8 Tips for More Effective Workouts

Guilt-free ways to shorten your workouts and keep your fitness

effective exercise
effective exercise. Getty Images

Unless you are a professional athlete, it may be tough to find time each day to devote to exercise or it may be difficult to justify all that time in the gym. But the good news is you really don't need to spend hours exercising to get the most out of workouts. In fact, you can get, and stay, in top shape with far less time that you may think. Here are 8 ways to get the most out of each workout. 

1. Keep Workouts Short and Focused. You may be tempted to do long workouts, but there are good reasons to keep your training sessions shorter and more focused.

Shorter workouts allow you to perform at a higher intensity, and they also make it far more likely that you won't skip workouts. It's easier to maintain consistency if your workouts are about 30-45 minutes, than expecting to spend 2 hours on your routine and finding that you have other obligations that get in the way. If you design your training for a daily routine of about 45 minutes, or add a couple of days of interval training into the routine, you can easily extend your workout if you find you have more time. But if you make short, regular, high quality exercise the foundation of your program, you are much more likely to maintain consistency, which, ultimately, is the key to improvement.

2. Stay Hydrated. Staying well hydrated with water is critical to effective exercise. Even a small amount of dehydration can make your workouts less comfortable and can decrease your workout performance.

Although the exact amount of water an athlete needs can vary depending on body weight, fitness level and environmental factors, a good rule of thumb is to drink 1 cup of water every twenty to thirty minutes during exercise. The best way to determine your water needs during exercise are to weigh yourself before and after exercise and replenish any water you lose during your workout.

One pound is equivalent to approximately 24 ounces of fluid.

3. Use Compound Exercises. If you are following the recommendation to keep your workouts shorter and more focused, you'll want to add compound exercises to your routine. Compound exercises are those that use a variety of muscle groups at the same time. In additional to providing more bang for the buck, multi-joint exercises more closely mimic real life movements and are more helpful in training for most sports. In order to do compound exercises, you'll have to forgo the machines, and incorporate more free weights, kettlebells, and bodyweight exercises. If you haven't used free weights, it's important to start out with expert guidance, but once you learn the basic movements, you'll find that you can offer get a better, and more targeted workout with a set of dumbbells than with an array of machines at the gym.

4. Lift Heavier Weights. To get the most out of weight training, it's important to lift heavy. Just how much weight should you lift?

 That depends on your fitness level and comfort with weight lifting, but in general if you do more than ten repetitions of a given weight, you may want to increase the amount you are lifting. can lift a weight more than 10 reps, you may want to increase the weight. This recommendation is not necessarily for a novice. If you are brand new to exercise and strength training it can take a few weeks of lighter lifting (15-20 repetitions of a lighter weight) until your joints and muscles get used to the stress of weight lifting. But once you have a bit of experience, in order to make the workout actually useful, consider pushing a heavier weight for fewer reps.  And check out these Surprising Benefits of Lifting Heavy Weights.

6. Make It Fun. If you can't say you enjoy your workouts, it's more likely you will eventually fall off the workout wagon. In order to make a workout effective, it helps if you can find something fun to do, or find a very clear reason to do it. If you are going through the motions of workouts because you feel you 'should' exercise,  or feel guilty if you skip a workout, take a deeper look at some of the benefits you are getting from exercise. Try to make a list of the way you feel after you exercise and the things regular workouts allow you to do more easily. Rather than focusing on the data—trackers, reps, calories, miles, days—take a little bit of time to change your relationship to exercise. Let go of the data and start paying attention to how your feel, physically, mentally, emotionally. Notice how much easier daily tasks are when you feel healthy and strong. Notice how staying active affects your stress levels, your breathing, your self-confidence and your posture. If you are connecting the dots between a regular exercise habit and something more fundamental to your mental and emotional state, you may find that the reason you exercise has very little to do with the numbers, and you will build an exercise habit that is sustaining and fun in and of itself.

7. Do Simpler, Bodyweight Exercises. Effective workouts are much more likely when they are simple, consistent and easy to do any time and any place. For this reason, I am a big fan of body weight training. It's hard to find a good excuse to skip a workout when all I need is about ten feet of floor space and perhaps a set of dumbbells or a flight of stairs.  

8. Add Variety.  Avoid the pitfalls of exercise boredom and fitness ruts by keeping your workouts fresh and new. Change your routine at least every 2-3 months to keep it mentally stimulating as well as physically effective. Doing the same thing over and over can eventually lead to a fitness plateau. You may feel as though you are working harder and getting fewer results. By changing the type or exercise you do, you will challenge new muscles and basically re-boot the nervous system and stimulate new muscle growth, better balance, agility and coordination. The other huge benefit of changing your routine is that you will be less likely to end up with chronic, overuse injuries such as tendonitis. So mix it up every few months with a new workout, or adding a new sport and keep your workout fresh and fun.

As always, if you are new to exercise you should consult your physician or meet with a personal trainer prior to engaging in any new activity or fitness routine. The above advice is general fitness recommendations aimed at athletes who have a basic understanding of exercise guidelines and have a good level of fitness. If you are just getting started in an exercise program, check out Exercise for Beginners.

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