How to Maximize Gym Time (5 Ways)
Maximize Gym Time
Table of Contents
- Stand up while you train
- Do Compound Movements/Total Body Circuits
- Don’t rely solely on cardio for fat loss
- Be aware of your rest periods
- Free weights > Machines
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Everyone wants their training sessions to be worthwhile. They want to feel like they accomplished something for that hour. In this post, I will go over some strategies that will be very easy to integrate into your routines so that you can spend your time doing other important things.
The notion that a longer gym session is a more effective than a shorter one is invalid. While working out for an hour or more can be beneficial and fun for some, it is not a requirement.
In fact you can optimize your time at the gym with an efficient 30 minute workout. This post will provide you with ideas on how to achieve that, particularly when you are limited with time or equipment.
1. Stand up while you trainGyms are filled with different training machines that require you to sit, but our bodies are designed to move as a whole. Take those same movements that you are doing sitting down and do them standing up.
For example if you usually do a seated machine chest press, do a standing cable chest press instead. The standing cable chest press will work the same muscles but this version will also make your core (abs, back and hips) work harder.
Let’s take a look at another common exercise that can easily be switched to a standing version, the crunch. The crunch is one of the most popular abdominal exercises. You can see people do them in different corners throughout a gym.
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Unfortunately, when we are performing exercises lying down we aren’t fighting the forces of gravity and thus not requiring a myriad of possible muscles to be engaged.
The cable chop is a great exercise to replace the crunch. It engages the muscles of the trunk as well as your hips, lower back and even chest. It’s important to note that exercises done standing up can sometimes be more difficult to learn and execute.
But once you get the hang of them, you’ll find yourself integrating them more and more into your workouts. One of the biggest benefits of standing up while training is stability. Your body will need to find stable positions in order to produce force.
2. Do Compound Movements/Total Body Circuits
Compound movements, in the simplest definition, are movements that use two or more different joints or multiple muscles. These movements allow you to use the greatest amount of weight to build muscle and strength faster.
Compound movements do especially well in total body circuits. Approaching your training this way will allow you to create a greater anabolic (muscle building) response and burn more calories.
Mastering the following examples will give you tremendous payoffs for the rest of your life. Some of these movements are advanced but they can surely be learned if you practice them.
- Deadlifts (Targets your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back, core, traps and forearms.)
- Bench press (Targets your chest, deltoids and triceps.)
- Dips (Targets your chest, shoulders, triceps and core.)
- Squats (Targets your quads, hamstrings, core and glutes.)
- Lunges (Targets your quads, glutes and adductors (depending on the version).)
- Overhead Press (Targets your deltoids and triceps.)
- Push Ups (Targets your chest, shoulders and triceps. It is also important to note that this chest movement also targets your core while the bench press does not.)
- Pull Ups (Targets your upper and mid back as well as your forearms and biceps.)
- Bent Over Rows (Targets your entire back, forearms and biceps)
- Clean & Jerk (Targets your quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, upper back, forearms and traps.)
- Clean & Press (Targets your quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, upper back, forearms and traps.)
- Snatch (Targets your quads, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, upper back, forearms and traps.)
- Farmer’s Walk (Targets your hips, lower back, traps and forearms.)
3. Don’t rely solely on cardio for fat loss.
You have 30 minutes to work out on a particular day and you want to do a workout that contributes to your fat loss efforts. What do you do?
Do you climb on a treadmill to do steady state cardio or do you pick up some weights and perform total body circuits as fast possible?
Before I answer that, I want to tell you that by adding lean muscle tissue to your body you will speed up your metabolism; and as a result, you will burn more calories not only during training but while doing other activities.
That being said, relying solely on steady state cardio won’t add significant muscle tissue. Cardio is great, don’t get me wrong, but the key in doing it effectively for fat loss is to combine it with strength training.
If you could only train 3x a week and wanted to get the biggest bang for your buck I would recommend anyone to strength train. It doesn’t matter what you want to accomplish, strength training is crucial to any goal.
Strength training first, cardio after.
I have seen many fitness enthusiasts enter the gym to do 30 minutes of cardio to then approach the weights. This may be a mistake. When we workout we predominantly use glycogen (carbs) stored in our muscles to fuel those workouts. If we strength train first we will deplete our glycogen reserves. Once the glycogen reserves are depleted, our body is going to look for an alternative fuel source. Guess what source that is?
If you said fat you are correct. Steady state cardio will be more effective at this point as we will burn more fat. But don’t go overboard. If you lifted weights for an hour, 30 minutes of steady state cardio either on a elliptical, stairmaster or treadmill will be more than enough.
4. Be aware of your rest periods.
I would say that the typical training session at a gym lasts about an hour. But are people really training for that whole hour? Of course not. They might stop to catch up with friends, they might get distracted by social media or they might simply rest too long between sets.
Tempo, loads and volume are among the most common factors modified in training. Utilizing rest periods can also be an essential tool for boosting your progress:
- Shorter rest periods are more metabolically taxing, and they create more growth hormones that are essential for fat loss and muscle growth.
- Longer rest periods are important when your goal is to get stronger or when you want to increase power.
That being said, experienced fitness enthusiasts can surely benefit from combining compound movements with shorter rest periods.
Your rest periods should align with your goals. Look at the chart below to assist you in making the right rest period selection.
So maybe you are training with purpose and using the right types of exercises and intensities. However your rest periods might not be aligned with your desired objectives. This simple approach may be the missing key in your training.
Using a timer can keep you focused and accountable. You can use a watch, or your smartphone or an app to notify when your rest period is over. I like using the Seconds app for iOS. It has a free and a paid version.
5. Free weights > Machines
I don’t want you to think is an article that bashes on machines. They definitely have their purpose in a training program. They are relatively easier and safer to use. I like machines and I use them myself. I am simply highlighting that if you regularly use machines then opting in for free weights can have significant benefits on your overall training.
Here are some of the cons of just using machines:
- They are restricted by a fixed axis with a very limited range of motion.
- They remove most of the stability needed in order to execute the movement.
- It doesn’t require a lot of focus which means they don’t fire up your central nervous system like free weights would.
- The benefits don’t really transfer over to real life situations.
- You train specific muscles but you don’t train movements.
Free weights first, machines after.
Don’t completely banish machines from your training. Try to first prioritize free weights in the beginning of your training session. Complete the most difficult and most useful exercises that require the most effort and focus, and then move on to machines.
How do you know which exercise requires more focus?
Easy, if you can have a conversation with the person next to you while you’re doing the exercise then that exercise is not as important.
Nobody has a conversation in the middle of a deadlift or kettlebell swings.
How do you currently maximize gym time? Let me know in the comments below.