When it comes to most things, more is usually better…
Who wouldn’t want a little more money, more time to spend with friends and family, or more time enjoying our favorite activities? I know I could do with a little more of one of my favorite activities, sleep!
Although it is common to think that “more is better” when it comes to exercise, this is not usually the case. More exercise does not equal better results. In fact, too much can turn a good thing bad!
What you get from your efforts in the gym isn’t about how much time you spend. Two hours spent on ineffective exercises performed incorrectly is two hours wasted no matter how you look at it.
How you spend your time has a much greater impact on your results. You will see far greater results by choosing effective exercises, focusing on good form, and training consistently than by simply working out longer.
This is good news for anyone with a busy schedule, school, family commitments, or other priorities. You don’t need to spend a lot of time working out to get strong or have the body you desire!
Sure, you’ll hear stories of professional athletes with grueling schedules, 3+ hour workout sessions, and even multiple workouts a day. Stories of Michael Phelps’ legendary 5 to 7 hour workouts and extreme diet come to mind.
While these stories are impressive, keep in mind that athletes at this level train to gain an advantage over the best athletes in the world, break records, and push the boundaries of human performance.
Training routines like this are the exception, not the rule.
For the rest of us that want to get a little stronger, look amazing in clothes, and feel confident, we can accomplish these goals in much less time.
While the length of your training sessions may vary depending on your goals, the type of training, available equipment, etc, sessions should generally be about an hour, give or take a few minutes.
No matter how busy you are, anyone can find one hour during the day to do something positive for themselves! It doesn’t have to be a full hour at once either. You can do half in the morning, and the rest later in the day. This is a simple fix I’ve used in the past and still use from time to time.
Currently, my training sessions are about an hour and 20 minutes. This includes a general warm up, some intervals on the rower or elliptical, a more specific warm up for the movement of the day, training, and some stretching between sets. The actual training session itself is somewhere between 45-70 minutes.
Not including any interval training, your resistance training sessions should be anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes. Unless you’re training for something specific, there’s no reason to train much longer than this.
Since I left the big corporate gym life years ago, most of my personal training sessions have been 45 minutes. Most of the clients I work with have busy schedules and just want to look and feel better, so heavy resistance training isn’t of much interest to them. 45 minutes is plenty of time for a general fitness workout that includes a warm up, full body resistance training, some stretching, and even some interval training mixed in.
If you’re really pressed for time, you can go even shorter than that. I’ve had plenty of times where myself or clients only had 25-30 minutes to train and managed to get in a full workout. It might feel a little rushed, but it’s totally possible.
Pick a few exercises and create a circuit, superset 2 or 3 body weight exercises, or do some interval training. Remember, it’s more what you do and how you do it that determines results, not how much time you spend doing it.
All you need is 45-60 minutes a day for a resistance training program to bring you the body you desire and more. If you find yourself running out of time or can’t seem to keep your sessions under an hour, here are a few ways to make your sessions more effective.
1. Have a plan before you walk in the gym
Do you wait until you’re in the gym to figure out what you’re doing that day? You might end up spending more time thinking about it than actually training! I find this to be the biggest cause of wasted time when it comes to training. Know before you go! Having a plan or program keeps you focused and saves time, just like a shopping list keeps you from buying unnecessary impulse items at the store. Follow a fitness program and keep it downloaded on your smartphone, or if you’re old school like me, keep a notebook in your gym bag.
2. Limit phone use
I have a somewhat strict “keep your phones on silent and off my training floor” rule in my gym, and I recommend you apply the same rule when it’s your turn to train. This is your hour to take care of and focus on yourself, so enjoy it! No texting, no flipping through Instagram, no emails. Get to work so you can get finished and get on with your day.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this if you have young children, train during the work day, or run your own business, but it’s best to come up with a system that allows you to get your training done efficiently and with as few interruptions as possible.
3. Keep conversations brief and polite
Training hour ain’t happy hour. If you have friends or like to catch up with people at the gym, keep conversations brief but polite. If that doesn’t work and people still interrupt you, I recommend developing a really good “mean face”.
4. Watch your rest periods
Use a timer and keep an eye on how long you rest between sets. There’s no need to rush, but keeping your rest periods to 60-90 seconds will shorten your workouts. You may notice a drop in your reps or the amount of resistance you can use for certain exercises. Be patient, and after a few weeks you’ll be back to normal and notice a difference in your performance.
5. Use super sets
Super sets are not only effective for burning fat and building muscle, but they also save time.
There are several ways you can go about this:
Upper body & lower body: Like the name says, pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise. Perform the more demanding exercise first (usually lower body), take a brief rest, then perform the second exercise. This is best for full body workouts, general fitness, and training when you don’t have a lot of time.
Done right, this will make your workouts go much faster, improve overall fitness, and burn a lot of calories.
Opposing upper body muscle groups: This works similar to the upper/lower split, but with upper body exercises only. For example, you might start with a dumbbell bench press, then move to seated cable rows.
All exercises for the same muscle group: Get ready for a ride on the pain train! This method is often used by bodybuilders and physique athletes to fully exhaust a muscle with a lot of reps in a short period of time. You can do this with 2 or more exercises, just make sure you adjust the weight down from what you normally use.
I recently finished a program that had a four exercise super set one week, and two super sets of three exercises the week after. Man it hurt so good!
No matter which way you go, super sets are a great way to save time while increasing the effectiveness of your training sessions. Try incorporating them into your program.
6. Train during off peak hours
I love going to the gym when it’s empty! No waiting for equipment and no crowds means I can do my thing and get on with my day faster. If you have the option, do it and enjoy yourself!
7. Train with a partner who’s just as or more “motivated” than you
Training with someone that’s “business only” in the gym keeps the sessions focused, makes you step your game up, and you’ll waste little time. Partners like this are hard to come by, but if you can find one I highly recommend giving it a try!