How Do I Maximize My Time In The Gym?

       I’m a big fan of efficiency, especially when it comes to reaching my health and fitness goals. Making it to the gym is already hard enough, why not be confident that you’re doing the best you can with the amount of time that you put in? For so many people, working out becomes a major chore in their daily lives because they simply cannot find the time to get into a regular routine. On the one hand, I believe that everyone can make time for certain tasks if it’s important enough time, but at the same time I am empathetic towards the certain demands required in one’s lifestyle that can make it extremely difficult to stay consistent in regards to a quality exercise and nutritional regimen. Regardless of the situation you’re in and the amount of time you have available, odds are you’d probably be interested in discovering some practical strategies on how to achieve faster rates of progress without sacrificing additional time and energy in the gym. Based on the personal experiences that I’ve had with myself over the last few years, as well as some takeaways I’ve discovered with my research, I’ve put together four key takeaways that you can implement  in order to experience extremely high levels of clarity and efficiency as you decide how to approach your workout routine.

Find The Balance Between A Structured And Flexible Workout Program

       Most of us are probably always on the search for finding the most “optimal” program to reach our personal fitness goals in the fastest period of time. And while there certainly are fitness routines found online that are far more effective than others for obtaining tangible progression, the reality is that so many cookie-cutter programs available for free are largely outdated and not beneficial to every individual’s needs. Instead, if you’re truly confused on what to do in the gym and do not want to make the investment into a more personalized routine, I simply recommend using these programs as a baseline for the exercises you perform, and simply make adjustments based on your personal goals and movements that you love to perform.

       For example, you may be interested primarily in improving your 1RM on the bench press, and realistically there are hundreds of different bench-focused programs that you can find online that may be beneficial towards your progression. But unfortunately each of these “one-size-fits-all” routine don’t take into consideration the exact exercises you enjoy performing and want to progress on, as well as the amount of volume and intensity that you can personally handle in order to still see good results for an extended period. So feel free to follow a standardized program for purposes of determining a specific rep scheme or progression protocol that can be adopted towards your own routine, just be sure that you’re avoiding copying every detail step-by-step just to feel like you’re moving in the most “effective” direction.

       Along with this, I’m a huge proponent of following some variation of a structured routine that you perform in the gym. The reality is that if you go into your workouts with no sort of plan and decided just to “wing it”, you’re going to be spending a lot of time standing around and pondering all of your decisions for what movements to perform. This may leave you even more confused, overwhelmed, and discouraged to keep moving forward in your workout regimen. Whereas if you had a tangible plan in place that you could follow without thinking too much of it, you’d be far more likely to feel confident about the exercises you perform and actually see tangible progression, since it is probably outlined right out in front of you. No guesswork, no stress, just following a plan of action consistently and making steady progress over the course of time.

       Realistically though, there are going to be situations where you are not going to be 100% on point with your training, and that’s okay! I certainly don’t expect you to perform every single rep of every single set of every single workout with exact precision for months on end. There’s going to be times where you miss workouts, have to shorten them, or are working out at a gym that does not have the equipment necessary for you to follow your program exactly how it is written. When this happens, there’s no need to hit the panic button and start sacrificing other areas of your life to compensate, simply do the best with what you have in front of you and get back on track when your schedule is more in order. And no, you’re not going to lose all of your muscle and strength from a single “suboptimal” workout, just put the situation behind you and focus on other things that are likely far more important to your health and happiness.

spreadsheet
Having a spreadsheet, document, or journal and place with your workouts at-hand can provide tremendous benefits mentally and physically.

Take The “Fluff” Out Of Your Workouts

       You’re probably doing far more work than you need to be doing. Regardless of your specific fitness goals, I see far too many people performing an excessive amount of movements for the perceived benefits on your own body composition, but odds are that you can be taking a more effective approach that saves you a lot of time in the gym. Let me give you a good example that really exemplifies this topic.

       I see a lot of guys in the gym looking to grow their chest dedicating an entire day of their workout plan as a “chest day”, and performing 5-6 movements for just one day a week. Now on paper, this doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, and I’m not really saying it’s the worst plan either, but realistically speaking I think that most people would see better chest development following an alternative approach that would simultaneously save them a lot of time and mental energy. In this scenario, we know that for hypertrophy purposes, training an individual muscle at least two times per week is like a more effective approach [1]. And on top of that, a horizontal press with heavy loads (namely a barbell bench press) is probably your best option as far as muscle fiber recruitment/activation [2], meaning that you’re going to target the pecs with the greatest stimulation possible. And when you combine these two elements at the basis of your chest training in a program, odds are you will see your chest grow even more, given that you’re taking care of your nutrition and other recovery factors.

       What this does here is allow you to focus your attention onto a single movement, and not waste so much time and energy on assistance (or “fluff) work that’s going to have little to no effectiveness on the muscle and strength development you’re hoping. Past a certain threshold, additional training volume is not any more beneficial and may be counterproductive for hypertrophy purposes [3], especially when we’re talking upwards of 20 sets of various exercises for a single muscle group (which is what a lot of guys do for their chests). Again, the point here is that there’s not a single best decision you can make for training an individual body part, but we know through research and practicality purposes that more is not necessarily better for weight training development. Just remember when you’re designing your own workout programs to focus on quality over quantity, choosing 1-2 major movements to perform at the start of your workout, and adding in supporting exercises that are truly necessary to support your primary exercises and/or help you build a more balanced physique.

chest fly's
Isolation exercises (like chest fly’s here) are often unnecessary for both muscle and strength development.

Reduce Your Distractions

       This is the one that a lot of people don’t want to hear, but realistically will found that this will save them the most amount of time possible in the gym. More than we realize, there’s a lot of time that goes by in the gym without us even noticing, that realistically could have been better spent focusing on other things. Remember that when you’re resting in between sets in your workout, you should be focused on recovery and mentally preparing yourself for the next set, not worrying about everything else going around you. Even though I’m a big believer of longer rest periods, with proven benefits for both strength and hypertrophy purposes [4], I think that a lot of people get too carried away here and start to lose focus of the work out in front of them. And yes, working out is largely about training your body to become physically stronger, but I think that there’s a mental component to this too that tends to be underrated. With the amount of effort and focus you put into the gym, you’re also teaching your body to stay more-disciplined and committed to all of the other areas of your life, which when combined really helps build a lot mental and physical fortitude. So I encourage each and every one of you to view exercise as something bigger than the physical results you see in the more, and more-so about the benefits added to the rest of your day-to-day life.

       On a separate note for this section, I think that it’s important to highlight two key culprits are often the biggest “time thieves” in the gym. And once you can drastically cut down on both of these areas, I can promise you that you’re going to find your productivity soar through the roof with each and every one of your workouts. Now the main source here which I fortunately think that most of us are aware of (or at least hope so) is our personal cell phones. Listen, our phones are amazing, and there are various reasons why we’d need them for the gym, but I highly recommend that you all take an audit of what you’re actually using your phone for during your workouts. Analyze if any of these uses of time can be put out and shifted towards the workout at-hand, such as changing music, looking at our workout program, and responding to any “necessary” texts. Odds are, within that time frame there’s also some time spent “quickly” scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or anything else that can add sneaky minutes into a single workouts, which really compounds over the course of time. If you’re guilty of this, I’m not suggesting to leave the phone at home, but rather try downloading your music ahead of time, taking a screenshot of your workout program, and putting your phone on airplane mode for a few workouts in a row. I think you’ll be amazed at how much more focused and efficient you feel, and gradually over time lose the urge to jump back into the digital world while you’re working out.

       Secondly, the amount of time that’s spent in conversations with your friends in the gym is also likely tacking on some extra minutes that’s taking away from that high-quality workout that you’re looking for. Listen, I get it, it’s fun working out with friends and conversing in between sets. But for the most part, all this is really doing is taking away your focus at-hand, and essentially just procrastinating for getting in the rest of your workout. My recommendation here is feel free to be friendly and courteous towards the people you know in the gym with a smile and “hello”, but if you’re serious about your time don’t feel bad about keeping your extended conversations to a minimum. If these same people really support you, they’ll understand and encourage you to keep up the discipline with your focus, and hopefully apply this same mindset with their own workouts in the gym.

no phones
Spend your time off the phone in the gym. Get in, train with both purpose and intensity, then get on and move on with the rest of your day.

Reflect On Your Weekly Progress And Make Any Adjustments As Needed

       Please, please, please do not keep spinning your wheels. Listen, making progress consistently in the gym is an incredibly difficult task to complete. Do yourself a favor and set some time aside specifically for reflecting on the workouts you had each week, and decide on any adjustments that are necessary in order to keep moving forward. Realistically speaking, a lot of times the answers to our problems aren’t so obvious, but simply not trying and doing the same thing over and over again is an incredibly inefficient and discouraging use of time. It’s tempting to follow the same routine over and over again, but eventually a lack of variation is going to lead you stall at some point in time, and you’re going to continue to be frustrated with the results.

       What I recommend doing here is having a document or spreadsheet that is dedicated towards tracking your weekly progress in sets, reps, weight used, etc. as the basis for your reflection, but also keeping log on a separate paper/journal that focuses on the more personal aspects of any fitness routine. Monitoring your energy levels throughout the day, how well you’ve been eating, how well you’ve been sleeping, and various other factors that are realistically critical to seeing tangible progress in your health and fitness. As I mentioned at the start of this article, I’m a big believer in efficiency and simplicity, and utilizing each of these tools is a great place to start in order to make sure you’re moving closer towards your goals each and every week. Think about it this way: the more time you spend upfront in planning and preparation is a lot less time you’ll have to spend guessing your way through everything when a new day rolls around. You’ll feel confident knowing that you’re taking steps every day that will excel you into that next level in your training, nutrition, and overall mindset in life.

journaling
Dedicate an hour or two each week for self-reflection in both your fitness and other personal goals.

Wrapping Up

       And that’s all for today’s article!  If you’re still with me here, I sincerely appreciate you for taking the time and energy to read through this. I am hopeful that there were some practical takeaways within here that you can now go out and apply to your own daily lives. Remember that fitness is not easy by any means but it can certainly be simplified with some upfront work and appropriate application. Please, I would love it if you left a comment for me below and let me know what other content you’d like to see soon. Writing articles is a passion of mine and I’m always looking to bring the most value to each and every one of you!

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27102172
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504579/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6303131/
  4. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2016/07000/Longer_Interset_Rest_Periods_Enhance_Muscle.3.aspx
Categories Training

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