You’ve finally finished a long day at work, picked up the kids and finished dinner, so it must be time to go to the gym—right? Well, maybe tomorrow (or the next day) instead. And before you know it, a full week has passed and you still haven’t gotten in a workout. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
When you do manage to squeeze in some time to exercise, you want to make it count. After all, seeing results can be a powerful motivator. So, what do you do to make your workout as effective as possible? While you may not have more time to spare than the recommended 30 minutes a day, there are simple ways to maximize your workout—and see those all-important results.
According to Kristie Willhoit, MS, a fitness specialist with GMC’s Sports Medicine Program, here are 6 things you can do to take full advantage of your workouts:
1. Don’t push it 100% of the time.
To clarify, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be challenging yourself. But it’s important to clear up some confusion. For many years, it was believed that going non-stop when it comes to cardio (going for long, steady stints) was the best way to stay in your fat-burning zone; but this isn’t the case.
Instead, it’s best to replace that hour-long trek on the treadmill with a shorter span of speed intervals. Interval training has been shown to burn more fat during your sweat session and for up to 24 hours after you’ve completed your workout.
2. Be intentional with your rest periods.
Time flies, especially when you get sucked into the social media black hole. You scroll and scroll and before you know it, 5+ minutes have passed between exercises. Whether you’re doing weight training, using machines or body-weight exercises, it’s essential to be mindful of your rest periods.
On the one hand, you want to rest enough between strength sets (at least 30 seconds) to increase the amount of work that you can do. On the other hand, you want to keep your rest periods to a minimum to maximize your time in the gym.
A great way to make your rest periods work for you is to add in alternating exercises. A typical compound set involves exercises that use opposing muscle groups, different body regions or opposite muscle actions (so that one muscle group gets rest, while the other works).
3. Take advantage of off days.
While it may seem like more exercise equals more (or faster) results, this isn’t necessarily true. In order for your body to really perform while exercising and to actually develop those muscles you’re trying to sculpt, it needs time to recover. If you don’t give your body rest days, you’ll likely have decreased performance, higher blood pressure, disturbed sleep and more.
One of the best ways to help your body repair after an intense workout is to get some light exercise. This may be asking a lot when you’re feeling sore and taking the stairs is a tall task, but yoga, walking and swimming can help stimulate blood flow to tissues, remove waste and speed up muscle regeneration.
4. Be adventurous.
It’s normal to be a creature of habit. After all, when you find something that works for you, why mess with a good thing? Because the minute an exercise becomes too routine, it’s likely that your body has gotten comfortable and efficient at the exercise. And if you aren’t challenging your body, you won’t be seeing the results you’re after.
One of the best ways to ensure that you’re keeping things new and challenging for your body is to try high-intensity circuit training. This kind of workout usually involves a combination of cardio and strength training, which offers the variety your body needs.
5. Set yourself up for success.
Even if you’re giving your exercise routine all you’ve got, it may not be enough if you aren’t taking care of yourself outside of the gym. Yes—feeling tired, stressed and dehydrated take their toll in more ways than one. In order to have your best workout, you need to be sure that you’re getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
And let’s not forget the importance of drinking water throughout the day to help support a healthy metabolism and maintain energy levels, among many other things.
6. Be eager to learn.
One of the best things you can do when it comes to exercise is to be open minded and willing to learn. This doesn’t mean that you should buy into every new exercise trick or diet trend, but it’s important to look for areas of improvement and to ask for help.