Exercise is clearly an essential component of a healthy life, but it doesn’t have to be the time-consuming endeavor that many people believe it to be. There are a number of small changes you can make to your exercise routine to help you log fewer hours at the gym – while still enjoying the benefits of a long workout. Follow the tips below to make your exercise routine more efficient:
1. Find your time
Every person’s body is different. Some people function better in the morning than the evening, yet others would much rather hit the gym after work than wake up early. By exercising when your body is most willing to do so, you will feel much more invigorated. In addition to listening to your body, you should also respect your schedule. If you know a workday is going to be particularly draining, it would probably be in your best interests to exercise before heading to the job, rather than risk being too tired after work to hit the gym. By finding what time of day works best for you, based on your schedule and your body’s unique rhythms, you’ll be more motivated, meaning you’ll exercise harder and more effectively.
2. Switch it up
A common problem among gym goers is the dreaded plateau. When you first began to exercise, you probably experienced results almost immediately. For the first few months, the weight loss, increased energy, and other health benefits were consistent and reliable. However, now that exercise has become part of your regular routine, you’ve stopped experiencing the positive changes in your body that used to keep you motivated. Although there are various reasons for this phenomenon, one of the most common culprits for the plateau is a stale workout. If you practice the same exercises day after day, your muscles eventually become accustomed to performing these acts, and the body – ever a stickler for efficiency – starts to establish what’s known as “muscle memory.” Simply put, muscle memory occurs when your brain establishes hardwired and permanent connections to help you become more efficient in performing often-repeated tasks. While this is often very helpful (as with riding a bike, for example), it can also be detrimental to the efficacy of your workout. As muscle memory builds, your body requires less effort (and therefore fewer calories) to perform the same exercises, meaning your workout starts to become less effective. So if you do the same exercises for each workout, it’s about time you switched things up.
3. Do intervals
When performing long-lasting aerobic and cardio exercises, such as running and biking, your body eventually reaches a point where it starts to perform the exercise almost automatically. While this is efficient for your body, as it enables it to perform the exercise using less energy, it is definitely not good for burning calories. Intervals – short bursts of intense aerobic activity followed by longer spans of moderate aerobic activity – are a great way to knock your body out of cruise control, thereby making your workout more effective. By periodically interrupting your constant pace with short explosions of energy and effort, you force your body to work harder. At same time, however, because interval training burns the same amount of calories as longer cardio session IN MUCH LESS TIME, intervals are much kinder to your body (especially your joints) than long distance running could ever be.
4. Don’t skip strength training
Many people are intimidated by strength training, but it is equally as important as cardio and should definitely become an integral part of your exercise routine. Despite cardio’s reputation as the top calorie burner, this position is actually held by strength training. Although cardio burns more calories during the workout itself, strength training continues to do so long after your workout has ended. Because your body is working hard to help your muscles recover, your metabolism spikes for about an hour after your workout, resulting in an additional 25% of calories burned. What’s more, strength training is better than cardio at helping you to maintain healthy body fat in the long term. This is due to strength training’s ability to build muscle, and the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn doing everyday activities, as muscle takes more energy to sustain. Studies indicate that for every three pounds of muscle you gain, you burn an extra 120 calories a day, even if you make no dietary changes at all. Cardio definitely has its place (in improving heart health, reducing stress, etc.), but strength training is just as essential to an efficient workout.
5. Conquer your fair share of hills
While running or biking, chances are, you probably dread hitting the hills, but the workout boost you receive from conquering these inclines is well worth the extra effort. It’s harder for your body to run up hills, because you are moving forward and upward at the same time, which requires more energy and effort. However, this movement also engages more muscles than running on a flat surface, and, therefore, it results in a substantial increase in the amount of calories you burn. For each degree of incline, for example, it’s estimated that you’ll burn an extra 10% more calories. Consider an incline of 5 degrees: This gentle hill could help you burn over 50% more calories than running the same distance on flat ground. So, instead of avoiding those hills, push through them. Your body will thank you for it later.
It only takes a few small changes in your exercise routine to see big differences in your results. To make your workout more efficient, it’s important to try new exercises, such as experimenting with hills and intervals. Strength training is another element that should be added to your workout because in some areas, its benefits exceed those of cardio exercises. Finally, finding the best time of day for your workout, based on your schedule and your body’s rhythms, can also help you by increasing your levels of motivation.