If you’re like anybody else, finding the time to train is challenging. On top of that, going into the gym without a plan can make you feel lost, and does not enable you to use your time efficiently. I find that a lot of time in the gym is spent trying to figure out what to do, how to do it, and then finding the space or equipment needed.
To avoid this, I like to plan and structure my workouts for the week in advance. This way, I have a game plan to maximize my time and be efficient when I get to the gym. Seeing my workouts on my calendar also helps me avoid missing a training day.
Take some time before you even get to the gym to figure out what you’re going to do so you can walk into the gym ready to get to work!
Here’s how to build your winning strategy:
1. Work smart, get out. The adage, “first one in, last one out,” just isn’t the wave anymore. Putting in a lot of effort at the gym is meaningless if you’re not seeing results, either. Spending an inordinate amount of time in the gym is not effective or practical from a physiological perspective because you’ll run out of fuel - and exercise should help fuel everything else you do.
The good news is that training less frequently (3-4 days a week) can yield the same, if not more, results than training every day. In addition, training more frequently can cause greater wear and tear on your body which can teeter toward overtraining and increase the potential for injury.
Be efficient in the gym to get what you need to work on done in the least amount of time with the least amount of excess energy expenditure.
First, be efficient during your workout by grouping exercises together into a superset or circuit. Grouping exercises and training multiple areas of the body at once leads to shorter, more intense, and more efficient workouts. This means your heart works harder, you burn more calories, and you spend a lot less time doing so!
Next, limit off time in between sets and opt for “active recovery” instead. We are constantly bombarded with external stimuli, which only intensify in the gym with loud music playing, heavy and confusing pieces of equipment, and people sweating all over. These stimuli, paired with not having a plan is a recipe for failure (or at least a lot of time wasted). In between sets, stay off your phone, and avoid distractions at the water fountain. Instead, do something that keeps you active like mobility drills, foam rolling, core exercises, jumping rope or some other form of cardio. Taking 60-90s seconds between sets for active recovery will do more for your fitness goals, too.
Finally, try to follow the same general structure each day. A 50-minute workout could look like this:
Warm-up: 5 minutes
Workout: 25 minutes
Conditioning: 10 minutes
Cool-down: 10 minutes
2. Do something to improve your strength. Do something to improve your cardiovascular endurance or conditioning. Do something to improve your mobility.
Strength: Strength training doesn’t always mean lifting maximal loads and gaining large amounts of muscle mass. This is a common misconception. In reality, strength training is important for building structural integrity (injury prevention) and increasing your overall work capacity for longer, more intense workouts. In addition, strength training will help drive body composition changes as your body becomes stronger and more efficient at burning calories and body fat.
Up your strength by performing 6-8 reps of compound exercises involving multiple joints for 3-4 sets (more on exercise selection below). Choose a weight between 65-80% of your maximum or a weight you could have only lifted for 2-3 more reps after your set.
Conditioning: Conditioning will help you burn fat, increase your metabolism, improving your resting heart rate, and gain more endurance. Think high-intensity training, sprints, sled pushes, etc. One example: Air Bike sprint, (or stationary bike, if not available) for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds, and continuing for 5 minutes straight.
Mobility: Mobility training is an absolute must for getting the most out of every rep in your workouts. If you don’t move well, you won’t perform well, so mobility exercises should be the focus of a solid warm-up routine. The goal is to mobilize joints and muscles in their max range of motion. Once you mobilize your joints, your body is more adept at creating stability and strength so you can get the most of your movements. If your joints and tight muscles are restricting your ability to get deep into a squat, for instance, you won’t be able to fully utilize your muscle and strength capabilities. Some of my staples are standing dynamic hip hugs, cradles, and quad stretches, dynamic running lunges, and hamstring scoops.
3. Solidify the basics. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to get caught up with super flashy and trendy exercises seen on the explore page of Instagram. But, if you’re looking to get results and maximize your time, hone in on and master the basic movement patterns, like loaded squats, deadlifts, lunges, vertical and horizontal pulls and pushes, and core stability. These foundational movements should be at the core of a well-balanced program as they challenge multiple muscle groups at once and are key to progressing your training load. You get “more bang for your buck” with these compound, multi-joint movements than isolation ones like bicep curls or machine leg extensions.
4. Consistency yields success and greater variety. Challenge the basics with different exercise pairings, weights, rep schemes, tempos, and planes of motion. As it becomes more routine and you become proficient in the basics, it will be easier (and more fun) to challenge yourself with creative variations. For example, get the push-up down first before superman push-ups (a variation where you explode in the air with your feet and arms off the ground). Get a little bit better at everything you do, and the rest will fall in place.
No matter what, a bad workout is always better than getting into the habit of missing a workout. You have the tools to be smart about your time spent in the gym. Careful planning will ensure that you maximize your workout, even if you only have 20 or 30 minutes to spare.
Darren Tomasso is a Health and Wellness Consultant, Private Trainer, and Founder of WinYourDay. WinYourDay is a holistic mindset that encourages individuals to celebrate the small victories achieved daily that sustain long-term momentum and motivation.
To see more from Darren, follow him on Instagram: @darrentomasso