How Long Should I Spend in the Gym?
Do you typically spend more than an hour at the gym?
What if I told you that an hour is way too long to be working out?
Busy professionals do not have a lot of free time on their hands. That’s why it’s important to develop efficient workouts that can be done quickly.
Here are 9 simple workout hacks to shorten your workout and spend less time in the gym.
Welcome to the third installment of the WCT Time Hack Series- where we teach you practical strategies that you can implement into your busy schedule to save time and increase your fitness.
- In Part 1, How To Eat 6 Meals A Day (Even With A Busy Schedule) we go over 5 practical ways to increase your nutrient intake during a busy day.
- In Part 2, Healthy Meal Prep Basics: A Step By Step Guide For Busy Individuals, we break down the strategies we use to always have healthy meals prepared for ourselves on a weekly basis. The beauty is, it doesn’t take much time at all.
Let’s get started.
Although we are doctors and personal trainers, we are not your doctors. The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary activities are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any damage or injury which may occur. Please read our full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning we may receive a commission if you use them.
Okay, let’s get started.
Why It’s Important To Make Your Workout Efficient
The biggest roadblock to improving your fitness is time.
Everyone feels like they don’t have enough time to accomplish all of their tasks on a daily basis. This is especially true if you work 60-80 hours a week.
Taking time out of your day to exercise is no easy task. There simply isn’t a lot of free time when you have an 80 hour workweek.
What if I told you that you can shorten your workout and achieve great results in just 30-35 minutes a day? In addition, knowing that your workout session will only last 30 minutes makes the anticipation of going to the gym much more palatable and self-motivating.
I know what you’re thinking, how can you possibly get a meaningful training session in 30 minutes?
It starts with using these 9 workout hacks.
Workout Hack #1. Stop Talking
One of the biggest mistakes I see people making at the gym is wasting time.
Far too often, there are many individuals at the gym chatting with their friends, discussing the latest TV show, last night’s sporting event, or worst of all, politics.
They are doing everything except what they are supposed to be doing during this sacred time, which is making themselves better.
It’s like the gym has become a social hour and the local hang out for many people.
The gym is not a pub. You should be there for one reason only!
Do not get into the habit of making conversation during your rest breaks either.
Your rest periods should be anywhere from 90 seconds to 3 minutes maximum. You’ll be shocked at how quickly three minutes can go by when you are chatting it up.
Don’t be afraid to tell your friends that you are on the clock and that you cannot chat. Put on some headphones and get to work.
The same is true for training partners. If you are fortunate enough to have someone to go to the gym with you, just make sure that person is coming for the right reason. Far too often, I see training partners hindering a workout because they feel the need to just gossip the entire time.
Go to the gym with a purpose, stop wasting your time and everyone else’s.
Workout Hack #2. Put Your Phone Down
Another common mistake people make at the gym is being glued to their phones.
If it’s not wasting time dilly-dallying with friends at the gym, it’s with their virtual friends on the phone.
I’ve seen people start a long-winded conversation in the middle of their workout, and chat throughout my entire training session. I’ve also seen people going back-and-forth sending text messages for 10 minutes straight!
This is a major distraction and significantly increases the time that you are spending at the gym.
And please, stop going to the gym for the sole purpose of taking a selfie, and then posting it on social media. Somehow its become more important to pretend that you are working out, rather than actually working out.
Put your phone away once and for all. The only exception is for hacks #7 and #8 below.
(It should go without saying that you should always have your phone with you in the case of an emergency, but stop checking your emails and chatting when you are exercising.)
Workout Hack #3. Be Strategic with the Exercises You Perform First
When it comes to actual program design, it is important to put the most important and the most difficult exercises first.
This way you are prioritizing the highest yield exercises and concentrating on the movements that will give you the biggest return on your investment.
If you have to cut your workout even shorter than 30 minutes, at least you focused on the majors and NOT the minors.
Don’t go to the gym to perform bicep curls and then leave.
The exercises that should be done first in your program are the large compound functional exercises that mimic real-world movements. These include squats, deadlifts, presses and cleans.
Check out The Best Workout Template for Busy Professionals to find a good example of a program that focuses on using only the most important exercises.
This brings us to the next point.
Workout Hack #4. Only Use The Most Effective Exercises
When designing your training program, use as many compound exercises as possible. This way you are training multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This will decrease the total number of exercises you need to do on a given day.
Major compound exercises train 3 or 4 muscles while minor compound exercises train 1-2 muscle groups at once.
Minimize strict isolation exercises, the ones that only train one muscle group at a time, such as bicep curls, leg extensions, and tricep extensions.
(While biceps look good, they won’t save you time nor improve your fitness)
Use isolation exercises only if you still have time at the end of your workout, and you want to get a bicep pump.
Workout Hack #5. Super- Set Secondary Exercises
The next thing that you can do when it comes to program design and efficiency is what the fitness industry calls super-sets.
Supersets are a combination of two exercises that are done in sequence- one right after the other, instead of performing multiple sets of one exercise before moving on to the next.
Supersets save time because you can train the second exercise while you are resting the muscles of the first. This will minimize the overall rest periods that you need to take.
Obviously, it is best to super-set exercises that do not interfere with each other. For example, a bad superset would be pull-ups and lat pull downs.
A good example is a squat variation immediately followed by a press.
Goblet Squat and Dumbbell Overhead Press
One strategy is to perform one major exercise per day, followed by super-setting the remainder of the minor exercises for the day.
Another strategy is to perform multiple circuits of supersets as your entire training session.
Workout Hack #6. Minimize the Use of Unilateral Exercises
On the same note, minimize the number of exercises that require you to train one side of the body individually. This is especially true on the upper body exercises. While they provide functionality, they significantly increase the amount of time per exercise.
For example It is better to use machine cable rows or pendlay barbell rows instead of single arm dumbbell rows.
And please, don’t ever do a tricep kickback ever again. It’s one of the 9 Horrible Exercises You Should Never Do.
The only exception is unilateral single-leg training. Single leg exercises are very beneficial as they often portray real-life body positions, and they strengthen your core muscles simultaneously.
Here are some examples:
* Step Up
Workout Hack #7. Use Time Restrictions on Your Exercises
Another useful technique that you can implement to speed up your workout is a time restriction. This means putting a strict time limit for each exercise(s) that you are performing.
For example, you should only spend 15 minutes per exercise. Once the timer goes off, you must move on to the next exercise.
Disclaimer: This advice does not apply to someone trying to compete at a high level.
For the general population trying to improve their health and fitness, 15 minutes per exercise will be sufficient.
*This is one of those times where using your phone is legitimate.*
Workout Hack #8. Use Time Restrictions on Your Rest Periods
In addition, it is important to set a timer for the rest periods you are taking in between each set. You should take no longer than 1.5 to 3 minute rest periods in between each set.
The heavier the weight, the longer the rest period. The more intense the exercise, the longer the rest period.
Studies have also shown that muscle growth (aka hypertrophy) can be stimulated from taking shorter rest periods.
Ensure that you enforce these time limits. Your body will become more efficient and perform more work in less time.
Workout Hack #9. HIIT It
If all else fails, you can utilize High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to spend even less time at the gym.
We have already discussed the many benefits of HIIT, as well as a few methods of implementing it at A Superior Form Of Cardio For Weight Loss [The 15 Minute Workout].
Basically, it involves using different types of exercises in a very quick, intense manner with minimal rest periods.
The beauty of it all is that HIIT sessions could be done in as little as 10 minutes a day!
If you enjoy HIIT style workouts, 3x a week could be sufficient in achieving significant improvements in your overall health and fitness.
At the minimum, incorporate one HIIT session per week if you are really short on time.
The Bottom Line on Spending Less Time In the Gym
So there you have it.
These are the tips and tricks that we have successfully used to train for 30 minutes every day, despite working 16-hour workdays and 80 hour work weeks.
Workouts do not need to be an hour long. It is perfectly reasonable to get a great training session in 30 minutes.
This is why we created the WCT Strength Program For Busy People. It is a dedicated ready-made exercise template you can use to work out in just 30 minutes a day.
Do not get into the trap of spending countless time in the gym in an effort to get fit.
Be smart, train smart, and do it efficiently.
In addition, the treadmill is not your friend. It is one of the poorest investments you can make for working out.
Now we turn it over to you.
How long do your workouts normally take?
What do you think of these workout hacks?
Do you have any more to add to this list?
Are you guilty of spending most of your workout chatting with friends?
Do you always post selfies of yourself while you’re at the gym?
Comment below and let us know.
Be sure to check out the next installment of the WCT series of time hacks. In that post, we talk about warming up.
In that post, we will teach you an efficient warm-up to perform at the beginning of every workout, which you can find at: A Simplistic 5-Minute Warm Up Routine To Keep You Limber
Don’t forget to share these workout hacks with someone who spends way too much time at the gym.
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.