Last week, I shared a tip about building more muscle, more quickly by slowing down the speed of the movements you use when doing strength training. I referred to this idea as “TUT”; time under tension. In other words, the longer you hold the contraction of a muscle, the more work it does and the stronger and more toned it becomes. While you are actually slowing down your movements, you’ll be speeding up your gains. This week, I’d like to focus on the idea of exercising more efficiently.
Efficiency is defined as the ability to produce something of value with a minimum amount of energy, effort, time or resource. The way that I look at it is that if what you are doing is anything other than a hobby that you love lingering over, take steps to ensure that you get the most “bang for your buck”.
When it comes to exercise, one of the most frequent excuses that you’ll hear people make about not doing it is that they just don’t have the time for it. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that EVERYONE has the time to at least make themselves a little bit fitter and stronger. We might not all have the time to become world-class athletes, but, we definitely have some time to devote to our physical, mental and spiritual health.
In my Top 10 list of back to basics fitness tips, I stated that training efficiency is more important than training volume. When I first learned of this concept and then put it into practice, it literally changed my life and the lives of my clients. Perhaps the most prevalent myth about exercise is that it takes lots of time to see results. For the overwhelming majority of us, this just simply isn’t the case. Granted, if you are preparing for a triathlon this might be a reality, but, for most fitness goals, exercise does not have to take over your life.
Here are 5 things to consider when trying to become more efficient;
- Train with a plan. I have found that when I have very little time to exercise, it is even more important to take a couple of minutes to plan what I’ll be doing. Even if this means taking two minutes to write an exercise sequence when you only have 15- 20 minutes to train! Nothing makes a workout less efficient than wandering around thinking about what to do next without any direction.
- Keep your work space clean. If you are exercising at home these days and you have to move dirty laundry or shift boxes of files or even search for your resistance bands under the couch, there’s a good chance you’ll skip more days than you actually do working out. Efficiency means that every minute has meaning; searching, moving and cleaning before getting to work is simply not efficient. Quality professionals leave clean, organized desks at the end of their work days; do the same with your designated exercise space.
- Warm up with purpose. While there is nothing inherently wrong with walking for 10+ minutes on a treadmill (or peddling on an exercise bike) as your warmup, you can consider this time spent as “junk volume”. Aside from bringing your heart rate up (maybe), it’s not really doing anything to get you ready to work your body with intention. A more meaningful, efficient, way to warmup would be to go through a series of dynamic movements that mimic some of the exercises that you’ll be performing in your workout. Medicine ball chopping movements and leg and arm swings are great ways to warmup as you’ll be building muscle endurance and core stability at the same time that you raise your heart rate and break a sweat in anticipation of the challenge to come.
- Use active recovery. Rather than simply standing around and resting until the next set in your routine, do a low intensity exercise that complements what you’re main focus is for the day. For example; you can do body weight squats for 45 seconds in between sets of pushups or chest presses to create workout “flow”.
Push to “fatigue” or relative failure. If you are trying to get stronger or fitter, at some point you have to do more than what you previously did. When you are lifting weights, you should reach a point where you can’t do any more repetitions between 10 and 20. For safety, get to a point where you feel like you might be able to do 2 more reps (no more) and then put your weights down. If you stop at a point where you could go on for another 5, 10 or more the weight you are lifting is not heavy enough to build strength or muscle tone. Simply going through the motions is not efficient