Are you spending hours a day at the gym but feel like you’re not seeing progress?
That can be a helpless feeling, but the truth is you shouldn’t be spending so much time on training to begin with. If you’re spending tons of time in the gym yet seeing little to no results, you’re likely falling into the trap of “working harder” and not “working smarter.” Just because you perform a billion reps per workout doesn’t guarantee you gains. What really matters is the quality of your reps—not the total number of them.
By increasing the quality of your workouts, you can shorten your gym time and make bigger strides in your fitness. Apply these four methods to smarten up your workouts and kickstart your progress.
1. A Productive Warm-up Is Key
If you want real results, you need to train like an athlete. The best athletes take their warm-ups seriously and treat them as “mini” workouts in and of themselves. You can start by foam rolling for a few minutes. Then you can combine several movements that complement the workout to come. Try setting them up in a circuit, or start with bodyweight movements and slowly add weight over 3-4 rounds.
Sample Warm-up For a Workout With Back Squats
- 2-3-minute walk, run or bike to get blood flowing
- 20-Second bike sprint
- 10 bodyweight Squats
- 5 Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts on each leg with no weight
- 3 Inchworms
- 20-Second bike sprint
- 10 Squats with the bar
- 5 Single-Leg RDLs on each leg with very light weight
- 2 Inchworms
- 20-Second Bike Sprint
- 10 Squats with slightly more weight
- 5 Single-Leg RDLs with slightly more weight
- 1 Inchworm
At this point, your heart rate should be elevated, your blood should be pumping and your muscles should be warm and prepared for the work ahead. Take this format and change the movements depending on what the workout’s focus may be. The key is elevating the heart rate and activating/awakening many of the same muscle groups you’ll be using during the intense portions of that day’s workout. Dynamic movements such as High Knees or Butt Kickers can also be a great addition. If you make your warm-up count, you’ve already upgraded the quality of your gym session. And like I stated previously, you’re going to be burning calories and building muscle during this sort of warm-up, so it really is more appropriate to think of it as a mini workout.
2. Have a Plan Before You Step in The Gym
Whether you’re programming for yourself, following a program that you downloaded off the internet, or having a coach write your workouts for you (highly recommended for elite or competitive athletes), make sure you know from start to finish what you’re doing before you step inside the gym.
If you’re designing your own program, I recommend starting with step one and laying out the warm-up first. Next pick your complex multi-joint lifts for the day, like Power Cleans or Barbell Back Squats. Finally, choose the accessory work, conditioning or skill movements you’d like to include.
Having a plan will ultimately prevent unnecessarily wandering around the gym as you try to decide what to do next. A great coach would never come into a game without a game plan, and you should treat your time in the gym no differently. Having a plan gives you purpose and makes your workouts more efficient. Lay out your workout, get in the gym and get it done.
3. Stop Wasting Hours on the Treadmill
While we all agree something is better than nothing, logging a ton of mindless hours on the treadmill is about the least efficient way to spend time in the gym. Plodding along at a low-intensity for an extended period of time will slowly burn calories, but there are other ways you can get better results in shorter periods of time.
EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, is one way to get more bang for your buck.
According to the American Council on Exercise, EPOC is also known as oxygen debt, which refers to the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to a normal, resting level. EPOC can help you continue to burn calories long after you finish your workout as your body accounts for excess oxygen consumption, repairs muscles, stabilizes metabolism, etc.
However, it is important to note that EPOC is effected by the intensity of your exercise, not the duration. This means that shorter bouts of resistance training or high-intensity interval training is more likely to cause this extended calorie burning effect. This is why Crossfit, bootcamp and HIIT classes have experienced major growth in recent years.
Next time you’re looking to get some extra cardio in, try this workout instead of jogging or walking on the treadmill.
The HIIT Calorie-Crushing Workout
Perform 3-4 Rounds. Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds before moving to the next exercise. Intensity is key, so go hard during those 20 seconds while still retaining quality movement.
- Squat Jumps
- Bicycle Crunches
- Mountain Climbers
4. Prioritize Quality of Movement Above All Else
The bottom line is that you can walk into the gym, perform the same movement 100 or more times, and still leave with little to no improvement. As a coach, I see athletes get into this habit from time to time. While there is something to be said for showing up and doing something, simply going through the motions will not ultimately make you stronger or faster.
This applies to you whether you’re a bodybuilder, a CrossFitter, a sports athlete or a regular gym-goer. It doesn’t matter why you’re working out—making your repetitions count is the only way to see improvements.
Take a more complex movement like the Power Clean, for example. It’s a movement that is technical and easy to get wrong. Strong athletes will be able to walk in and perform this movement with ease until they hit a certain weight. At that point, sheer strength will no longer be able to compensate for poor technique and athletes will find themselves stuck until they can achieve the proper movement.
Sometimes, taking advantage of practicing the quality of the movement over training the movement is the best way to improve the quality of your workouts. Only when quality is present does adding quantity become truly beneficial.
Don’t let time in the gym become your limiting factor. It isn’t necessary to spend hours upon hours a day on your workouts. You just need to make the time you are training count. Consider your warm-up the first part of your workout, have a plan before you get there, make use of shorter, high-intensity cardio workouts and take the time to practice quality movement. Apply these four tips and you’ll see your workouts become quicker and more beneficial, ultimately leading to the success you’ve been searching for.
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