When you have limited time to exercise, every minute counts. The more fat-burning and muscle-firming action you can pack into a 30- or 60-minute workout the better. Right? It’s a good feeling to know you maximized your exercise time. Here are some simple ways to make any workout more effective.
Stay Active between Sets
When you’re strength training and resting between sets, use your rest time wisely. If you’re doing sets of biceps curls, use the time between each set to work a non-interfering muscle group like your legs or do light cardio. For example, do a set of one-legged squats to work on strength and balance or do high knees or jumping jacks to elevate your heart rate for more fat-burning and cardiovascular benefits. Pack more movement and exercise into every workout you do by using your rest time to burn some calories.
Focus on Form During Your Workout
Most people are so focused on lifting a heavier weight that they let their form slip. You’ll ultimately get more benefits using a lighter weight you can lift with good form than struggling with a heavy weight where you have to use momentum. When you focus on form throughout the full range of motion of the exercise and eliminate momentum, you increase the time your muscles spend under tension.
When you don’t focus on proper form, you recruit secondary muscle groups to carry some of the load as the main muscles you’re working fatigue. This secondary recruitment reduces strength gains by taking some of the load off the main muscles you’re working. Improper form also increases your risk of injury. Don’t let your mind wander- focus on executing each exercise properly.
Increase the Intensity of Your Workouts
One of the simplest ways to pack more benefits into an exercise session is to increase the intensity of your training sessions. High-intensity interval training gives you benefits in the shortest time possible – as little as 20 minutes. Plus research shows vigorous cardiovascular exercise is superior to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for reducing cardiovascular risk factors and improving aerobic capacity.
Twenty minutes of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise using a variety of interval training formats leaves you with more time to devote to resistance training. Many people spend so much time doing cardio that they’re too fatigued to really focus on resistance training. High-intensity exercise also maximizes the release of anabolic hormones that help burn fat and gives you a greater after-burn.
Make Sure You’re Well-Fueled
One area of controversy centers around whether you should eat carbs before a workout. The theory is not eating carbs forces your body to burn fat as fuel. Exercising in a glycogen-depleted state has drawbacks though, especially if you’re doing high-intensity exercise. Your muscles primarily use carbohydrates as fuel during high-intensity exercise. If you’re exercising in a low-glycogen state, you’ll limit your performance due to fatigue.
In one study, researchers asked athletes to restrict carbs two days prior to lower body strength training. Then, they had them do the same workout in a non-carb restricted state. The athletes were able to do a greater number of squats when they weren’t carb restricted.
High-intensity interval training will also be difficult if you don’t have adequate muscle glycogen stores. The time when carb restriction may be beneficial is when you’re doing low to moderate-intensity exercise for a longer period of time and your muscles don’t have to tap into muscle glycogen stores.
Don’t forget about the other type of exercise “fuel” – water. Never underestimate the importance of being well-hydrated before and during a workout. Even mild dehydration (as little as 2%) can impair exercise performance and lead to early fatigue. Research shows maximum aerobic capacity declines by 5% when people exercise under conditions of mild dehydration (around 3%) even when working out in a cool environment.
When you exercise in a dehydrated state, you can’t perform as well due to a drop in plasma volume. When the volume of plasma circulating in your bloodstream drops due to dehydration, less blood enters your heart. As a result, your heart pumps out less blood with each heartbeat. As a result, there’s less oxygen delivery to your working muscles each time your heart beats.
When you’re not drinking enough water, your body has more problems controlling your core body temperature and you’re more likely to overheat and become fatigued. Research shows core temperature goes up on average 0.17 degrees Celsius for every 1% loss of body water. Your heart rate goes up too because it has to pump harder in meet the oxygen demands of the working muscles.
The rise in core body temperature and reduced oxygen delivery due to dehydration also puts added strain on your muscles and forces them to use muscle glycogen at a higher rate. It all adds up to faster fatigue, especially if you’re exercising in a hot or humid environment. You’ll be able to push yourself harder and ultimately accomplish more if you’re adequately hydrated.
Do More Compound Exercises in Your Workout
The more muscle groups you work with every exercise, the more benefits you’ll get and the more calories you’ll burn. Compound exercises are ones that work more than one muscle group simultaneously such as squats, lunges, rows, dips, deadlifts, pull-ups and more. When you have limited time to weight train and want to maximize your benefits, turn isolation exercises into compound ones. For example, do biceps curls or overhead presses while you squat.
Make your muscles work harder when you do crunches by holding a weight. When you do squat jumps, hold a pair of light weights. Think about ways you can add resistance to exercises you normally do without resistance to make your body work harder. Wear a weight vest when you do a step workout or while doing push-ups for more resistance. Make sure you’ve mastered form first. Using resistance with poor form can lead to injury.
The Bottom Line
Pack more benefits into each and very workout with these seven tips. You’ll get better results for the time you put in.
Vigorous Versus Moderate-Intensity Exercise. Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
Men’s Health. “Should you eat carbs before a workout?”
Human Kinetics. “Dehydration and its effects on performance”Asker Jeukendrup and Micheal Gleeson.
Current and Potential Practices in Athletic Training “The Effects of Hydration on Athletic Performance” Meredith Decker. The California University of Pennsylvania. (2014)
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