We’re busier than ever. That makes it feel impossible to fit in even a quick trip to the gym, let alone commit to the type of daily exercise needed to stick to a trainer-approved weight-loss routine. Take your pick of gym-going saboteurs: juggling late nights at the office; a packed social calendar full of happy hours, family time and networking events; and, oh yeah, sleep. The list goes on.
Rather than beat ourselves up over not being able to be devoted to a daily gym regimen, it’s more productive to find a way to squeeze at least some kind of workout into our busy schedules.
“Aim to work out at least three days per week with at least two full-body strength training days and one day of cardio,” says Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist. While you might not reach Olympic-levels of fitness this way, it is the most efficient — and more importantly, the most effective — way to reach your weight-loss goals.
When you do get to the gym, follow these four tips to make the most of your workout.
1. START EARLY
When it comes to working out, the early bird burns the calories, says Noam Tamir, certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of TS Fitness in New York. Most of the time what prevents us from fitting in three sweat sessions a week is simply the fact that life happens. You may start out with every intention of going to spin class after work, but by the time 6 p.m. rolls around, you find yourself still chained to the computer or too drained to follow through.
Make an effort to schedule at least three workouts a week for the morning. Firstly, no matter what happens with your day, you’ll already be one gym session closer to your weight-loss goals. And secondly, you might actually be getting a better workout. “Most people’s energy levels get lower as the day goes on,” says Tamir. “When you schedule workouts for the morning, you are getting your workout in when you energy storage is high, provided you have had a good night of rest.”
When you are at the gym, interval exercises are your best, most efficient friend. “Intervals allow you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time, and your calorie burn is increased for up to 24 hours afterwards,” says Rumsey. In general, interval training — or even better, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) — is much more effective for losing weight than steady-state cardio. Rather than sticking to a steady pace on your prework run, challenge yourself to some 30-second sprints.
3. START WITH STRENGTH
Even if the main focus of your gym time is to crush some cardio, research has shown that starting with a quick strength training session can actually help you more efficiently tap into your fat stores when you hit the bike or the treadmill within 20 minutes of lifting. And order does matter. If you hit the treadmill first, you’ll likely be too tired to really fire up your muscles with strength training. Start fresh in the weight room before gearing up for cardio to make the most of your workout.
4. DON’T DISCOUNT YOUR DESK
On days where you really are too busy to make it to the gym, don’t throw in the towel entirely. Make a rule for yourself that if you snooze through your morning workout, you’ll take a break from sitting every hour to do a set of 10 squats, climb stairs two at a time or make at least one of your meetings a walking conversation.