No Time For Exercise? 4 Science-Backed Gym Hacks To Make Your Workouts More Efficient
Struggling to find enough time for the gym?
You’re not alone. Sure, it’s easy to get excited about the idea of exercising. Let’s all run marathons! And do a push-up challenge! But when it comes down to actually getting your butt to the gym, it’s often hard to actually find the time.
But making time for exercise has to be among the things you consider non-negotiable. You have to buy groceries. You have to pay bills. You also have to exercise. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but the evidence makes it overwhelmingly clear: regular exercise – especially resistance exercise – is essential for literally every aspect of your health that it’s absurd to think that you can do without it.
And investments in your fitness you make now will pay off big time down the road.
You’ll save money. A study just published in BMJ found that Americans who start regular exercise before hitting their senior years can expect to save at least $1000 annually on health care costs after retirement.
You’ll live longer. A Columbia University study found that swapping a half-hour of sitting around every day with physical activity of any intensity cuts the risk of early death by 35%.
You’ll be happier. Exercise causes the release of feel-good endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which boosts your mood and overall sense of well-being. These chemicals can also help improve your appetite and sleep cycles.
You’ll be smarter. Exercise releases a cascade of chemicals that stimulate the growth of new nerves and synapses – the connection points between nerves – and also helps preserve existing brain cells. In particular, the part of your brain called the hippocampus is especially receptive to exercise, which means that your memory and ability to learn get a huge boost from hitting the gym. Regular exercise has also been shown to decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s later in life by 45%.
The good news? You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits. A new review paper from the journal Sports Medicine has gathered a compelling set of workout efficiency hacks, and their recommendations will help you get the most work done with minimal time commitment.
1. Skip stretching and shorten your warmup
Let’s put this persistent myth to rest: stretching is not necessary for strength training (or any exercise, for that matter). In fact, studies have shown that stretching before a workout can actually make you weaker than if you didn’t stretch at all.
The ideal time-crunched warmup, according to the authors of the review, is one that gets right to the point: “Restrict the warmup to exercise-specific warmups, and only prioritize stretching if the goal of training is to increase flexibility.”
Doing an exercise-specific warmup simply means performing lighter sets of the exercise you’re about to do. For example, if you’re doing a chest workout, you’d warm up by benching the empty bar for one or two high-rep sets (think 20 or more reps) before loading the bar for your first working set.
2. Choose multi-joint, compound exercises
If you’re trying to be as efficient as possible, choose exercises that are bilateral (utilize both legs or both arms at the same time), involve multiple joints rather than just one, and have both a concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) movement.
For example, instead of doing bicep curls (which are unilateral and isolate a single muscle group), choose pull-ups (which are bilateral and utilize your back and shoulders in addition to your biceps).
The Sports Medicine authors suggest that if you can only choose three exercises, make them:
• An upper body pull exercise (like a pull-up or horizontal row)
• An upper body push exercise (like a bench press)
• A compound lower body exercise (like a squat)
While free weight exercises should be the bread and butter of your workout, machine exercises still work if that’s your only option. So you can substitute a leg press for a squat, or a chest press machine instead of a bench press. Choose barbells over dumbbells if you have a choice, since you can usually move more weight in a barbell lift than in its dumbbell equivalent. Resistance bands and bodyweight moves can work too, as long as they are challenging enough and hit the appropriate number of reps.
3. Do sets of 6-15 reps, and utilize supersets
The science of rep ranges has been a long-debated subject both in the gym and in sports medicine labs, but it really comes down to this: do sets that are between 6 and 15 reps and are heavy enough that the last few reps feel challenging.
The last rep doesn’t have to be to total failure, either; you can stop when it feels like you would only be able to squeeze out one or two more.
If you don’t have access to weights that you can adjust to make 6-15 rep sets challenging, then do exercises to complete failure – the point where you simply cannot complete another rep.
To save even more time in the gym, most people can simply rest less between sets. Unless you’re cranking out personal bests, resting one to two minutes is probably fine. To condense things even further, add some time-honored bodybuilder hacks to your routine: supersets, drop sets, and rest-pause sets all give your muscles more work in less time.
• Supersets: Alternating sets of two different exercises, without rest in between.
• Drop Sets: Doing a set to failure, stripping 10% of the weight, repping to failure again, and repeating until no weight is left.
• Rest-Pause Sets: After your initial set, pausing for a quick 15-30 seconds, performing another set until failure, and repeating until you’re unable to complete even one rep.
4. Do 4-12 sets per muscle group per week
The Sports Medicine authors note that how much exercise you actually do matters more than the total number of days you get to the gym. You should aim for between 4 and 12 quality sets per muscle group, per week. Whether that’s split up into seven short workouts or two or three longer full-body workouts doesn’t make that much of a difference. Theoretically, you can effectively cram a whole week’s worth of strength training into one day if that’s all you have time for.
Research has found that people who are new to strength training can manage to build muscle with very little exercise (just three sets per week, in some studies), so even a small amount of strength training is worth your time.
If you can only make time for four sets of upper body push, four sets of upper body pull, and four sets of legs, that’s your weekly minimum target (more is better, of course, but that’s the minimum). Do that in one day if that’s all you can manage, or spread it over the course of the week – just get it done.
Need a plan?
At Ascent Chiropractic, we’re dead serious about the belief that everyone can — and must — work out. Seriously, I’ll often literally give my patients a prescription for it and help them develop a lifting program specifically for what’s going on in their bodies.
For everyone else, if you don’t know where to start once you get to the gym, the Ascent Gym Fundamentals are six of the most popular, evidence-based, spine-and-extremity-safe workout programs I give to patients – click here to download them now.
You’re stronger with chiropractic care!
A recent study from The Journal of Chiropractic Research and Clinical Investigation reported that athletes who received chiropractic care exhibited up to a 16% increase in athletic performance after 12 weeks of regular treatments – testing strength, kinesthetic perception, reaction time, agility and balance.
Stronger is better… better stamina, better balance, better coordination, better performance in every area of your life. What will you do with more strength? To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.