Take a look around any big box gym and you see a LOT of people wasting their time. Most people don’t have a clue about what they should be doing to get the results they want.
What you’ll find is that the people in the best shape are those who are highly efficient with their training. They hit the gym with focus and drive and don’t mess around with useless exercises, socializing, or inefficient set, rep, or loading schemes.
Here are some of the biggest time wasters you should avoid so you can get the most out of your efforts.
#1: Long rest periods.
Unless you’re training for maximal strength, your workouts should be fast paced because this elevates heart rate and increases the release of fat burning hormones.
It also allows for quick workouts so that you finish with the same intensity as when you started. Plus, when people get casual with their rest periods, they get careless with loading, sets, and reps, and things get left out. They also don’t get the metabolic benefits from pushing themselves, meaning they’ll sabotage any body composition altering effects.
Give your rest periods the same attention you do sets and reps. Plan them and TIME them with a watch. For fat loss and muscle building, use rest periods of 60 seconds or less. On heavy load days in which you keep your reps below 6, you can extend your rest periods to 2 to 3 minutes.
#2: Letting the weights fall with gravity.
Novices often “throw” the weights around when lifting, using momentum to lift. Then they let them fall with gravity. This is a big mistake because during the down or “eccentric” motion of the lift is what triggers muscle growth the most.
Instead of this haphazard approach, you should always lower the weight in a controlled fashion and follow a prescribed tempo. Tempo is the specific number of seconds used for the up and down motion of the exercise so that you get the desired results. Longer eccentric tempos in the 4-second range are good for body composition goals.
#3: Never-ending warm-ups.
Endless warm-ups are a great way to procrastinate from starting to train. People waste valuable time walking on the treadmill, doing functional exercises, drinking water, and trying to foam roll all 660 muscles in their bodies. Before they know it 20 or 30 minutes have passed and they haven’t even touched a barbell.
Warm-ups ARE important because they increase blood flow, stimulate the nervous system, and raise body temperature and heart rate. The best way to do this is to keep it short (less than 10 minutes and closer to 5 for most people) and specific to the type of training you’re about to do.
For weight training, warm-up with body weight and low-load lifts to raise heart rate and warm the muscles that need to produce force and power.
Or do a short 40-second cycle sprint to prime the muscles. A study showed that doing a lower-body cycle sprint for warm-up resulted in greater maximal strength performance in the squat and bench press. It also raised testosterone more than a jogging warm-up.
#4: Getting sucked in by screens—TVs, iPads, phones, etc.
Everyone knows screens are the biggest time suck on the planet, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference in how most people behave. Conditioning and weight training workouts require a level of focus and intensity that is lost when you are distracted.
Leave your phone in the car. Seriously!
What about if you have your training program on your phone or iPad? Print it out!
Or if you absolutely can’t do that, put your device on airplane mode so that you aren’t tempted by incoming messages. If you want music, get a music player that’s separate from your phone and doesn’t have wireless capability.
#5: Training in the elusive “fat burning” zone.
We’re going to let you in on a secret: You’re in the fat burning zone sitting on the couch but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get lean doing it.
Relying on low-intensity exercise to burn fat became popular about 20 years ago due to the fact that the body burns a greater percentage of fat at rest and during easy exercise. But the advice didn’t pan out because you burn more calories when you work hard, which means that more total calories and fat gets burned with intense training.
Solution: Remove the concept of the “fat burning” zone from your thinking. Focus on workout density, getting as much work done in as little time as possible.
#6: Using cardio incorrectly.
The misconceptions about steady-state cardio abound: People have been told it’s necessary for heart health, for losing body fat, and for developing an aerobic base. They end up wasting hours on exercise that produces very small returns.
That’s not so say that cardiovascular health isn’t important. It is! But, you can achieve cardiac and muscular benefits from interval workouts and strength training in less time than steady-state cardio requires. For example, one group of scientists suggested that you’d have to spend an hour a day 5 or 6 days a week on cardio to sustain fat loss—something very few people have time or interest in doing.
To get in shape and lean up, you can get most if not all of the benefits of steady-state cardio by doing properly programed weight training that includes some sprint interval work. Try 30 to 60 second intervals in which work at 90 percent of maximal (not quite all-out but working very hard). Start with a 1-to-2, work-to-rest ratio and progress to a 1-to-1 ratio.
#7: Doing bizarre spot training exercises: stair stepping backwards, sideways, etc.
For most body composition goals, isolation exercises fall low on your priority list because they just don’t lead to much calorie burn or total body metabolic stress. Sure, biceps curls and calf raises can build up those muscles, but they won’t lead you to lose the fat that is covering up the muscles.
An even bigger time waster is the bizarre exercises such as stair stepping backwards, sideways, or one foot over the other that have become very popular in big gyms. Presumably, this practice is supposed to target the gluten and hamstring muscles of the posterior, but the problem is that stair-stepping slowly in different directions doesn’t overload the muscles effectively.
You won’t increase the size or “definition” of the glutes or hamstrings doing this. You also won’t lose any fat, but you may stress your joints and waste valuable training time.
Use multi-joint exercises to lose fat and improve lean muscle for a better body composition. These exercises allow you to use heavier weights to apply more stimulus to different parts of the body. Squats, deadlifts, presses, and so on all use a lot of muscle at once and create metabolic stress, which is a great combination for fat loss.
To build up the glutes and hamstrings, focus on squats, lunges, deadlifts, back extensions, step-ups, donkey kick, and so on. Rely on the stair-stepper for intervals, going as hard as you can forward, and you’ll get leaner glutes much faster.
#8: Some Training Partners
There are many benefits of workout partners. A great partner will push you to work harder and challenge self-imposed boundaries. Partners can also offer technique tips, make the time pass more quickly, and boost morale on the hard days.
But a bad partner will do you no good: They waste time socializing, hold you up messing around with their phone, complain about the workout, or malign their body. They quit exercises early and don’t load properly. The list could go on, but you get the picture.
You have to choose wisely in picking a training partner. It needs to be someone with similar goals who you trust to approach training with the same focus.
Ideally, find someone slightly more advanced than you because studies show that this will increase pain threshold so that you push yourself harder. One study found that when women worked out together on an exhaustive exercise trial they persisted 102 percent longer than when training solo.
#9: Light-load, high-rep training.
Unless you’re doing rehab for an injury, there is zero benefit of light-load, high-rep training. It doesn’t “tone” your muscles because it’s too easy to produce any changes in the size of muscles or in regards to the fat covering up the muscles. It doesn’t make you stronger either, so why would you do it?
But people do it everyday, and even when they think they're lifting “heavy,” they rarely are. Studies show that most people who are lifting weights sell themselves short and pick weights that are 30 percent lower than the lightest weight needed to produce any benefit.
Solution: The way to get lean and improve muscle “definition” is to train with weights that you’re not accustomed to. You should be doing 8 to 15 reps per set, using a weight that has you reaching failure by the time you get to your last rep. For example, if you can squat 100 pounds one time, then you need to use a weight that is at least 65 pounds when doing squats for reps.
#10: Messing around with training fads.
Most training fads, whether it’s suspension training, kettlebells, or Bosu balls can be useful in certain situations, but they shouldn’t make up the majority of your workout.
There’s a reason why training with free weights has been around for decades: It’s generally the simplest, most effective way to get strong, muscular, and lean.
Plus, if you’re continually trying new workout techniques, you’re violating one of the key principles to getting results: Consistency. Results come when you pick a type of training and then repeat it for a set period of time, making small alterations every so often.
Whatever you do, be consistent. Stick to the classic exercises that have been proven to get people in shape and optimize performance: Squats, deadlifts, Olympic lifts, presses, pulls, chin-ups, and so on. Use primarily free weights, employing other training tools when they are the best option, not just because you’re bored of the barbell.