By Justin Gibson, BS, CPT, CSCS
Nobody has enough hours in their day. We have too many responsibilities, work holds us over too often, and our Netflix queue is starting to pile up. It’s no wonder that the number one excuse for avoiding the gym is “not enough time”.
But what if a workout didn’t have to take up a huge chunk of your day? What if you could get all the benefits of an hour-long workout in less than 20 minutes?
Here are four tips to intelligently condense your time in the gym.
1. Ditch the fifteen-minute warm up
“Warming up” is an important part of injury prevention and should be included in every workout, but some people seem to have a pages-long checklist to go through before they even think about touching something heavy. You don’t need ten minutes on the treadmill, followed by a yoga class’s worth of stretches, followed by ten different “activation drills” before you’re safe to start your first real exercise.
These things have their place, but when you’re pressed for time you’d be better off just doing a light round of whatever exercise(s) you plan on using for this workout. You’ll get your heart rate up, warm up the exact muscles you’ll be using, and get a chance to double-check your form before moving on to the heavy sets.
2. Stick to the biggest “bang for your buck” exercises
The best way to make a workout drag on forever is to try and hit each muscle individually, using small isolation exercises to work the body part by part. Instead, pick the movements that use multiple joints and muscles in conjunction with each other, and you can hit the entire body in just a few movements.
Here’s a great workout that hits every muscle in your body in just three exercises:
Goblet Squat x 10 reps
Pushup x 10 reps
Inverted row x 10 reps
Repeat for 2-4 rounds
Total time: less than 15 minutes, depending on how often you need to check your phone.
3. Use your “rest time” productively
If you’re choosing your weights appropriately, you’ll be challenged enough by your exercises to warrant resting in between sets. Instead of just sitting around watching Ellen on TV, why not use this time wisely?
The time between sets is a great time to stretch or do any special exercises you need to stay healthy. For example, if you’re nursing a bad shoulder, your physical therapist may have prescribed some exercises that, while important, don’t provide the training effect you’re looking for in a workout. Using the sample workout above, here’s how you might structure your workout to get in these extra movements:
Goblet squat x 10
-Rest, band external rotation x 15/side
Pushup x 10
-Rest, chest stretch x 30 sec/side
Inverted row x 10
-Rest, wall slides x 10
If you don’t have any nagging injuries to address, use this time for general stretching (almost everyone needs to stretch their hamstrings and lats more often) or even extra ab work.
4. Consider working harder, not longer
Many people mistakenly correlate time spent in the gym with the effectiveness of their workout. After all, someone who spends two hours at the gym will surely be in much better shape than someone who is in and out in 30 minutes, right?
Maybe, but not to the extent that you might think. Consider the benefits of something like tabata training, which can offer many of the same benefits of traditional long, steady-state cardio in a fraction of the time. Also, studies such as this one demonstrate that, if performed with sufficient intensity, one set can be nearly as effective as multiple sets of an exercise at increasing strength and endurance.
Sometimes working harder is working smarter. The old saying is that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts; cut out the fluff, do what matters most, and you won’t have to live in the gym to see results.
Justin is a personal trainer at Body Structure Medical Fitness in Lexington, Kentucky