Posted In Move

The science of time: How to get the most out of your workout

20th November 2015

Tips and advice to get the most out of your workout in limited time. For those times in your life when “I don’t have time to go to the gym” is an actual reality, and you need to maximise the fitness benefit from a highly limited allocated fitness time.

“I really don’t have time to go to the gym” – said every human ever.  Right? We have all said that to ourselves many times.  In fact (if you must know) I have said it to myself many times in this last month alone, and I am me, apparently a paragon of health and fitness. I have no motivation problems: I love working out and the gym is the happiest part of my week. So there’s a problem here: our lives are just too busy.  There are too many demands on our time, especially at this time of year.  So how can science help?  Unfortunately, we cannot manufacture, slow or stop time but we can use scientific facts relating to fitness to make sure you will make the most out of the time you do have available.

1. Bite sized intense chunks

So you don’t have time to travel to the gym and do a full workout, but don’t tell me you can’t find 5 minutes here and there. Grab these small chunks of time (intervals) you have available to perform key bodyweight exercises. My favourites are planks, bodyweight squats, lunges and press ups.  Vary the moves you do – if you do the exact same ones every day, you’ll reach a plateau quickly and start burning fewer calories. I’ve said this before: Mix it up!  In the time you do have, work hard. Don’t bother if you’re going to half-ass it!  From a scientific perspective, it is the intensity of exercise that matters. A shorter more intense workout is likely to be better for your body than a longer easy workout. Step it up! Also don’t take breaks within the time you have allocated – checking your emails between sets gives your heart rate the chance to return to normal. The aim of this style of ‘Interval Training’ is to increase your average heart rate across the whole day, week, month etc.  Just four 5 minute sessions split throughout the day would add up to roughly 7000 minutes a year of increased heart rate – that’s a lot of extra calories burnt without ever stepping into a gym.

2. Slow things down

Don’t be put off by not knowing the gym jargon. Sets and reps are all very well if you’re a fitness pro but hello, most of us aren’t.  However, we all do have a stop watch permanently beside us (iPhone/smart phone/tablet). Use the stopwatch to time yourself. Plank for 30 seconds. Squat for 30 seconds… You get the gist. Repeat it.  It actually doesn’t matter about sets and reps. What does matter is the amount of time your muscles are working. As it happens, muscles respond much better to doing things slowly – the longer they are contracted (under tension), the harder they have to work. So in your crazy day, you’ll be doing something slowly. Yay.

3. Make it count

If you’re that busy, don’t waste your time doing exercises that are pointless (relatively speaking, because of course no exercises are altogether pointless). Spend your limited time doing exercises that give you the fastest return on your investment. What are they?  Well, they are the leg, bum and core exercises.  These are the biggest muscles in the body, which means that using them forces the body to use a lot of energy in the shortest space of time. That means they burn more calories that come from body fat, and also increase your basal metabolic rate. Avoid crunches (girls) or bicep curls (boys): you’ll be there for hours to make any metabolic impact. Isolated muscle exercises do very little for general fitness. Do total body compound moves like squats, burpees and walking lunges, which utilise multiple muscle groups, joints and energy systems. You can do upper body exercises too if you have time – Press ups, chin ups, dips and planks are also great.

Remember that you really can remain fit however busy your life is. In almost everything in life, quality is more important than quantity and the same goes for your workouts.  Quick ones can really count!  We hope these time saving tips help you get the most out of your workout.

Photograph credits:
Shona is wearing Blue Life Fit Herringbone yoga shorts and sports bra from Style PB. Trainers are Nike Free 5.0.