When we're insanely busy and in need of every ounce of energy we can muster, the very thing that fuels us is the first to get dropped from the to-do list: Exercise.
Luckily, there's a way to fit workouts into your already full schedule. It boils down to one simple principle: Get in and get out! By making every second at the gym count, you'll see results faster and have no excuse for skipping those important sweat sessions. Here's a plan to get you started:
COME UP WITH A STRATEGY
Without one, workout time becomes wasted time. Figure out what equipment you need before you start, says Ed Scow, a certified personal trainer in Lincoln, Nebraska. Grab what you need-dumbbells, stability ball, bands-and put them near a mat or adjustable bench so you can do your entire workout in one place. "You won't expend time wandering from machine to machine or waiting in line," Scow says. "And by creating your own personal space at the gym, you maximize your intensity and efficiency, keeping your heart rate and metabolism up the entire time by moving right from one exercise to the next."
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SWAP THIS FOR THAT
If you usually focus on exercises that work only a single muscle or muscle group (think: calf raises, leg extensions, and crunches), save time by replacing them with compound movements like squats, lunges, and pushups, which work more muscles at once. "Targeting larger muscle groups burns more calories and gives you a total-body workout in less time," says certified personal trainer Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Baltimore.
By minimizing your downtime between moves, you maximize the fat-burning impact of your workout. Do it with supersets: Alternate sets of an upper-body exercise with sets of a lower-body exercise with very little (or zero!) rest. "Supersets accomplish more work in a shorter period of time without compromising the effort of each set," says personal trainer Bill Hartman, co-owner of Indianapolis Sports and Fitness. When you do rest, make the most of it by doing stretches rather than saving them for the end.
TIME YOUR CARDIO RIGHT
Doing cardio before resistance training zaps strength and energy levels fast, so save it for the end of your routine. And if you're running out of time, don't worry about the clock, just go harder. "You'll improve your conditioning more by running at a higher intensity for 15 minutes than with a slow 30-minute jog," Hartman says.
THE 2-For-1 WORKOUT
Each "dynamic duo" below is a combo of two moves that together work as a superset. Start with this sequence and complete each exercise (six to 10 reps of each), resting for 60 to 90 seconds after finishing both sides. Repeat for a total of two sets per duo. Really strapped for time? Pick any duo and perform three sets of each move without rest.
Double-Duty Cardio Drill
This deceptively simple cardio drill will raise your heart rate and incinerate calories. Find 30 feet of open space and place three markers in a line, each 15 feet away from the other. Straddle the middle marker, then sprint to your right and touch the marker with your right hand. Immediately turn and sprint back to your left for 30 feet and touch the marker with your left hand; turn once more and sprint back to your starting point. That's one rep (it should take five to seven seconds). Rest for 25 seconds, and on your next rep, go to your left side first. Continue this pattern until you complete 10 reps.
Dynamic Duo 1: SUM SQUAT AND CURL
Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart, toes turned out, and hold a pair of dumbbells between your knees. This is the start. Bending at your knees, lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push yourself back up as you curl the weights up to your shoulders. Return to start. That's one rep.
Dynamic Duo 2: THTRUSTER
Hold a pair of dumbbells just above your shoulders. Bend your knees into a squat, with your thighs parallel to the floor. Push yourself up, pressing the weights straight up as you stand. Pause, then lower them to your shoulders. That's one rep.
Dynamic Duo 3: DEADLIFT AND BENT-OVER ROW COMBO
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells at your thighs. Keep your knees slightly bent as you bend at the waist until your torso is parallel to the floor. Pause, then pull the weights up toward your rib cage. Lower them, press back on your heels, and stand. That's one rep.
Dynamic Duo 4: STEP-UP AND SINGLE-ARM PRESS
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your upper arm parallel to the floor and place your left foot on a step or bench. Lift yourself onto the step as you press the weight over your shoulder. Lower both back to the starting position. That's one rep. Finish all the reps with your left leg, then repeat with your right.
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