Exercise too often goes toe-to-toe with free time for space in our schedules. Who has the flexibility to spend 80 minutes at the gym, not including the time it takes to get there and back home again? If you feel like your workouts take too long, you can make adjustments. Read on for seven tips that will shave minutes—a lot of them—off your workout so you can squeeze more exercise into your week.
Tip 1: Have a Concrete Plan
Imagine going to the grocery store with a shopping list: "I'm going to get these things, and then I'm going to get the hell out." The same goes for workouts. People usually walk into the gym without any clue of what they're trying to accomplish. Should I do cardio? What exercises should I pick? Suddenly, aimless wandering turns what was supposed to be a 30-minute workout into an hour.
Walk into the gym with a plan ready to rock. Here's what you should know in advance: your warmup drills, your exercises, the number of sets and reps, and what weight you will use.
Tip 2: Use Supersets
A "superset" is a circuit of a few exercises done consecutively. Use it instead of "straight" sets, where you finish all the sets and reps of one exercise before moving onto the next.
For example, with a straight set you would do five heavy squats, rest your legs for about two minutes, do another five heavy squats, etc. With a superset, however, you can target a different body part that isn't tired by knocking out other exercises while resting your legs.
Try this total body superset, resting for 30 to 45 seconds between exercises:
1. Goblet Squat
3. Chin Ups
With this sequence, you can hit more muscles groups in about the same amount of time.
Tip 3: Do Fewer Exercises
Here's a common newbie mistake: If someone wants to strengthen their chest, they'll do a barbell bench press, a decline bench press, an incline bench press, dumbbell chest flyes, pushups, cable flyes, and God knows what else. Not only does that waste time, it's also useless.
Instead of doing a dozen exercises to strengthen one muscle group, pick one or two key lifts—like bench presses and pushups for your chest—and use a heavier amount of weight. Then, the next time you go to the gym, try to use slightly more weight. Your muscles will grow—I promise.
Aimless wandering turns what was supposed to be a 30-minute workout into an hour.
Tip 4: Warm Up Better
What do you do to warm up when you get to the gym? Jog on the treadmill for 15 minutes? Stretch? Flirt with the people at the front desk? You can do better by simplifying your workout.
Start by foam rolling for two to three minutes, and then do a quick warm up series like this:
4. Bear Crawl
You'll save time and prepare your body better than any treadmill or jump rope routine could.
Tip 5: Eliminate Distractions
Too often, people sit around the gym and kill time by scrolling through Facebook and sending life-changing texts like "k." Instead of wasting time, no texts, no social media, and no books or magazines. Just get to the gym, keep your head down, and do your workout. By the way, if you're exercising at the right intensity, you should be focused on catching your breath between sets, not tweeting.
Tip 6: Give Yourself a Time Limit
Isn't it funny how if you only have 10 minutes to do something, you'll get it done in exactly 10 minutes? If your workouts last too long, set a timer and force yourself to race against the clock; once your timer goes off, finish those last few reps and leave the gym guilt-free. It might seem too fast at first, but you'll get used to the pace and find yourself becoming more efficient.
Tip 7: Know Your Substitutes
Despite your best efforts to stay busy at the gym, you might find yourself waiting for a bench press, T-bar row, or squat rack. (Just kidding—the squat rack is always empty.) Instead of waiting, do a substitute. Want the barbell bench press? Grab some dumbbells and find a bench or do floor presses. Want T-bar rows? Use cables or do inverted rows on a Smith Machine. And on the off-chance that the squat rack is taken, grab a heavy dumbbell and do goblet squats.
Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert and founder of groombuilder.com.