performance athletes is the use of a written workout journal.  A common practice of mediocre gym-goers is to train without a detailed plan, with the intent of doing as many sets of the bench press and as many variations of the bicep curl possible before exhaustion.  Epic fail.  Be exceptional, not mediocre.  Use a workout journal.

3 Steps to an effective workout journal:

  1. Prior to working out, write out the workout in detail in the journal, including the exercises, number of sets, weight, tempo, rest between sets, and prior PRs (personal records).
  2.  During the workout, record the number of reps performed, total time required, and any deviations or notes.
  3.  After the workout, analyze performance and use the data to plan future workouts.

This may seem like a lot of work (and it does take some effort), but it is well worth it.  The benefits include:

  • Precise, effective workouts with minimized wasted time and effort.
  • Ability to visualize workouts beforehand in a very detailed manner.
  • Increased motivation to improve and beat personal records.
  • A detailed workout record to ensure progress is being made (and if not, adjust accordingly).


This may seem like a no-brainer but it is definitely worth mentioning because of the detrimental effects a lack of hydration can have on a workout.  The body is made up of over 70% water, and a slight deficiency can cause fatigue, cramping and underperformance.  A significant deficiency can cause a decrease in performance over many days.  Thirst is a delayed response, so it is not a dependable gauge.  If you wait until you are thirsty during a demanding workout, it may be too late to counter the effects of under hydration.  Carry around a large container (preferably a gallon jug) of water with you and drink copious amounts before, during and after your workout.



Pre-, intra- and post-workout supplementation is the fastest growing segment of the billion dollar supplement industry, with literally thousands of products available and dozens more being released each week.  It is a subject too complex for one (or many) articles.  However, an effective and inexpensive supplement to take pre-workout is good ol' caffeine.  It is a natural stimulant that boosts energy and increases focus.  It also improves fat burning and decreases appetite.  Depending on individual tolerance levels, 100 to 200 milligrams about 30 minutes prior to working out is optimal.  Caffeine pills (most commonly available with 200 milligrams per pill) is easy to find and very inexpensive (about 5-10 cents per pill).  Another option would be to drink a caffeinated beverage like coffee or tea.

Depending on the amount and frequency of caffeine intake, tolerance levels may increase and caffeine's beneficial effects may decline.  To counteract this, limit caffeine intake away from workouts.  Another strategy is to cycle off of caffeine every 8-10 weeks (or when the effects of caffeine begin to decline noticeably). 



Many people forego warming up because they consider it an unnecessary waste of time and energy.  This is a huge mistake.  Warming up not only prevents injury, it also primes the body for better performance.  Body temperature is raised, synovial fluid is increased between joints, and neural pathways are activated.  Have you ever seen a top professional athlete jump into competition without warming up?  Nope.  Warming-up equals better performance.

Warm-ups can vary based on the type of workout.  However as a general rule, perform the following:

  • A 10-minute general warm-up activity to raise body temperature.  This may include a slow-jog, jumping jacks, or a moderate pace on a machine (treadmill, stationary bicycle or elliptical machine).
  • A few minutes of dynamic movements like arm swings, trunk twists, hip circles, etc., based on the type of exercise to be performed.
  • Exercise specific light warm-up sets, going through the proper range of motion and form.


Listening to music through personal earphones provides many benefits such as: increasing focus and motivation, blocking out the horrible music played at most commercial gyms, discouraging over-friendly gym members from approaching, and making the overall workout experience more enjoyable.  

A good strategy to employ is listening to a motivating podcast or audiobook on the way to the gym and during warm-up, then listening to music during the workout.

Some great (and free) podcasts for the gym include:

  • Iron Radio (
  • Natural Bodybuilding Radio
  • Super Human Radio

A great source of free music mixes:



 Drink lots of water with a little caffeine, warm-up, and bring your journal and mp3 player.  It may sound straightforward (and it is), but the best advice is usually the simplest (and in this case, the cheapest)!  So put down your wallet, shut down your computer, and go to the gym!



 For more workout and fitness related articles check out:

5 Tips to Turbo Boost Your Motivation To Workout

High Intensity Interval Training Workouts - 3 HIIT Workout Variations