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Monday, May 17, 2010

Making the Best Use Your Time in the Gym

I'm frequently amazed by how much time many people waste in the gym. This particularly applies weight lifters, because it is difficult to waste time when you’re on a cardio machine or in a group exercise class, both of which provide largely non-stop exercise. But lifting allows you to go at your own pace, so it is very easy to get lazy or distracted. You may have even been given the incorrect advice that a work-to-rest ratio of one to five is the right way to exercise.

I recently saw a gym patron talking on a cell phone most of the time and doing a minimum of lifting between conversations. I’ve seen many others standing around chatting for long periods. Then there are the people who do a set of exercise and sit on the bench or machine for 3-5 minutes before doing another set, oblivious to other people who are waiting to use the device. I even saw one gym patron reading magazine articles between sets. And personal trainers, who have great influence over their trainees, often chat extensively with their clients. That might be effective for promoting a client-trainer relationship, but it’s certainly not the best for physical conditioning.

Long rests between lifting sets is recommended for a very limited number of competitive strength athletes, such as Olympic weightlifters, who spend hours in the gym in their quest to maximize the weight they can lift and need long rest periods for full recovery and to focus on technique. However, such time-intensive programs are not effective for bodybuilders or athletes in most sports that require a good balance of strength, muscular endurance, and overall conditioning. It takes an inordinate amount of time to do a comprehensive workout when there is a lot of time between exercise sets. Most of us have lives outside of the gym and must work out efficiently to get the desired benefits within a limited amount of time. Even high-level athletes often must commit so much time to the practice of their sport that they do not have many hours in the week left to spend in the gym on training.

One way to do a comprehensive workout in a limited time is to work out in groups of 2-5 exercises. For example, you can first go through the following group 3 times: 1) an upper-body push exercise, 2) an upper-body pull exercise, 3) a lower-body push exercise, and 4) a torso exercise. After the first group is done, a second and then a third group of exercises are performed. While a beginner should rest as needed between sets, as one becomes conditioned , the only rest needed between sets is the time required to walk between stations and adjust the weight. Using this method, a well-conditioned lifter can accomplish more than 40 sets of exercise in one hour. Some advantages of this system are:
  • There is enough rest between sets of the same exercise to allow optimal recovery time for that muscle group.
  • Both strength and muscular endurance are developed
  • The heart rate stays up, providing some aerobic benefit
  • More calories are burned per hour.
  • The routine provides whole-body conditioning essential to most sports
  • The workout leaves more time to work on speed, power, agility, and endurance, as well as practice of one's sport.
Bottom Line
Time spent in the gym talking, sitting, standing around, or reading does not contribute to one’s physical development. A great majority of gym time should be spent exercising unless the gym is the center of one's social life. A routine based on cycling through groups of 2-5 exercises provides a lot of muscle work in a limited amount of time, and provides the added benefit of total body conditioning.

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