Cut Your Workout Time in Half, 2.0

When I first started this here blog, I wanted a way to share what I was learning with family, friends, and across the vast expanses of Al Gore’s internet.  I love that technology allows me to interact with readers across the globe, and I find a humbling irony in helping people who have helped me.

Yesterday one of my old drumming buddies from the University of Delaware drumline sent me an article called Cut Your Workout Time in Half, from MSN.com.  His sarcasm was lost on me, and I read it enthusiastically.  Today, I’d like to ‘rewrite’ the points of the article, providing a slightly more…aggressive…way to improve the time efficiency of your training.  (I’ll be sure to provide sufficient markings so you know what was actually published and what is me doing my edutainment bit.)  First, the beautiful stock image:

Getting the most that you can from exercise doesn’t have to mean spending the most amount of time exercising.

Boom.  True.  There are very few people that will disagree with this; it’s spot on.  This explains why a few minutes of HIIT is a better time investment than going for a long slow jog, why an exercise like a squat is a better time investment than the leg press, leg extensions, leg curls, calve raises, the innie-and-outie machines (seated hip adduction and abduction).

Frequently, “I don’t have time” really means “I haven’t made time” and in these cases, I try to show that maximizing the effectiveness of your routine means you really don’t have to spend all of your free time in a gym.  Simple programming concepts really go a long way.

1. Give it a “second” thought.
Most people rest longer between sets than they really need to. Your muscle fibers only need about 60 to 120 seconds to recover from one set of weight training, depending on the intensity. After that time, your muscles are about as ready as they’ll ever be, regardless of what your body may be telling you.

No.  Well, maybe.  In some cases, you can move on quickly, while in others, you’re going to want much more time between sets, sometimes 5-7 minutes worth.  It depends on what you’re training and what your goals are, but you’re almost always safe doing some type of super-set.  For example, say you’re doing some front squats, and a set of 5 reps takes you a minute to complete.  After you rack the bar, you might reach for the top of the rack and bang out a set of 8 chin-ups.  That took you another minute.  Grab some water, finagle with your iPod, and then start adjust weights for your next set of front squats.

Remember this isn’t a WOD, so you don’t need to fly through your routine like you’re racing.  You’ll have time to do your conditioning later.

2. Plan between your sets.
Instead of just sitting around catching your breath between sets, use that time wisely to think about which exercise you’re going to do next, and if possible, begin setting things up so that everything will be ready to go after you finish with whatever exercise you’re doing presently.

Planning between sets shouldn’t just be limited to setting things up; that’s a given.  Instead, include any ‘extra’ mobility or corrective work that may be necessary.  Maybe you’ve decided to pair rows and push-ups on an upper body day.  In between those sets, you can perform some body weight squats and pry (aka wiggling your butt) in the bottom position to help loosen up your hips.  The options are endless, and more personal than “Do deadlifts, do rows.”

3. Squeeze in a few exercises between exercises.
Just because you have to wait in between sets for certain muscles to recover doesn’t mean you can’t work other unrelated muscles while you wait. Certain secondary body parts, such as your calves and abdominals, can sometimes be trained at any point of an exercise routine without affecting the efficiency of the rest of your workout.

I tried to address this in both of the first two tips, and it’s a great idea to create groups of 2, 3, or 4 exercises to improve the time efficiency of your workout.  Two things though: Don’t turn everything into conditioning, and don’t choose exercises that significantly reduce performance on the ‘big’ ones.  It’s easy to have too much of a good thing:

4. Wear headphones.
Keeping conversations to a minimum is a terrific way to shave time from your workout, but avoiding people bent on interrupting your routine can sometimes be difficult to do. To keep would-be talkers at bay, always wear an MP3 player or radio when possible.

I have a personal ‘headphone’ rule that I use, and I try to teach it to other people, too.  It’s really simple; If your headphones are in, don’t talk to that person.  If they’re out, talk all you want, but shut the hell up when they put them back in.  It’s simple, and when you respect it, you rarely run into problems.  The only problem that I have is I like receiving cues during heavier sets of benching or squatting, and headphone prevent this.  Womp womp.

If you find that the headphone rule isn’t being respected, upgrade to the hat rule.  It’s a bit more effective, and when you combine the hat and headphones, people are far less likely to talk to you, if that is your goal.  Just take it off when you talk to people, so you’re not this guy:

Let’s recap:

Your time is important, and you want to invest it as effectively as possible.  Wearing a hat and/or headphones at the gym can help prevent some distractions from the bro who wants to curl in the squat rack, or the trainer that’s telling you girls shouldn’t lift heavy weights.  Keep them distracted.  Next, make sure you’re pairing exercises, either strength exercises, corrective exercises, or a combination of the two.  It’ll improve your time effectiveness, the overall benefits of your workout, and your conditioning as well.

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