By Mike Deibler
Time. It is our one resource that will run out. It is the one thing we cannot get back. We all have the same amount of time each day, yet some people seem to get everything checked off their list, while others run from one thing to the next until before they know it, the day is over.
With January upon us, we all have great ambitions to take on the world, make this year different, and get everything done this time. But the truth is, you probably won’t. You’re going to struggle and even fail. I’m not telling you this to prevent you from trying to reach your goals; I’m telling you this to remind you it is OK to fail. It is just another lesson learned.
But after a while, you’d better learn from that lesson instead of failing repeatedly without progress. With health and wealth being the biggest resolutions made each year, I’m getting ready for an influx of clients, each looking for help to reach their fitness goals.
Often my clients look at me and say, “It must be nice to have the time to get your workouts in and properly prep your food.” Doesn’t that phrase drive you crazy? “It must be nice . . .” Someone else is just assuming that you didn’t have to work hard and plan for your success. That it just came to you.
I have two children, five and two years old. That alone should tell you much of my time is already spoken for. On top of being a parent and husband, I own and operate a business, travel around the country speaking at fitness conferences, consult, and in my “spare time” teach as an adjunct professor at a community college.
I’m not telling you this to complain. I just want you to know that I get it. Time is minimal, and you want to get a million things done. If you are reading this, your workouts and training are important to you, but sometimes it seems impossible to fit in everything you need to do.
If you are training for a Spartan race, you need to do your long runs, interval runs, strength workouts, grip improvement, and obstacle skill sessions. This can be a full-time job, and may be for some people who can afford it.
But most people, like me, have a lot of other important things to focus on, and sometimes we have to sacrifice something. While it is important to trim the fat and get rid of nonessential things from your life, you can still see drastic improvements with minimal training. You must learn the best ways to be efficient.
I have put together a few tips and strategies to help you train more efficiently without sacrificing the results you expect from your training.
1. Put a bull’s-eye on your weaknesses
I get it. You love working on what you are good at. We all do. But don’t forget that your weaknesses are what hold you back, not your strengths. Sometimes we spend too much time on what we are already good at. It took me too long to figure this out. I loved training for obstacles. I especially enjoyed grip-focused and hanging obstacles, since those were my strengths. I never have issues with rigs or monkey bars, and to this date I have never failed the twister or any other obstacle in this category. So why was I spending all my time trying to improve what I was already good at? My weakness was running, and when I finally admitted this and cut down on grip training and picked up my running, I saw the biggest improvements in my performance. I’m not saying to ignore your strength. Keep training it, but cut back to open time for what you struggle the most with. If you aren’t sure, going through an assessment or working with a coach to determine where you need to focus your efforts is of the utmost importance. You’d be amazed how much time this can save you.
2. Find your workouts anywhere
Workouts don’t always have to be planned, they don’t have to be in a gym, and they don’t have to be long. In fact, don’t think of it as working out. Think of it as practice. You can practice things whenever you have a minute or two. Even just a few seconds. What if every morning when you step out of bed, you drop to the floor and do 10 push-ups? Sure, it isn’t going to change everything, but you are establishing a great habit. If all else failed that day and you didn’t get a chance to work out, you at least did something positive. And usually starting the day with something active leads to more activity throughout the day. Have a pull-up bar in your home? Every time you walk by it, do one pull-up or hang for 30 seconds. Again, doing this once isn’t going to do much, but if you do it a few times a day it adds up. All of a sudden you can crank out 10 pull-ups without breaking a sweat! Maybe you are stuck at work all day and can’t do some of these things. Park as far away from your office as you can, or better yet, ride your bike to work. Use the stairs whenever possible. And keep a grip ball at your desk to squeeze throughout the day. It is a terrific way to deal with stressful coworkers, but better yet, you are constantly improving your grip. Combine that with your bike to the office and run up the stairs, and these things can add up.
3. Get creative with shorter workouts.
Are you stuck in the mind-set that it must be a 60-minute workout or it doesn’t matter? We can list tons of research articles, like the Tabata study, that show just a few minutes of intense training can lead to some of the same benefits of long duration training. You just need to be creative with setting up your efficient workouts. You can try an every minute on the minute–style workout (EMOM). Here is one that I often use when I only have a few minutes to work out. Pick three exercises. Start a timer. The first round, you perform two reps of each exercise. You have one minute to complete. If you finish early, rest for the remainder of the minute. At the start of the next minute, add two reps. Repeat this until you cannot complete the circuit in that minute. Try these exercises to try it out. Kettlebell squat high pull, push-ups, and TRX rows. See if you can make it more than 10 minutes. Another efficient workout that will push you is just setting a timer for however many minutes you have free. Have 10 minutes to spare for a workout? Pick four exercises, perform eight reps of each, and see how many rounds you can get through in 10 minutes. They sound simple, but you won’t believe how long 10 minutes can feel.
4. Trim the fat.
You can probably cut back or eliminate things from your workout to save you even more time. Focus on the fundamentals and the big movement patterns. When you train this way, you can eliminate most isolation movements. Sure, bicep exercises feel great and make your shirt a little tighter, but is that the most important part of your training? I hope not, but if your sole purpose is bigger arms, then just cut out the rest of your body and you will have a super-short workout that can still be effective. A study back in 2000 from Ball State University showed that when they added bicep curls and triceps extensions to a workout of compound lifts, they saw no additional improvement in size or strength of the arms. Stick to the big patterns of squatting, lifting, pushing, and pulling. Those will cover all the muscles that you need.
5. Time yourself to stay on track.
To finish up, we combine trimming the fat with timing your workouts. Have you ever tracked how much of your workout time you spend just standing around or talking? Sure, there is a point to resting, but 30–60 seconds is more than enough time to rest for your next set. And if you combine two non-competing exercises, like a squat and a push-up, you can reduce your rest even more. To make the most out of your workout with little to no wasted time, try escalating density training. Here you will pick two non-competing exercises. You will perform five reps of each using roughly 10-rep max weight. Set a timer for 5–10 minutes and see how many rounds you can get. Since you are using your lighter weight and non-competing exercises, you won’t need much rest and can keep a pace back and forth. Once you finish the set, rest for one to two minutes and repeat with a new set of exercises. You can do this for as many supersets as you can fit in, but I usually will go for three supersets for a total of six exercises. If you did five-minute sets with two minutes of rest between, you would finish a total body workout in just 19 minutes. That’s efficient!
Hopefully these give you just a few ideas on ways to be more efficient yet still get an incredible workout. This can be your whole training plan if you can’t seem to find the time for more, or try it when you are in a time crunch and don’t want to completely miss out.
Mike Deibler is an SGX coach and hosts the OCR Underground podcast.
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