Picture this. You’ve just worked 8 hours at the office, the kids will be home from practice in a little less than 2 hours and you’ve got to make dinner tonight for the family. You really want to get a workout in, and you figure you’ve got a little under an hour to dedicate to it. Is it worth it??
Short answer. Yes!!
But there’s a caveat. You’ve got to MAKE it worth it.
As someone who’s been an athlete and avid fitness-er all through college and even while getting my doctorate, I know a thing or two about time management and balancing work, school, and daily exercise. Here are my strategies for making the most of your workout each day:
1. Plan ahead. Planning your workout shouldn’t take long, maybe 5-10 minutes before you get to the gym. You don’t want to be that person who shows up to the gym and wanders around for 15 minutes just looking for the first open machine and treadmill. This is a huge time waste!! Your plan should align with your long term goals (this is a whole other topic entirely!). Are you trying to lose weight? Be sure to incorporate both strength training and cardio into the mix. Trying to gain muscle mass? Hit the weights hard! Total body lifts, like squatting deadlifting and the Olympic Weightlifting lifts are great to hit both upper and lower body, as well as core, all at the same time.
If you’re a novice to workout planning, there are plenty of apps and programs available for free or for cheap, that’ll do it for you! For CrossFit, I recommend Comp Train (https://comptrain.co/), they put out free daily workouts. For Olympic Weightlifting, strength training, and sports performance, I recommend California Strength (https://www.californiastrength.com/_). If you’re gearing up for your first half-marathon, check out Runner’s World (https://www.runnersworld.com/_). Doing just a little research online can help direct you to a specific program that takes the guesswork out of planning your workouts, both in the long and short term.
2. Now that you’ve got your workout plan, you’re going to want to come up with a warmup routine that’s specific to the workout you’re about to do! This is especially important if you’ve got a history of injuries. Additionally, if you’ve just spent all day sitting in a chair or driving, a focused warmup is important to prevent any new injuries and will also reduce your time wasted doing random stretches that you say a guy doing last week. For example, if you’ve got squats and running on the agenda today, incorporate bodyweight movements like walking lunges, alternating toe touches, butt kickers, and bodyweight squats, as well as a 5-minute light bike to prime your targeted muscles for a great workout.
3. Keep it moving. If you’re like me, when I do one set of squats, I end up sitting and resting for the next 5 minutes. This is another huge time suck! My solution is to set a timer on my phone. I take a lift, put weights on the bar to prepare for my next set, then I set a timer so I know exactly how long I’m resting for. My rest time is determined by the number of lifts I take in a set. For example, if I’m doing a set of 5 heavy squats, I’m going to rest closer to 3 minutes to allow my body to recover. If I’m doing 2 or 3 reps at a moderate weight, I’ll rest 1-2 minutes tops. Basically, the harder the effort, the longer I give myself to rest, BUT I’m never resting more than 3 minutes between sets! The simple solution of setting a timer will help you be more efficient and get more out of each workout.
4. Have a plan B. This goes back to planning your workout. If you’re one to hit the gym after work, you’re probably not alone and may have to jockey for weights and machines with other gym-goers. Having alternative exercises to substitute in will limit your time wasted waiting around for something to open up. For example, if you’re supposed to do 1:00 treadmill interval sprints, but all the treadmills are being used, hop into a racquetball court or the sideline of a basketball court, set a timer on your phone or watch and do your sprints there! The bench press is another staple exercise that EVERYONE is doing at the gym. If no bench is available, take a set of dumbbells and do floor presses (floor press: lie on the ground and perform the bench press as normal, the floor will limit your range of motion, but that’s okay!). Or, if all else fails, push-ups target the same muscles as bench press, and you don’t need any equipment to do them.
5. A word on cardio. When it comes to cardio, long and slow is not efficient. Unless you’re training for an ultramarathon or Ironman event, cardio that is done at a low intensity is not the most efficient way to get your heart rate up, get a sweat going and see the body changes you’re looking for. Instead, I recommend utilizing HIIT style workouts, or high-intensity interval training, to get the results you’re looking for. For example, running 3 miles in 30 minutes (that’s 10 minutes/mile average) for a 150 lb person, will burn roughly 351 calories. But in that same time window, if that person chooses to run stair intervals, they should expect to burn closer to 550 calories. Or, to look at it this way, a 1-minute sprint for that same person will burn 20 cals, versus just 10 calories burned jogging or 5 calories walking, for that same time. No matter the exercise, the key is to get your heart rate up to increase the calorie burn.
We’re all busy people! I get it. Don’t let your workouts suffer because of it. Plan the workout ahead of time. Do a targeted warmup. Keep it moving. Have a plan B. Kick up the intensity. Set your goals, try out these techniques, and get after it.
Kelly Wild (@kellywild8) is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy. She also is a National level Olympic Weightlifter and former 3 time CrossFit Games athlete. Kelly also played Division I ice hockey at The Ohio State University. Kelly believes that health care should be proactive, not reactive. This mantra has inspired Kelly to publish a number of online fitness protocols at Californiastrength.com that anyone can use to reduce injury risk and improve strength in order to continue to pursue all of your athletic and fitness goals!