Skip to main content

Maximize your workout time

Skip the chit chat and keep moving
Skip the chit chat and keep moving

“I spent 2.5 hours at the gym today!”

“Great, how much did you actually workout?”

Does this sound familiar?

I have one major pet peeve in the gym, okay, that’s not true, there are plenty, because the more I learn about training, physiology, and simply what works and what doesn’t I start to notice more of what’s going on around me in the gym.

One of my biggest pet peeves though, is when gym goers complain that they never have time to workout, but when they do make it to the gym they make it a social affair or half-hearted effort. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a buddy at the gym, or run into a neighbor and briefly catch up, but when your plan for 45 minutes of quality workout time suddenly dissipates to less than 15 minutes after you chatted at check-in, in the locker room, bought a water, searched for a magazine, and had a discussed what you saw on Dateline the other night for 20 minutes during your supposed 5 minute warm-up, it becomes a problem.

How to Get the Job Done

1. Have a plan from the start

First determine what your goals are. Are you trying to lose weight, gain lean muscle mass, build strength, to increase sports performance?

Once you know your goal, form objectives to how you plan on reaching this goal. How much time do you have in your schedule to dedicate to your workouts, can you eat 5-6 small meals a day to increase resting metabolic rate, decrease fat, and increase lean muscle mass? If the answer is “No, I don’t have time.” What do you have time for?

Your lifting schedule may not consist of a 4-day split followed by 30 minutes of cardio, but perhaps you can perform a full body lift 2 days per week followed by 20 minutes of cardio and perform cardio another 2 days per week for 30 minutes, great!

Devise a plan for each day. What exercises are you going to perform on Monday, Wednesday, and so on. What’s your preference for cardio? Are you going to try to increase your duration or intensity to challenge your body and get better results?

Don’t waste your time gawking at all the equipment and playing eeny meeny miny mo. Move from one exercise to the next with purpose.

2. A word on recovery between sets

I see this everyday, the guy or gal planted on one piece of equipment for an eternity. They’re staring off into space, watching others. I’ve done 4 sets of 20 before there’s even the slightest movement.

Recovery gets back to the bottom line: what’s the goal. Power lifters may need 3-5 minutes between sets, because they are lifting maximal weight for 1-5 repetitions. If you’re looking to burn fat you only want to recover for about 30-60 seconds at the most in order to keep your heart rate up, plus your repetition range is generally higher 10-15 repetitions so the weight is challenging but not maximal allowing muscles to recover faster.

It’s all about the energy system being used. Short powerful movements like a 60m dash are “all-out.” The primary metabolic pathway for energy production is the phosphocreatine (PC) system. The PC system works completely anaerobic, without oxygen, which means it takes longer to recover.

Strength training to build lean muscle mass and increase your resting metabolic rate typically involves utilizing the metabolic pathway of glycolysis, which is the breakdown of stored carbohydrates in the form of glucose to produce energy, but due to the intensity lactate forms, causing the burning sensation in the muscles. This system is primarily used during interval runs lasting 1 minute or less, or the completion of a set of 10-12 repetitions with a challenging weight.

For prolonged exercise the aerobic (with oxygen) system is used, and no rest is necessary if working at a moderate intensity. Aerobic activity has been reported to assist in weight loss. Circuit training is an excellent way to receive cardiovascular benefits while gaining strength. Rest periods for circuit training range from 20-45 seconds in order to maintain a higher heart rate.

3. If you get trapped

Okay, “trapped” may not be the appropriate word, but if you get “disrupted.”
a. Demonstrate that your workouts are important. Smile and hello briefly, but keep moving. If you’re in the middle of a set of 12 and it starts getting tough by rep 8, don’t feel as though you have to lose focus and stop just because someone is standing beside you. Finish out the set. A lot of times the other person, may see that you are serious, and say “I’ll let you get back to your workout and catch up later.”
b. Cardio. If you’re doing an endurance workout, at about 65% of your maximal heart rate, which is where you want to be to increase Vo2Max and increase cardiovascular performance and health, you may be able to talk. Perhaps, a little breathy, but still able to talk intermittently. Now if you’re able to give a whole discourse with ease, then you’re probably not working hard enough. If you plan on blasting serious calories and want to make the most of your time, perform intervals of high intensity for 30-60 seconds followed by a short recovery. Let your buddy next to you know that it’s not the best time for a conversation, because obviously you can’t talk when you go anaerobic and during the recovery period you’re trying to recover from oxygen debt and catch your breath. Simply let them know that you can finish the conversation during your cool-down.


Lack of time is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t workout. It’s important to make time for your workout, but more importantly once you make the effort, make sure it’s a quality effort, because your goals are important. With focus and determination you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in 30-60 minutes.