Everyone wants something out of their workouts, whether it’s feeling more energized or increasing strength and muscle mass. In order to get the results you’re after sooner rather than later, it’s not enough to just show up at the gym. You need to take some extra steps during your workout to meet your goals.
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If your fitness goals are centered around losing weight or building muscle, it is especially important for you to use your gym time wisely and make sure you’re not making mistakes that hinder your progress.
Listed below are four tips that will help you get the most out of your workouts, without adding a ton of extra time to your gym routine.
If you walk into the gym without a plan, you’re probably going to end up wasting time wandering from machine to machine, trying to construct a workout routine as you go. This is definitely not the most efficient (or effective) way to use your time. If you’re like most people, you have a limited amount of time to workout, and you can’t afford to walk in unprepared.
Not having a solid workout plan in place also makes your workouts less effective because you’re more likely to end up taking longer breaks in between exercises as you scramble to figure out what to do next.
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Taking too much time between exercises lowers your heart rate and decreases overall calorie burn. Of course, it’s not ideal to skip breaks altogether (your body does need time to recover, after all), but taking a long break to scroll through Instagram between each set is definitely not going to get you closer to your fitness goals.
try a 1:1 ratio, meaning your rest is equal in length to the amount of time you spent performing your last set
How long should you wait between exercises? The short answer is that it depends. More specifically, it depends on your goals and the type of exercise you’re doing .
If you’re purely focused on increasing strength (e.g., you’re a powerlifter lifting extremely heavy weights) you will generally need between three and five minutes of rest between sets. This is because your body needs more time to recover fully so that you can use the greatest amount of force during each set.
On the other hand, those who are focused on both increasing endurance and growing their muscles (hypertrophy) should decrease their rest times to 30 to 60 seconds between sets. You can also try a 1:1 ratio, meaning your rest is equal in length to the amount of time you spent performing your last set. This approach helps the body improve its ability to sustain muscle contractions over longer periods of time. It’s also been shown to increase levels of human growth hormone in many individuals .
Many athletes and active individuals have found that a dynamic warm-up helps the body recruit more muscles and move more easily during a workout. When you recruit more muscles, you increase your ability to use more power and get a more intense and effective workout. And, when your muscles and warm and joints are well-lubricated, you reduce your risk of injury.
Dynamic warm-ups are generally preferred over statistic stretching (holding one stretch for a longer period of time) before a workout. Some studies have shown that static stretching before a workout can actually increase your risk of injury .
Some exercises that you might do as part of a dynamic warmup include:
- Hip Swings
- Walking lunges or side lunges
- Glute bridges
More than ever before, athletes are starting to incorporate resistance bands into their warm-ups and workouts. They’re helpful during warm-ups to mimic movements that will later be done with weights, and they also add an extra challenge to traditional strength training exercises like squats or hip thrusts. In particular, resistance bands challenge your balance and require you to engage your core more than you would otherwise to help you stay stable during workouts.
Resistance bands are lightweight and feature a variety of tension options, so you can upgrade to a more difficult option when one gets too easy. It’s also easy to double them (use two or more at the same time) when you need even more of a challenge.
Many people also like resistance bands because they’re very portable and easy to carry with them when traveling. Once you find the best resistance bands for you, you can take them with you wherever you go, so you never have an excuse for missing a workout.
Pre and post-workout nutrition are essential if you want to get the most out of your workouts. How you fuel your body before and after your workout especially matters if you’re interested in building muscle.
Many athletes understand the importance of consuming protein before and after a workout — that’s why protein shakes and bars are so popular . What a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that carbohydrates are just as, if not more important. Simple carbohydrates found in foods like fruit and rice cakes are ideal for providing energy before a workout because they’re easier to digest.
Carbohydrates are also important to consume after a workout, as they help you stay energized for the rest of the day. They also promote insulin production, which some researchers suggest can help your body more effectively build muscle .
Large quantities of fat should generally be avoided before and after a workout . Fat is digested more slowly than carbohydrates and protein, so it can make you feel weighed down and sluggish. After a workout, consuming too much fat can also hinder your body’s ability to process carbohydrates and protein as quickly as it would be able to otherwise.
Going into the gym with a plan, doing a dynamic warm-up, finding ways to add extra resistance, and fueling your body properly are all helpful in getting more bang for your buck when it comes to working out. Long-lasting results will only be products of long-lasting effort—though short term, easy, efforts can help make your long term workout routines more effective as a whole. Sometimes, it’s the little things that build into the greatest forces of all!
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- Simic, L, et al. “Does Pre-Exercise Static Stretching Inhibit Maximal Muscular Performance? A Meta-Analytical Review.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22316148.
- Reidy, Paul T., et al. “Protein Blend Ingestion Following Resistance Exercise Promotes Human Muscle Protein Synthesis.” The Journal of Nutrition, American Society for Nutrition, Apr. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738242/.
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- Hargreaves, M, et al. “Pre-Exercise Carbohydrate and Fat Ingestion: Effects on Metabolism and Performance.” Journal of Sports Sciences., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14971431.