One of the most common excuses for skipping a workout or not exercising is lack of time. If you factor the travel time to the gym, preparing and changing into and out of your exercise clothes, showering and grooming, it might be an hour or more. Add in an hour for your workout and you’ve used up a good chunk of the day. Every minute is precious whether you work, have dependants to care for, errands to run, chores to do or other obligations and interests.
Sometimes less really is more. A shorter workout doesn’t necessarily mean you must compromise on its effectiveness. In fact, you can spend less time exercising and still experience the health benefits if you learn how to work out smart. Here are some time saving strategies for busy days.
Include compound exercises (exercises involving multiple muscle groups and joints, such as deadlifts or bench presses) in your workout instead of only isolation exercises (exercises that isolate a single muscle group, such as calf raises or bicep curls). Get a full-body workout in less time by replacing a long list of isolation exercises with a shorter workout consisting of several compound exercises.
Use heavier weights and perform fewer repetitions. Ease into the weight increments slowly and safely and pay attention to form so you don’t injure yourself. The last few repetitions should really challenge your muscles.
Replace some straight sets with supersets. A straight set is your typical eight to 15 repetitions of an exercise followed by a couple of minutes of rest, then repeating the exercise. A superset is two different exercises that work opposing muscle groups. Because each exercise uses different muscles, you don’t need to rest in between. For example, perform a set of bicep curls immediately followed by triceps kickbacks, or leg extensions for quads then hamstring curls. Repeat each set. You can save several minutes per superset, which can add up to a savings of approximately 16 minutes when you do four supersets (eight different exercises).
Try high intensity interval training (HIIT) to get maximum health benefits from minimum time spent exercising. HIIT is a series of brief, very intense exercises (e.g., sprints) with brief active recovery (not sitting and resting) periods in between. When you don’t have a lot of time for exercise, you can replace some steady-state cardio that you might normally do – such as an hour of walking or jogging or an aerobics class – with just a few minutes of HIIT. For more information, see this Focus on Fitness column from 2015. Check with your doctor before starting a new or more intense exercise program.
Arrive prepared. If you arrive at the gym and then wonder what exercises you should do, you’re probably wasting time. Come with a game plan. If you don’t know enough to prepare your training program, hire a personal trainer to create an effective, efficient workout program tailored to your individual needs, abilities and goals.
Wear earbuds. Listening to music motivates people to stay focused and work out more intensely. Even if you don’t like to listen to music, wearing earbuds tells others that you’re there to exercise and that you’re not available to stand around and chit-chat.
Schedule exercise. Whether a group fitness class, a session with your personal trainer or working out on your own, make exercise a priority. Decide at the start of the week which days you want to exercise and how much time you can commit on those days. If you don’t have time for an hour-long class, see if there’s a shorter one and put it on your calendar; or schedule a 20-minute workout that you can do anywhere. Schedule your shorter workouts such as HIIT or compound exercises for your busiest days. You can even schedule a couple of 10-minute mini-workouts on very busy days.
Carry a water bottle. It’s important to stay hydrated before, during and after exercise. Bringing a water bottle to your workout will save time. Each trip to the fountain wastes time and presents an opportunity to get distracted and engage in conversations with gym friends. Save the socializing for when you’re not in a hurry.
You don’t need to change everything all at once. If you’re short for time and can’t seem to fit in regular exercise, a few of these changes might get you back on track.