Finding time to break a sweat at the gym can be hard with a busy work schedule and a full social calendar. But studies show that all it takes is 30 minutes of exercise five days a week to lower your risk for diabetes and heart disease and lengthen your lifespan. With the right planning, you can create a quick and effective workout — and reach your fitness goals in that half-hour.
Make an Exercise Plan
“If you want to use your time at the gym effectively, you need to go in with a plan,” says Bonnie Matthews, a certified personal trainer and weight loss coach in Baltimore, Md. Your gym workouts should include about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week and some strength training about two days a week. How you put the time together is important. “Get some help at the beginning from an exercise specialist so you don’t end up wasting time in the gym,” says Matthews.
Find the Right Gym
You need to pick a gym or fitness facility that meets your needs, or chances are, you’ll eventually stop going and will have wasted your time and money. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends selecting a gym that has exercise programs you are interested in such as yoga or kickboxing, qualified instructors, and programs appropriate to your age group. Your gym should also be convenient to get to and offer flexible classes that work with your schedule.
Limit Socializing During Your Sweat Sessions
If you only have time for a quickie workout, leave the socializing for after the gym. “Think of your time at the gym like your time at work,” says Matthews. “It is just as important, so don’t waste it.” That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your gym workouts, but when you’re time-crunched, you need to use all of your exercise time effectively. “Just like at work, the gym is a place where you should know what you are trying to accomplish and do it well,” says Matthews. “You deserve to use this time for yourself.”
Use the Right Form
If you are doing any gym workout incorrectly, not only are you wasting time, but you could also injure yourself. An injury can turn your quick workout into a long rehabilitation. “Always start slowly and safely,” says Matthews. If you are exercising correctly, you should not be in pain or pushing yourself beyond your exercise tolerance. Correct form also includes listening to your body and making sure you warm up before exercising and cool down after.
Make Time to Work Out — and Rest
More is not always better when it comes to working out. Your body needs time to recover even after a quick gym session. Also, it takes time to build up to the next level of fitness. Always add duration, intensity, and frequency of exercise gradually. Research shows that three 10-minute periods of exercise are just as effective as one 30-minute workout. “It’s not about accumulating numbers,” says Matthews. “Find the level of exercise and pace you can enjoy.”
Work in Strength Training
Aim to fit at least two days of strength training into your workout schedule each week. Strength training needs to be done with the proper form to be effective and to prevent injury. Working with an exercise trainer — even if it’s just for a session or two — can help ensure sure you’re doing the moves correctly. A good regimen should target all of your major muscle groups in your upper and lower body. In most cases, you will want to do about 10 repetitions of five to 10 different exercises. Try not to strength train the same group of muscles, such as your hamstrings and quads, on consecutive days. A day of rest between strength sessions is especially important to give muscles time to recover.
Change Intensity for Maximum Effectiveness
“One of the best ways to use your gym time effectively is to vary the intensity of your workouts,” explains Matthews. For example, try increasing the incline on the treadmill, upping the resistance on the stationary bike, or raising the height of a step machine. These variations will not only keep you mentally involved, but they also maximize the benefits of a quickie workout by surprising and challenging your muscles. The result? You’ll burn more calories in less time.