Finding the time to fit in regular exercise can be difficult. As much as I’d like to believe coming to train with me is top of my clients to do list that day, It’s very rare I work with someone where their gym workout is the single most important activity of their day.
Going to work, doing the school run, food shopping, childcare etc. all obviously take priority over the gym & limit how often & for how long we’re able to go. This is why it’s so important to ensure that every minute spent at the gym gets you the best possible result in the smallest amount of time.
Below are 5 suggestions on how to maximise the effectiveness of your gym workout & make the most out of the precious time you have there.
(1) Arrive with a plan
When you arrive at the gym you need to have a plan of action. What is it you are focusing on in that session? What areas of your body are you working? What exercises do you need to do & in what order?
If like a lot of people you walk onto the gym floor with absolutely no idea of what you’re going to start with, how long you’re going to spend on a particular machine & what you’re going to move onto next, not only is your confidence going to plummet (as you stand there panicking, not knowing what to do), you’ll end up structuring your workout based purely on what machines are empty or nearest to you. This pot luck approach to your training is certainly not the best way to use your time & will definitely not get you the best result.
However basic it is, make sure you arrive with a clear plan of what you’re going to do & if you’re unsure of what you should be doing then seek help from one of the instructors in your gym or look at investing in a personal trainer.
(2) Prioritise weight training
Unless your goal is specific to improving your fitness for a particular sport or event, I would generally suggest prioritising weight training over long duration cardio exercise. Training with weights benefits your body in ways that 45 minutes on a cross trainer just won’t.
When done right, weight training is more efficient at improving your strength, decreasing your injury risk, improving your body shape & increasing your flexibility.
If you’re getting to the gym 3x or less a week then I would recommend spending the majority of your workouts focusing on training with weights & reduce the amount of time spent on cardio machines like the treadmill or bike.
(3) Superset your exercises
A strategy I use a lot with my one to one clients is exercise supersets. A superset is where you perform 2 exercises, one after the other in a circuit type fashion. It can really help in making your workout more efficient by reducing the time you would normally sit & rest for.
E.g. instead of doing a set on the leg press & then sitting still resting for 1 minute (perhaps scrolling through your Facebook feed) before repeating the leg press again, you would perform a set on the leg press & then immediately perform another exercise (perhaps a press up), before taking a short rest & repeating both exercises.
Not only does this decrease the amount of time spent resting over your workout, it is also an extremely effective way of improving your cardio fitness & burning more energy. Below are a few examples of exercise supersets for you to try:
A1- Barbell deadlift
A2- Dumbbell shoulder press
B1- Leg press
B2- Seated row machine
C1- Seated hamstring curl
C2- Abdominal crunch
(4) Use interval training for cardio work
If you’re short on time then the last thing you want to do is spend hours on the treadmill walking up a hill. Interval training is where you perform short high energy bursts of an exercise to a high intensity before then slowing down or stopping to recover. You then repeat this for a set amount of rounds.
This style of training has been shown to be just as effective as much longer duration forms of cardio for burning calories, as well as providing health & fitness benefits. Simply put, high intensity interval training will do what low intensity cardio does, but in a fraction of the time.
Use interval training to compress your cardio workout so instead of spending 45 minutes on the bike at a steady pace, try instead cycling very hard for 30 seconds, cycling slowly for 1 minute to recover & repeat 10x (15 minutes in total).
(5) Keep a record
You’ll very rarely see me on the gym floor with a client without a clipboard & pen (old school I know!). This is because keeping a record of your workouts- how much weight you lifted, how many reps you did, how long you held a plank for etc is extremely valuable information to have.
Knowing you did 12 reps with 20kg’s last week will push you to try & do 15 reps with 20kg’s this week. Think of your workout record like a mini personal trainer reminding you, you should be aiming to do more than last time. More weight, more reps, more sets or more time. These adjustments are what will force your body to get stronger & to get fitter.
In my experience, those who keep a record of their workouts, get better results than those that don’t. So however you do it- use the notes function on your phone or get yourself a little notebook for the gym- keep a log of what & how much you’re doing & focus on driving those numbers up!
Try applying these strategies to your gym sessions over the coming weeks & you’ll see how much more productive your time spent there can be.