Hectic lives full of long workdays, dinner plans, and trying to do laundry means fitting in fitness is hard enough. So if we’re headed to the gym, we might as well make the most of it. Whether it’s training the whole body at once or working out with a friend, here are 17 ways to be more productive at the gym.
Your Action Plan
1. Dodge distractions.
"I’m doing a push-up… Can I call you back?" Yeah, right. Smartphones, smartwatches, and anything else that buzzes or dings can be big time sucks. Avoid texts, calls, and Snapchat by putting your phone on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode.
2. Avoid rush hour.
Try going to the gym during off-peak hours to steer clear of crowds and avoid waiting for equipment. Extra points for going midday to stay productive all day long!
3. Know where to go.
If you’re unfamiliar with the gym, plan to spend a little extra time during your first visit so you can scope out the scene. Figure out where all the equipment is so you’re not running in circles looking for the kettlebells.
4. Download an app.
5. Turn on the tunes.
Studies show listening to music while working out can help people work out harder, better, faster, and stronger. Effects of music during exercise in different training status. Baldari C, Macone D, Bonavolontà V. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 2011, Apr.;50(3):0022-4707. Music and light during indoor cycling. Shaulov N, Lufi D. Perceptual and motor skills, 2009, Jul.;108(2):0031-5125. The characteristics and effects of motivational music in exercise settings: the possible influence of gender, age, frequency of attendance, and time of attendance. Priest DL, Karageorghis CI, Sharp NC. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 2004, Aug.;44(1):0022-4707. Pro tip: Keep one mega-upbeat song on your playlist as a go-to for those especially tough workout moments when you need an extra push.
6. Set a goal.
Plan your gym goals before arriving. It's easy to get distracted and feel overwhelmed when you hit a crowded floor, but if you've already jotted a few notes, you'll know to head immediately to the mats, treadmills, or free weights. Take it a step further by writing down the number of reps, sets, or even a specific workout to avoid cutting corners halfway through.
7. Stay hydrated.
Water doesn’t only hydrate—it can fight fatigue too. Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance. Von Duvillard SP, Braun WA, Markofski M. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 2005, Mar.;20(7-8):0899-9007. Two hours prior to your workout, try to drink 17 to 20 ounces of water. During your workout, drink seven to 10 ounces about every 20 minutes.
8. Fuel up.
Though studies have shown benefits to working out on an empty stomach, it's always best to follow your gut—literally. Fueling before a workout also provides sustained energy so you can push harder. Try a pre-workout snack like an apple and peanut butter or a protein smoothie. In general, stick to something that's high in carbs and low in fat and fiber to minimize digestive issues.
9. Time your rest.
Stay aware of the clock ticking between intervals or sets. That 60-second recovery can easily turn into three or four minutes if you're not paying attention. Try using a timer on your phone or an interval app to keep rest consistent.
10. Do supersets.
11. Up the resistance.
To avoid plateaus, switch up your intensity and reps on a regular basis. Upping the amount of weight you're lifting will build muscle and burn fat (and no, ladies, it won't make you bulky). In general, once you can do eight to 12 reps at a particular weight, increase the weight by 5 percent. Once you can do 12 reps, increase again.
12. Take a class.
If you're constantly hitting the gym by yourself, you can get stuck in a rut fast. Signing up for a class—whether it's spinning, yoga, or a mix of cardio and strength—can spice things up and help push you to a new level. Bonuses: A definite start and end time, help from an instructor, and accountability.
13. Pick a partner.
BYOF to the gym. Not only can friends help increase your accountability, but we're pretty sure exercising together is a lot more fun than going solo. The same holds true for couples: Studies have shown couples have a strong influence over each other's healthy behaviors and that sticking to a healthy goal is easier when a partner is in on it too. Try these exercises and work out side by side.
14. Try Tabata or interval training.
Short on time? High-intensity interval training like Tabata can burn fat fast. You'll push hard, recover, then repeat in an effort to spike your heart rate and maximize caloric burn. High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. Boutcher SH. Journal of obesity, 2010, Nov.;2011():2090-0716. Yes, it's hard, but you'll be finished in half the time.
15. Choose moves that target multiple muscle groups.
We're not saying there's something wrong with classic bicep curls or leg extension machines—but if you're looking to save time, there are more effective ways to hit all your major muscle groups. Multiple-step moves like—squats with an overhead press or lunges with a twist—target all over and will keep your workout from feeling too basic.
16. Run intervals.
17. Try a personal trainer.
To prevent any sort of slacking (we’ve all been there), sign up for a session with a trainer. Science suggests a personal trainer can motivate people to up the intensity at the gym. Additionally, trainers can help correct bad habits and will keep your routine fresh.