Water is necessary for regulating body temperature, bringing nutrients to your cells and carrying waste products out of the body. Even with all the protein powders, carb boosters and electrolyte replacements available today, pure water remains the single most important item you can consume for workout success.

Consume enough H2O before, during and after a training session. Drink slightly more than you feel you need whenever you’re thirsty. Be especially careful to drink enough water during hot humid weather.

As a general rule, avoid working out on a full stomach. Digesting food requires energy. A heavy meal and even an excess amount of water will literally weigh you down and rob you of valuable energy. Eat only a light easily digested meal or carbohydrate snack, such as a piece of fruit, during the hour before training. If you do consume a heavier meal, wait 90 minutes before hitting the weights or treadmill.

A modern gym houses dozens of machines and specialized pieces of equipment. Too many bodybuilders think the only way to get big is to go “hardcore,” and to them that means hoisting the most iron for basic free-weight exercises.

Try all the equipment in the gym at least once. Ideally, you should use any new machine for several workouts to see how your body responds. Variety is one of the most important components of bodybuilding success.

At the beginning stages of weight training, you invariably want to maximize mass. The best way to do this is to hit the squat rack, bench press, leg press and similar sites where you can pack on the most plates. Intermediate and advanced bodybuilders should make room in their programs for isolation machines as well as heavy basic exercises.

Here’s a quick roll call of the basics, old standards that never go out of style: squats, leg presses, deadlifts, bent rows, chins, bench presses, incline presses, dips, military or behind-the-neck presses, barbell curls and barbell triceps extensions.

It’s rare that areas of your physique will grow in total symmetrical balance with each other. Certain muscles grow more easily; meanwhile, others lag behind. If you don’t make a change, this pattern will continue, inflating strong points and dragging you further out of symmetry.

The key to returning balance is placing special emphasis on your weakest points. Prioritize by training a lagging area first in your workout, when your mental and physical energy are strongest. You may also want to give this area more sets or assault it with intensity-boosting techniques, such as supersets or descending sets. Conversely, train your strongest bodypart last and with fewer sets.

The exception to the theory of prioritizing is that you should not train smaller muscles before bigger muscles when the former will rob necessary strength or balance from the latter. Therefore, you can stress triceps or shoulders before back, but you shouldn’t train forearms before back, because you’ll lose gripping strength in the lat exercises.

Stretching and warm-ups are critical for warding off injuries. They are especially important for the complex muscles of the thighs, chest and upper back. Elongate the quads and hamstrings before performing squats and the pectorals before doing bench presses. Stretch out the lats between sets of pulldowns, rows, etc., to help widen them. The naturally tight muscles of the calves also respond well to between-set stretching, which tends to increase the pump and the mobility during calf raises.

A general warm-up in the form of a 10-minute cardio session before pumping iron can raise your body temperature and loosen up your muscles. Even more important is performing warm-up sets before each heavy basic lift. This is mandatory if the exercise also happens to be the first of your workout. motion, concentration and speed.

Many trainers like to precede heavy basic lifts with low- to medium-intensity isolation exercises. For example, pumping out three or four sets of leg extensions before squats is a common choice. As with warm-up sets for squats, this is done to make sure the muscles and joints are limber and flushed with blood before hitting the heavy iron.

When you’re properly stretched and warmed up, it’s time to go to work. What separates a spa toner from a gym warrior is that the toner’s entire workout resembles the warrior’s stretching and warm-up session. The gym warrior uses stretching and warm-ups as a means to an end: heavier, more intense training. Once you’re physically and mentally ready — and employing all appropriate safety precautions, such as a lifting belt or spotter — don’t fear heavy intense sets. In point of fact, heavy intense sets are the best recipe for muscle growth.

A training program keeps you on schedule, doing the right thing at the right time. Without an agenda, you may train your strongest bodyparts too much and your weakest too little. A training program reminds you which muscle to stress at a particular time. Beyond that, it also typically tells you which exercises to perform and for how many sets, reps and poundages. However, it doesn’t have to.

No matter how specific your workout regimen is, keep it flexible. If a particular muscle is recovering slowly, it may need more rest. If your body isn’t responding to an exercise, don’t hesitate to drop it from your routine. Some workout plans are predicated on variety, so that exercises, their order, sets, reps and the muscles trained on particular days are always changing. Above all, don’t let your routine become routine. Sticking to a rigid formula isn’t a sign of strength. In fact, genuine change requires greater gusto — and it’s often just what your body needs.

Intensity is the most important component in weight-training success. This isn’t to say that you need to be outwardly ferocious, raging against barbells and your own muscles. You must, however, always focus on making training more stressful for your physique. Perhaps progressive resistance (heavier weights and/or more reps) is enough. If not, you can benefit from intensity-boosting techniques, such as the following Weider Training Principles: supersets, retro-gravity, pre-exhaustion, cheating, forced reps, rest-pause and descending sets.

The most common malady that can hamper intensity and, consequently, muscle growth is overtraining. Sluggish workouts, a loss of enthusiasm, and a stagnation or reduction in mass and strength are all signs of overtraining. The cure is to increase the amount of rest you’re getting and/or reduce the amount of training you’re doing. Generally, you should not reduce your workout intensity. Overtraining is rarely caused by working out too hard, but rather by working out too frequently or resting too little. When overtraining is suspected, adjust your program and lifestyle accordingly. Train hard but, most important, train smart.