In our fast-paced lives, finding time for exercise can be a challenge. With work, family, and other commitments, it’s easy to allow our fitness goals to take a backseat. However, even with a busy schedule, it is possible to achieve significant progress towards your goals in the gym. At Dabbs Fitness, we understand the constraints of a busy schedule, and we are committed to helping our clients make the most of their training sessions. In this article, we will delve into the research and provide you with practical tips to maximise your training efficiency and maintain a consistent fitness routine, no matter how busy you may be.
Embrace Compound Exercises
To make the most of your limited workout time, focus on compound exercises. These movements engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, maximising the training stimulus. Compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups should form the foundation of your workouts. Only include isolation exercises (bicep curls, tricep extensions, hamstring curls, leg extensions etc.) when you have time. Research suggests that compound and isolation exercises are equally effective for building muscle and strength, thus making compound exercises the more efficient option (Rosa et al., 2022). By incorporating these compound movements, you can target multiple muscle groups in a single exercise, resulting in a more efficient and effective workout.
Utilise Supersets and Circuits
Supersets and circuits are time-saving techniques that involve performing exercises back-to-back without rest. Supersets and circuits allow you to increase training density and maintain a high intensity throughout your workout. By pairing exercises that target different muscle groups, you can optimise your time in the gym. For example, alternate between upper and lower body exercises or push and pull movements to minimise rest periods and keep your heart rate elevated. Avoid supersetting exercises which target the same muscle groups as this will lead to excessive fatigue and poor performance.
Employ Time-Under-Tension (TUT) Techniques
Time-under-tension (TUT) refers to the amount of time a muscle is under strain during an exercise. By incorporating TUT techniques, such as slowing down the eccentric (lowering) phase of a movement or incorporating pauses at specific points, you can increase the training stimulus without necessarily adding more sets or reps. These techniques help maximise the recruitment of muscle fibres, leading to improved strength and hypertrophy gains in a shorter period (Iversen et al., 2021).
Opt for High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
When time is scarce, incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be a game-changer. HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief recovery periods. Research suggests that HIIT is a time-efficient way to improve cardiovascular fitness and promote fat loss while preserving muscle mass (Wewege et al., 2017). Implement HIIT sessions, such as sprint intervals or bodyweight circuits, into your routine to reap the benefits of both strength and cardiovascular training in a shorter time frame.
Periodisation is a training concept that involves systematically manipulating training variables to achieve specific goals. Periodisation principles should be utilised to optimise training adaptations, even with limited time. By cycling through different training phases (e.g., strength, hypertrophy, power), you can vary the stimulus, prevent plateaus, and promote continuous progress. Even within a condensed training schedule, structuring your workouts with a periodised approach may lead to better long-term results.
Other Factors to Consider
- Warm-ups and stretching – a general warm-up (raising body temperature) is of a lesser priority when time is limited. Instead, only focus on specific warm-ups which will prepare you for lifting heavy loads. Stretching does not need to be prioritised as resistance training itself will improve mobility and flexibility when exercises are taken through a full range of motion.
- Rest Periods – adequate rest between sets is important for optimising gains in strength and hypertrophy. Rest periods vary depending on the training goal, with 3-5 minutes for strength, 1-2 minutes for hypertrophy, and 30-60 seconds for muscular endurance. Untrained individuals are advised to rest for 1-2 minutes, while trained individuals should rest for at least 2 minutes. Various training techniques such as supersets, dropsets, and rest-pause training can help reduce passive rest without compromising results.
- Training modalities – it is recommended to use free weights and/or machines for training and supplement with bodyweight and resistance band exercises. Both machines and free weights have time-efficiency benefits, with machines requiring less coordination and easier resistance changes, while free weights allow for performing multiple exercises with the same equipment.
- Load – traditional beliefs suggest different loads for specific goals, but evidence shows similar hypertrophic responses across a wide range of repetition ranges as long as effort and set volume are matched. High loads are superior for strength gains and are more time-efficient due to fewer repetitions, but it can be metabolically taxing. Training to failure is not necessary for growth and strength gains with heavy loads, and taking every set to failure will lead to excessive fatigue. Emphasising the 6-12 repetition maximum (RM) range seems to be most effective for targeting both strength and hypertrophy (Iversen et al., 2021).
In conclusion, while finding time for exercise may be a challenge in our busy lives, there are practical strategies that can help maximise training efficiency and maintain a consistent fitness routine. Incorporating these strategies and tailoring them to your busy schedule will allow you to make progress towards your fitness goals. By optimising your training efficiency and maintaining a consistent fitness routine, you can achieve remarkable results even with limited time. At Dabbs Fitness, we are dedicated to helping our clients navigate their busy schedules and reach their fitness aspirations. Remember, consistency is key. If you can make exercise a regular part of your routine, you can certainly reach your fitness goals, no matter how busy you are.
Iversen, V.M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B.J. and Fimland, M.S., 2021. No time to lift? Designing time-efficient training programs for strength and hypertrophy: a narrative review. Sports Medicine, 51(10), pp.2079-2095.
Rosa, A., Vazquez, G., Grgic, J., Balachandran, A.T., Orazem, J. and Schoenfeld, B.J., 2023. Hypertrophic Effects of Single-Versus Multi-Joint Exercise of the limb Muscles: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Strength and conditioning journal, 45(1), pp.49-57.
Wewege, M., Van Den Berg, R., Ward, R.E. and Keech, A., 2017. The effects of high‐intensity interval training vs. moderate‐intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews, 18(6), pp.635-646.