Make Your Gym Time Count

Life is busy. Most of us are already burning the candle at both ends. The first challenge is to somehow make it through your 40-hour week of work, classes and homework, or taking care of loved ones. Task number 2: the nuts and bolts of life. Walking the dog, cutting the grass, paying bills, buying groceries, making lunch for tomorrow, and keeping the house clean for when Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob visit next week: these are all priority.   

What else? Don't forget to save time for group projects, food truck rodeos, watching the game, 3 Facebook Events you're invited to, PTA meeting, the family reunion, Chirs' soccer practice, an essential oils party, Girl Scouts meeting, knitting club, book club, fight club, run club, doctors appointment, oil change, Grandma's birthday party...I think you get the picture. Oh wait, don't forget to get to the gym! 

My name is Dr. Allan Buccola, physical therapist and owner of Impetus Physical Therapy. Sometimes being an adult is overrated, making time for your own wellness nearly impossible. SOme weeks, you might feel accomplished for simply 'making it to the gym,' but your blood pressure doesn't improve just because you showed up. Productivity is key. Let's talks about a few simple ways to make sure your time at the gym counts! Every minute counts! 

Be Goal Oriented

Going to the gym is a lot like going to college: if you don't know why you're there, you're probably wasting your time. Figure out what the top priority is. Whether your targeting cardio fitness, weight loss, becoming orange, or pumping iron, figure out what things are most important in a pinch. What is your ideal workout and what is your bare-bones maintenance routine. 

On the days when your gym time gets derailed, you can still be productive. Know which parts of your workout routine are at the top of the list, and save the fluff for another time. This will help you avoid missing workouts altogether, and maintain your fitness, even in the wake of death-by-meeting. Don't feel pressured to make every trip to the gym identical, nor to do every exercise you normally do. 

Even if you're not familiar with the leg press, consider it!  Its a great way to target glutes, hamstrings, and quads in one fell swoop.

Even if you're not familiar with the leg press, consider it!  Its a great way to target glutes, hamstrings, and quads in one fell swoop.

Avoid Isolation

Calm down introverts! I'm talking about isolating single muscle groups. In the world of strengthening, choose functional exercises that target multiple muscle groups rather than others that isolate very specific individuals muscles. There are certainly reasons to target and isolate, but for general fitness/wellness, its poor use of time. 

Opt for body weight, functional exercises when possible: push-ups, pull-ups, squats, dips, and planks. Calisthenics are all the rage right now and for good reason: low equipment need, and great carry over to functional activity. There also seems to be a limitless amount of creativity from people like Frank Medrano, who demonstrate well that tons of gym equipment is not absolutely necessary. 

Choose modified push-ups over the chest press machine, so that you hit your core at the same time: after all a push-up is basically a moving plank, right? Choose pull-ups or rope climbing instead of bicep curls, that for most provide aesthetics or muscle imbalance only. Most gyms have a machine that can help unweight your body for assisted pull-ups, so you hit your biceps, back, and shoulders working together.

Instead of 3 or 4 different machines for your legs, go with leg press or squats, where you can teach your glutes, hamstrings, and quads to work in-sync. The squat has a much more valuable functional carryover to daily tasks than the machines that isolate the major leg groups. For most folks, simply seeking some physical activity and wellness, there's no innate need for such isolation. If you need some guidance, there are plenty of starter workouts available to get maximal efficiency by following this principle. 

Get Intense

This is the most tragic destroyer of progress: a lack of workout intensity. Whether you're at the gym for cardio or for pumping iron, failure to use the right level of intensity will result in limited gains. Researchers have found time and again that physiological growth is highly specified to the stimulus. The workout has to be specific to the desired outcome.  

Exercising below the ideal intensity will make you burn calories and feel tired later, but won't improve your fitness. Within the target intensity range, you'll burn those calories, and then benefit from a 24-48 hour metabolic boost while your body recovers: in other words, you will burn even more calories while you sleep that night and the following day.  

Cardiovascular training, for instance, occurs best in the range of 65-80% of your calculated maximal heart rate. From my experience as a runner, I've learned this occurs somewhere after breathing becomes difficult but before the saliva in my mouth gets thick and dry. If you need help, any of the trainers at the gym should be able to help you figure this out (and will be glad to be rescued from their boredom.)

For strengthening, those first few weeks of weight training should be consistently performed with only moderate weight. In this time, your nervous system accommodates to the activities and your technique should be the primary focus. This helps prevent injury both early and late in the game. 

Kettle bell exercises should be perfected prior to adding in heavy loads. In free weights, technique is of extreme importance. 

Kettle bell exercises should be perfected prior to adding in heavy loads. In free weights, technique is of extreme importance. 

After your body has had ample time to adjust (and this is variable among people), true strength training can begin. In this realm, the simplest approach should be to stick to loads that can be maximally exerted about 8 times. If you can squat a given weight 15-20 times with great form, there's a good chance that you aren't improving your strength as much as you could be. 

Keep It Simple

I'm keeping this post short and sweet for a reason. It isn't for those of you who already live at the gym: it's for those of you who don't. Many make efforts to make the gym a part of a health maintenance routine, but are derailed by frustration and over commitment. By starting fresh with these foundational ideals, you can start fresh: more simply, more efficiently, more effectively, and more successful. 

Don't get analysis paralysis: anything worth doing, is worth doing quickly...especially if the alternative is nothing at all. If you need additional guidance or specific help with you workouts, this is a service I offer, but I would encourage you to connect first with the trainers at your gym. Until next time: don't stop moving! 

-Allan