6 pro tips to make your fitness program time effective [without losing intensity]
Who's got the time for l-o-n-g workouts? My personal training clients certainly don't and even though I love exercise the prospect of exercising for much longer than an hour doesn't excite me either. Over the years I've had to find ways of making workouts as time effective as possible to both provide value for clients and maximise results from time invested in my own training. Here are the ways I go about it:
1. Make the warm up brief and purposeful
Tomorrow morning I'll be doing my special warm up for my 45 minute jog, and I'm going to share it with you right now- jogging. Yes, that's it, I just start running slowly and then speed up over a few minutes to the desired pace. Same strategy applies to the stationary bike session later in the week i.e. start with a couple of minutes slower cycling then get into it. Specificity is a good ingredient for a warm up and you can't get much more specific than warming up for jogging by jogging! It's pretty well accepted now that static stretching prior to exercise is ineffective and can have an effect akin to turning off the muscles and nervous system. This is clearly counter-productive for warming up because the main purpose, as the name suggests, is to warm up!
Save the stretching for after the session when you are really warm and can stretch further to thus get the most from your stretching.
Prior to weight or strength training I'll do a circuit of stability/balance/rehab exercise which will only take 2-3 minutes. It serves the purpose of getting the muscles contracting moderately and increases body temperature. Not only that it means some relatively low intensity but very necessary exercises get done i.e. you're killing 2 birds with 1 stone.
I should add that these warm up strategies aren't just shortcuts I personally take to save time but I implement the same methods with all Personal Training clients and programs I put together.
The rules do differ when you are doing something of a high level of intensity or performance such as sprints or a sport or heavy weight lifting. In those cases it's wise to do a more extensive, progressive and specific warm up. For most gym goers though being brief but purposeful is best. 2. Don't rest during sessions or make any rest active and productive
There is always something you could be doing. It could be stretching, cardio between weights sets, stability exercises, rehab exercises, lower body weights while upper body recovers and vice-versa. By constantly doing something, you stay engaged, focused and keep the momentum of the session going. It also means you get a general fitness effect and burn more calories while doing weight training sessions. It's typically only really elite sportspeople or competitive weight lifters that need complete inactive rest between sets or drills but that's a small minority. The rest of us in practice are best off trying to make the entire exercise session productive as possible but this typically requires a well planned program as it takes some knowledge to figure out what movements and exercises you can do consecutively. 3. Try and do as much as possible with 1 piece of equipment or 1 set of dumbells.
You can spend a deceptive amount of time fiddling around with equipment or changing weights. I usually plan my weight training programs so that sessions can be done with 1 set of dumbells used for multiple exercises, eliminating the need for any adjustments. It's slightly different in personal training sessions where I can change or organise equipment while the client keeps exercising but the same general idea applies- minimal basic equipment which is organised, accessible and ready to go. I've seen people waste many precious minutes trying to get their TRX (suspension training device) to the right setting, while they could have been ploughing ahead doing something very similar with their own body weight or a chin up bar or even a fence. It's easy to get drawn into using (& buying) the latest gear but the more toys you use the more logistically complex things get and inevitably the more time it'll take. 4. Have time constraints within your program.
This applies to total workout time or time for a specific aspect of it, as well as rest between sets. For example: with my own current program I do 2 x steady moderate heart rate sessions per week, that 45 minutes includes warm up and cool down and it's 45 minutes exactly not a few minutes more or less because I feel like it on the day. That way I can make plans for the day knowing exactly how long I need to allow for a session. Your workout time can also really blow out if you don't monitor and stick to designated periods of rest between sets or exercises too. What's more you can be kidding yourself you're getting fitter and stronger when really you're just resting longer which means the general intensity of the workouts remains the same. The clock can be a really potent fitness tool for keeping exercise intensity up, as well as the obvious purpose of getting workouts done within reasonable, practical timeframe. 5. Keep cool down short It's not that cool downs are a waste of time or ineffective but I do think they are overrated. Well, actually this comprehensive review suggests there is little benefit in cool downs. Anyway, it is fairly traditional to cool down and it can't be ruled out that there is some benefit. It at least serves the purpose of allowing time for your breathing and body temperature to return to something near normal, so you can think and function better, in order to be capable of doing something like driving home. In practice a couple of minutes is fine. To use the example of jogging again, a couple of minutes of walking afterward will suffice. Some of the conventional exercise guidelines suggest a 10 minute low intensity cardio cool down- in my view that's impractical and w-a-y too long! That said, post weight training can be a good time to do cardio as I believe you then don't have to do a warm up for your cardio as clearly you're already warm from the weights (saving yet more time!). It's also possible that the cardio activity could counter blood pooling and disperse lactic acid that result from weight training, but again whether that's worthwhile is debatable. Otherwise, after weights (and cardio for that matter) I recomend stretching, which is expanded on in the next point..... 6. Stretch at the end of the workout.
This is an important one. As touched upon earlier when your muscles are warm they're more pliable. This of course means immediately after exercise those nice warm muscles can be stretched further, which is essentially the object of stretching- to lengthen the muscles so they're longer more permanently.
Increased flexibility can reduce injury risk, enhance athletic performance and improve posture- subtlety it can then improve how you look.
So post exercise is a golden opportunity to stretch, you'll get the most benefit from your stretching and relative to doing separate flexibility sessions when cold, is a great use of time. Stretching after exercise may also reduce muscle soreness, but this too is debatable and it could indeed cause more micro tears in muscles and increase soreness. (Nonetheless it would still be beneficial due to the longer term benefits)
Stretching during a workout can be a good use of time as well e.g. you're warm and you've got a minute or 2 while recovering from a weights or cardio exercise, so if stretching is a peronal priority it's a good chance to squeeze ina bit more. This has to be weighed up against the fact that stretching will affect performance of strength and dynamic activity's.
So there you have it, by having a well planned exercise program not only will you be more time effective, you may find that your workouts become both more intense, focused and purposeful. If you'd like to get more from your workout time you can apply some of these ideas or get in touch to discuss how a tailored program can help you or to book.
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