You don’t need to invest hours at the gym to get a great workout. You just need to know the fastest way to get the results you wantBy: Alyssa Wells
Get more results in less time! Sounds like an empty infomercial promise. But the fact is, you’re probably wasting time during your workout, and if a busy schedule is your excuse for skipping the gym, we’ve got news for you: Getting fit doesn’t have to be a total time suck. The following shortcuts from BJ Gaddour, CSCS, a cocreator of Workout Muse, will help you cut the fat from your workout without compromising its fat-burning effects. So saddle up, slowpoke. Here’s how you can maximize results in a flash.
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Instead: Simplify your workout with complexes
You burn more time than calories switching to machines, swapping out equipment, and waiting for the guy who last used the leg press to wipe his sweat off the seat. Quit juggling gym gear and streamline your workout with complexes, a series of exercises performed back-to-back using the same training tool. Here’s how: Perform 30 seconds of dumbbell rows, 30 seconds of shoulder presses, and 30 seconds of squats one after the other without resting between moves. When you complete the third move, rest for 30 seconds and start it all over again for up to five cycles. “It’s a 10-minute total-body fat blast that even the busiest person can fit into his or her schedule,” says Gaddour.
Using one piece of equipment, like dumbbells or resistance bands, to work your total body also makes it easier to perform high-intensity intervals that hike your heart rate, torch calories, and boost metabolism, says Gaddour. “You want to pick a tool that allows you to move seamlessly from one exercise to the next without rest or needing to reset.”
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Trainer Tip: Perform the hardest moves first. “Because you’re using the same load throughout—you can’t set it down and you can’t swap it out—you have to select a weight that allows you to perform with perfect form through your weakest movements,” says Gaddour.
Instead: Use supersets to alternate between noncompetitive exercises
Doing straight sets means you are performing multiple sets of the same exercise in succession before moving on to the next move, which wastes time as you rest that body part after each set. With supersets, you perform one set of each exercise in succession before moving on to the next set of each. Because each exercise in the superset challenges a different body part, you can move immediately from one exercise to the next without rest. For example, a set of an upper-body move like a shoulder press can immediately be followed by a lower-body exercise like a lunge. “Using different areas of the body allows you to bypass the rest period while keeping the intensity just as high as you would during straight sets,” says Gaddour.
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Instead: Use kettlebell swings to save time (and your joints)
Great news for the weak kneed: You don’t have to restrict yourself to running to get a cardio workout. A 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that only 12 minutes of continuous kettlebell swings could significantly improve cardiovascular fitness. What’s more, it does so without the plyometric impact of running. “Swings are a great low impact alternative to running, which can really take a toll on your joints,” says Gaddour. “Swings also work your entire posterior chain, including your hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors, which have a massive impact on your metabolism.” This is a stark contrast to typical cardio exercises like running or cycling, which are much more quad- and knee-dominant in nature. “We could all use more work on our backsides,” says Gaddour. “Hip power and lower-back endurance are critical to optimal health and performance.” Gaddour recommends that women using kettlebells for the first time grab one that’s 8 kg (17 pounds) and that men use 12 kg (26 pounds) bells.
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If you don’t have kettlebells at your disposal, you can still get a quick, effective cardio workout without resorting to a 45-minute run. Gaddour recommends following the Tabata method, a 4-minute, high-intensity interval training protocol that requires the exerciser to perform 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight consecutive rounds. Gaddour recommends exercises like squats, pushups, and mountain climbers for first timers. “You’ll burn more fat and see greater fitness improvements than you would from 60 minutes of aerobic training,” says Gaddour. But the key to training this way is to maximize intensity; if you don’t push yourself for 20 seconds you won’t experience the results. “You should be able to do only 10 repetitions of an exercise for every 20-second work period,” says Gaddour. “If you’re able to do a lot more than that, the load is too light or the exercise is too easy. If you’re getting in a lot fewer than 10 reps, the weights are too heavy or you don’t yet have the fitness level required to train this way.”
Instead: Cut your gym time with compound exercises
Why target just one muscle when you can work two or more at once? When time is tight, ditch isolation movements and focus on compound, multijoint exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, pushups, and pullups. “These moves collectively work every muscle in your body,” says Gaddour.
What’s more, according to a Ball State University study, isolation exercises may not provide additional fitness benefits in terms of arm strength and muscle growth. The study divided participants into two groups: Group 1 performed four compound upper-body exercises during each workout. Group 2 performed a workout consisting of the same four compound moves as well as biceps curls and triceps extensions. Despite the addition of isolated arm moves, after 10 weeks of training, group 2 experienced no more gains in strength or arm circumference than the group 1 counterparts. “Since they both achieved the same results, it appears that single-joint, isolation exercises have minimal if any benefit,” says Gaddour. “The bottom line is, choose movements that involve as many muscles as possible so you don’t have to live at the gym.”
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Trainer Tip: Supercharge compound exercises by combining them. Instead of performing a pushup, complete a pushup burpee. Add an overhead press to your dumbbell squat, a biceps curl to your lunge, and a hip hinge to your row. “These combination exercises activate more muscle fibers, providing a greater fat-burning and muscle-building stimulus for every minute you workout,” says Gaddour. “It significantly cuts down your total training time.”
Instead: Take 10 minutes and boost your metabolism
A 10-minute workout can provide you with the same metabolism-boosting benefits as a 30-minute workout. A recent study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that performing 1 set of a 10-exercise resistance training circuit results in the same postworkout after-burn that you get from performing 3 sets. Both groups of exercisers experienced the same metabolic boost following exercise—burning an additional 100 calories per day at rest—revealing that intensity, not volume, determines after-burn.
While exercisers who performed 3 sets did experience greater calorie burn during the actual workout, the significant calorie-torching impact of a 10-minute workout shouldn’t be overlooked. “The additional burn achieved during exercise is a couple of hundred calories—and that’s [the equivalent of] a doughnut,” says Gaddour. “If you eat well, the extra calories you burn during a 30-minute workout versus a 10-minute workout isn’t as important as the stimulus to build muscles and the metabolic boost that allows you to burn more calories at rest.” A short workout now goes a long way later.
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Instead: Work your whole body during every session
Devoting an entire gym session to a single body part once a week isn’t going to give you the returns you want—and won’t shave any time off your workout. In a study from the University of Alabama, researchers had two groups of men perform two different strength-training programs with the same total training volume (equal sets and reps) for each muscle group. One group split the work across three total-body workouts, while the other group trained each muscle group separately once a week. At the conclusion of the study, the group performing total-body workouts gained 5 pounds of lean muscle compared with their body-part training counterparts. “Working your entire body each workout will torch more calories and accelerate metabolism and fat-loss results,” says Gaddour.
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Instead: Combine rest and recovery
“Active recovery” might sound like an oxymoron, but it can save you serious time in the gym. Rather than lounging after completing a set, use a foam roller on your muscles or stretch tight muscle groups to significantly cut down your postworkout needs, says Gaddour. “After a set of lunges, for example, use a foam roller on your thighs, and stretch your quads and hip flexors to regenerate damaged muscle tissue and open up your hips. This way, when your workout is done, you can skip the cool-down and go straight to the shower.”
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