How to Make Your Workouts More Efficient
As a personal trainer, I hear it all the time: "I'm taking three fitness classes a day, five days a week, eating right, and still not seeing results." Each time I hear this, my response is the same: "You're doing it wrong." First of all, if you are taking three classes a day, five days a week, I'm extremely envious; where do you get all of that free time to devote to exercise? Secondly, stop spending so much time working out and start working out smarter and more efficiently. There is no way the average human body can handle three hours of appropriately intense and smart exercise day-after-day without keeling over or becoming injured. (Unless you're an elite athlete, and then that's a different story). But, for the average human, if you utilize your time efficiently, forty-five minutes to an hour a day, 4-6 days a week, along with a clean diet is enough to yield results.
So, what exactly does "efficient" mean when it comes to working out? When you are performing an exercise, make sure that you are truly engaged in that task and doing it properly. If, for example, you are doing squats, check in with yourself. Are you getting down low enough? Are you engaging the glutes (that's trainer speak for "squeezing the butt") on the way up? Are your lower abs hugging your spine? Is your chest up and are your shoulders back? If not, you are selling yourself short and likely not seeing the results you'd like to.
It's incredibly easy to "phone it in" when you are in a class of twenty or thirty people, even if the activity is meant to be intense, like spinning or bootcamp. With that many people, the trainer likely doesn't have enough time to correct every single person's form. That's why it's up to YOU to ensure you are getting the most out of each exercise. The trainer is there to guide you, but ultimately you are the one showing up for yourself. "You can lead a horse to water..." I see people exhibiting improper form all the time in group fitness classes, and usually they are not even aware that they are working inefficiently. If this sounds like you, and you are unsure if you are doing an exercise right, I encourage you to pull the instructor aside (if they have a minute before or after class) to get a quick adjustment. Or you could ask a fit friend who knows what they're doing. You can even consult Youtube. Another option is to treat yourself to a few one-on-one sessions with a certified trainer to learn proper form and the specific movement patterns you may need to work on (we all have 'em!). Exercising properly greatly enhances body self-awareness, but you want to make sure you are utilizing correct form, otherwise you are just establishing poor habits and may end up injured.
Another area that may need addressed is your cardio intensity. Are you pushing yourself hard enough during cardio boosts? My general rule of thumb when I work with a client is this: if I'm having you do an exercise for a short burst of time, usually 30 seconds, you should be exerting yourself as hard as possible during that time. In a class setting, you can use the Talk Test: see whether or not you can utter a full sentence at the end of the 30 seconds. If you can, you're not pushing yourself hard enough. In a class that's primarily cardio-based, such as spinning, where you will be playing with different cardio levels, I encourage you to challenge yourself. If the instructor says to crank it up to a higher resistance, really try to push your limits. Remember that you can always lower the intensity if you need to, but remember also that change happens, both to our bodies and minds, when we work outside of our comfort zones. So try getting a little uncomfortable!
The bottom line is this: if you work on really giving it your all during your workout, and push your limits a little further each time, you will, as long as your diet is in good shape, see the fruits of your labor. Remember: it's about working smarter, and maybe just a little bit harder, but not necessarily longer. Make your workouts efficient and they will become effective.