We're busy. We don't have time to be wasting time. Ask anyone how they are, and what do they usually say? Busy! So since we are all short on time, we certainly don't want to be doing unnecessary or useless things at the gym when we are trying to make progress. Every minute counts, when we don't have lots of minutes to give. So here are five tips to make sure you are not wasting those precious moments you're spending at the gym, or wherever it is you work out.
1) Stop doing crunches. First off, the crunch position mimics the hunched position that causes so many people to end up with low back pain. Not helpful. And not only do you need to do a ton of crunches to actually do anything to actually strengthen the rectus abdominis (the "6 pack"), crunches will do nothing to lessen the layer of fat that is covering those muscles and preventing them from being visible.
What to do instead: Try different plank variations, learn proper deadlifts, Turkish-get-ups, and over head carries, to name a few. And the other MAJOR thing to do: clean up your eating! Abs are made in the kitchen. ;-)
2) Stop doing prolonged, excessive cardio. I am not calling all endurance cardiovascular exercise a waste of time by any means. But if maximum results are the goal in less time, then spending daily hours on the treadmill or elliptical at the same intensity is not the best use of your time. If you are constantly going at the same speed for the same amount of time, the more time will be required to actually reap any benefits.
What to do instead: Add in some high intensity intervals. Short bursts with a higher heart rate will kick start your workout and you will get more done in less time. Either adding in some sprints, speed intervals, or short bursts of other high intensity cardio drills will get you much further along in less time. And please... add some resistance training to your routine as well!
3) Stop taking excessive rest periods between sets. I see this a lot. Taking long rest periods between sets of exercises can take up as much time (or more) as your actual minutes spent working out. People start playing on their phone, talking with friends, or just getting distracted during that "rest" time and end up taking much longer than necessary. I'm all for working out with a partner, but you want to be pushing each other, not dragging each other down by distractions and gabbing.
What to do instead: Supersets! Supersets are exercises usually focusing on opposing muscle groups that are performed in succession with little to no rest in between. An example of this would be doing a set of pushups (for chest and shoulders), then going straight into a rowing exercise (for back and biceps), then going back to your pushups, etc. This gives the first group of muscles a rest while you're working on opposing muscle groups. I also like to alternate a lifting exercise with a cardio drill. The lifting set allows your heart rate to recover from the cardio, and the cardio gives the muscles time to refresh from the lifting.
4) Don't waste time on single joint exercises. Not to say that single joint exercises are always a waste of time, but there are better ways to get more out of your workout in less time. Some examples of single joint exercises are things like bicep curls, tricep extensions, leg raises, etc. If your goals include fat loss, muscle gain, or better overall performance, you're going to want to do more than this.
What to do instead: Multi-joint (or "compound") exercises. These are exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pushups, lunges, and pull-ups. These exercises use multiple joints and muscle groups to do each exercise, therefore giving you more of a benefit that just working one joint or muscle at a time. Furthermore, compound exercises tend to require stabilization of the entire body, thus giving the ability to provide a core workout at the same time. Win win!
5) Don't show up without a plan. This tip is basically aimed at those new to the gym or those who are just starting to think about working out. I will be honest, at this point in my life I am able to plan my workouts on the fly by listening to what my body needs for that day. But that comes with lots of time, knowledge and practice! For those who may not be sure what they need, it is extremely helpful to follow some kind of plan, routine, or general guidelines to keep you on track to progress. If not, it can be easy to show up and just do a few random exercises and call it a workout. Granted, moving in any capacity is usually always better than not moving at all, but having a plan and understanding the exercises you are doing will get you the results you want FAR quicker than just making it up as you go and hoping for success.
What to do instead: Hire a trainer, get involved in groups or classes, or follow a specific written out workout plan that is appropriate for your abilities (you may need a trainer to assess this for you). With a little guidance and basic understanding you will be sure that you are not wasting your time, and hopefully will be able to see results much faster than if you were just making it up on your own.
We're all busy, and most of us don't have hours to spend every day at the gym. Be smart and use your time wisely so you get the benefits you want in the time you have. Go get it!
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.