I'm blown away by the number of people who still think that we need to spend hours in the gym to get a "good" workout in.
More isn't always better. In fact, there are some simple strategies that you can use to get better results in less time. It's true. I've seen it. I've done it.
Whether you're on a tight schedule or just looking to change things up, I want to show you a few simple training strategies that can will help you make your training sessions a little more efficient.
Before We Start
I've been praising the concept of movement over exercise a lot lately.
That's because it's becoming ever more important. Each week I get emails from readers telling me that "lack of time" is preventing them from getting to the gym.
If you're finding it difficult to find time for exercise, then you're looking at exercise all wrong my friend. The first and most important thing you must do is change how you define exercise.
A 5AM morning session on the treadmill is not the only definition of exercise.
Lifting weights at the local gym is not the only definition of exercise.
You need to think bigger. You need to open your mind to the possibilities. You need to stop thinking exercise and start thinking movement.
Movement is the BIG picture.
Movement is going for a hike with your friends. Movement is going for a random bike ride. Movement is getting up from your chair every once and while and stretching. Movement is running around with your kids.
And yes, movement is also getting your heart rate up every now and then and lifting something heavy once in a while. When it fits.
Movement is a mindset and if you can make it a priority, you will find time for it.
Now once you do find yourself in the gym (again, nothing wrong with that), here are some tips that can save you time and get you better results.
Focus on the Big Muscle Groups
My general rule of thumb at the gym is that I try to be as efficient as possible. That means focusing on big, compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups all in the same movement.
You've probably heard about isolation exercises and compound exercises so I won't go into depth here. If you're interested in learning more about it, great articles have been written about the topics on the Internets.
In a nutshell, isolation exercises do exactly that - they isolate and target a specific muscle in the body with a specific movement. Think leg extension.
Compound exercises, on the other hand, target multiple muscle groups all in the same movement. Think squats.
Leg extensions engage your quads.
Squats engage the entire lower body - specifically the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves - and engage the core.
Roughly the same input in time. Very different output.
Now this doesn't necessarily mean that leg extensions or isolation exercises in general don't have their place. But unless you're rehabbing or training for a bodybuilding competition, you're best off focusing on compound exercises. Not only will they save you precious time, but they will get much better results.
Bonus Tip: as well as saving time, there are some tremendous physiological side-benefits of compound exercises. For example, some studies have shown that compound movements, specifically squats, have a positive effect on endogenous testosterone production. I'll take it.
Play Around with Supersets
Supersets are freakin' awesome. Not only are they great time-savers, but they bring a new level of intensity to your training.
Again, a lot of great articles have been written about the power of supersets - see here, here and here. What you'll find is that there are many different ways you can use them to mix up (and speed up) your training.
In a nutshell, a superset is simply two (or more) exercises done together, sequentially, one right after the other.
For example, say you have two exercises to complete in your workout:
Exercise A - bodyweight squat
Exercise B - push-up
Traditionally, you would do your squats first, take a break, and move on to doing your push-ups. Simple
A superset puts the two exercises together, like this:
Set 1: 5 X squats + 5 X shoulder presses
Rest for time period
Set 2: 5 X squats + 5 X shoulder presses
Rest for time period
So instead of doing 10 sets total (5 for squats + 5 for push-ups), you are doing 5 super sets and getting the same amount of work (reps) in with the added boost of intensity.
Bonus tip: There are many different ways you can structure your supersets. You can pair opposing muscle groups - like pushing or pulling exercises - or you can pair similar muscle groups (to really fatigue them) - like bodyweight squats and squat jumps. But the best thing is to superset your compound exercises!
Prepare Your Go-To Workouts
Have you ever gone to the gym without having a clue of what you're actually going to do? Of course you have. We all have.
I can't count how many times I've asked someone at the gym what they're doing and they respond with "Umm I'm not sure. Maybe some shoulders. Probably some back. I'll see what I feel."
Sure buddy. You go ahead and feel it out. By the time you figure out what you're going to do I'm already finished my workout and moved on to better things in life.
If you're running on a tight schedule, you need to have a plan going in.
The solution is simple: have two or three go-to full-body workouts in your pocket, ready to deploy at any time. They should be simple, quick, and intense.
For example, one of my go-to workouts is a 100 rep freestyle. It's a workout where I challenge myself to complete 100 burpees and 100 kettlebell swings (properly) in as short a time as I can. Here's what it looks like:
Of course, I'm always timing myself and making notes in my journal to see if I'm progressing. It's more fun when you're trying to beat your own time.
Having this workout in my back pocket (I've got at least a dozen ready to deploy) means I'm never stuck thinking about what to do. If I'm short on time, I'll choose one of my go-to workouts and crush it.
Bonus Tip: if you ever need ideas for fresh workouts, check out and subscribe to my Youtube channel. I post a new killer workout (almost) each week.
I hope you find these tips on training efficiency insightful. They continue to work well for me so I wanted to pass them on to you.
If you're struggling to find time to exercise, first start by changing the way you look at exercise. Stop thinking exercise, start thinking movement and quit worrying about finding time to exercise.
When you do make your way to the gym, strive to be as efficient as possible.
Focus on compound movements, experiment with supersets, and have your go-to workouts in your back pocket so you're ready to roll when the opportunity for a workout does present itself.
Now on to you...
How do you stay efficient in the gym? Share your strategies in the comment section below. I'd love to hear your thoughts!