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3 ways to make workouts more effective

Posted by Lara Salahi  June 25, 2013 02:37 PM

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Ryan Healy.jpgRyan Healy is a personal trainer for the Lynch/van Otterloo (LVO) YMCA in Marblehead. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA, and earned her BS in Exercise Sports Science from Elon University. Find more posts by her in conjunction with the LVO YMCA at She can be reached at

Not many of us have hours to spend working out at the gym every day. We are often overwhelmed by our never ending to-do lists, and frequently flooded by commitments and responsibilities. A concerted effort needs to be made to carve out time for a few planned exercise sessions each week; otherwise things always get too hectic. Believe me, I know!

To make the most out of your time at the gym, aside from locking your phone in the car (yes, sigh, you might have to take a break from facebook), create a workout plan. Without a plan, you are more apt to wander aimlessly, wonder what you should be doing, and waste your precious time. Just having a plan doesn’t guarantee successful time management though. The routine should be well thought out. Here are three things to consider when designing your workout that can make a big difference in how quickly you get in and get out.

1. Bang for your buck exercises: If you only have 3 hours to exercise each week, do you really want to be doing isolation exercises like bicep curls or tricep extensions that work mainly one small muscle group at a time? Why not instead try a chin-up which blasts your back, shoulders, chest, abs, and arms all at once? Compound movements (working at multiple joints) will make more of your time. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, and pull-up variations are great choices. As Chad Waterbury said, “your body is designed to work as a system of integrated parts. Reach out for a cup of coffee at the kitchen table and you're recruiting muscles at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints.”

2. Superset your exercises: This just means pairing your exercises together, and it’s a HUGE time saver. Instead of waiting around and resting between sets of exercises, pair two exercises together and perform them back to back. This method works well when you alternate between and upper and lower body exercises, or with opposing muscles groups (think push/pull). For example, you’d do a set of push-ups, and then go right into a set of squats, then repeat for the desired amount of sets. Your upper body gets a rest while you work your lower body and vice versa.

3. Plan by equipment use: If you workout at a small facility this might not make much difference, but for those of you whose gym is really spread out, this can drastically reduce wasted time. Where I work out, the power racks are at one end of the gym, the dumbbells, benches, and cables are in the middle, and all the way at the other end are the stability balls, medicine balls, and mats. Space is very limited and equipment is packed in tightly. If I wanted to do a superset consisting of a front squat and a rotational med ball throw, I’d have to walk back and forth several times from one end of the gym to the other, hogging equipment and hoping someone hadn’t taken the power rack I was using while I was out of site working on my med ball toss. Instead, superset exercises that use the tools you need in a similar area, and keep in mind the amount of space you’ll need as well. If you need a piece of equipment that’s frequently being used, having a back up exercise ready to go that uses something else.

Try these three tips next time you exercise and see if they help you. I’d love to hear from you too. Do you have any other tips for making the most of your time while exercising?

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.


Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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