You’re busy. Just making time for the gym can be a challenge, but nothing will sideline your enthusiasm more quickly than showing up to the gym without a plan or fumbling through unfamiliar exercises without executing them with good technique and at sufficient intensity. Without that kind of intention applied to your time in the gym, the results just won’t be there and you’re less likely to make your time in the gym a priority.
How do we avoid this quagmire? By understanding what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Your workouts shouldn’t exist in a vacuum - that is, they shouldn’t just be a random collection of exercises. You should know ahead of time what exercises you’re doing, approximately what weights you’ll be using, and how the workout fits into your broader game plan - how it’s going to get you to your goals.
You do not need a lot of time to be productive in the gym. For many people 30 minutes is more than enough to get quality, focused effort in. Depending on your goals and availability you may want to train longer, of course, but you should never avoid the gym because you don’t feel like you’ll be able to be there for an hour or longer.
So let’s hatch a plan. Here’s how you make the most of your time in the gym:
1. Have a program
A program is a structured plan designed to manage volume (how much work you’ll be doing), intensity (effort), load (how much weight you’re using), and frequency (how many days per week) in order to get you closer toward your goals. If there’s any major failing that most people have when getting the most out of their time in the gym, this is it. Workouts can’t exist in a vacuum; they need to be structured in a way that deliberately progresses you toward your goals while mitigating fatigue and staving off injuries.
If you don’t have a program, there are several ways to go about it. You can follow a generalized program from a number of online sources; you can use online coaching to get a customized program that’s specifically tailored to your goals; or, you can work directly with a personal trainer who will assess your movement and fitness level before prescribing a long-term plan.
2. Perform every exercise correctly
This should seem obvious, but it’s often the case that well-intentioned novices don’t take the time to learn how to execute each exercise in their program with perfect technique. Whether you’re doing a simple exercise like a biceps curl or a complex exercise like a clean & jerk, it’s important that you understand why you’re doing each exercise - what muscle groups or skills the exercise is training, the correct cadence of the repetition (which could vary depending on your goals), how to brace and stabilize your body correctly, etc.
It’s possible to learn how to perform exercises correctly by watching videos and reading descriptions, but nothing is faster than working with an experienced tra5iner who can guide you through the process.
3. Ditch the distractions
When you’re training, you’re training. You’re not looking at your phone, posting on social media, gossiping with your friends, or taking selfies. You should be 100% focused on the task at hand. You have the whole rest of the day to focus on other things, so your time in the gym needs to be disciplined.
4. Don’t (just) train by feel
Autoregulation is a term used to describe adjusting load, volume, and intensity based on your individual needs and energy levels. If you’re super sapped from being stressed at work and haven’t been sleeping well, you’ll likely underperform if you try to go for maximum-effort loads. Autoregulation would have you adjust those types of variables based on your needs that day.
The only problem is that if you’re a novice or intermediate trainer, you’re likely not very good at autoregulation. You are very likely more capable than you realize. That’s why, while it’s important to listen to your body and make small adjustments, your program should be the driving force of your daily tasks.
5. Stick with it
Results take time. One of our favorite sayings is “trust the process.” There are going to be times in the best-laid training program where you underperform or don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. It takes consistency over weeks and months to start seeing real, lasting results from your program. Be patient and do the work.
If you need help getting off the ground - whether in finding the right program, learning to perform exercises correctly, or having some accountability to get you to the gym when you feel discouraged - we have a wealth of resources to help you. You can learn more about online and private coaching by following the buttons below.