8 ways to get more out of every workout

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on November 1, 2018


Do you sometimes find yourself wandering aimlessly through the gym—there in body but not really fully engaged? Cultivating a stronger sense of focus will give you more energy during the workout and actually make it more fun.

It’s all about engaging fully with the task rather than just schlepping through some random exercises.

The eight tips that follow will help you get more out of every trip to the gym:

1. Decide what you’re going to work on before you get there. Will it be a full-body workout, or is this leg day or back day or chest day? If you leave it to chance, you’re more likely to spend time on the stuff you like to do and ignore the moves that are less appealing.

2. Start thinking about your workout beforehand—ideally the evening or morning before. Spending just 30 seconds reviewing your plan will enhance your motivation and energy level. See yourself going through your workout and enjoying it. You may even start looking forward to it.

3. Listen to high-energy music. Obvious, huh? But I see a lot of people who are not plugged in sort of ambling through their workout. Music with a beat helps in several ways: It’s psychologically arousing, meaning it helps you get worked up. Scientists say it helps you dissociate from discomfort, meaning you can exercise longer despite fatigue. It helps you block out the world and create a temporary tunnel vision focused on nothing but the workout. And it discourages people from chatting with you. You might think that’s a negative. See tip No. 4.

4. Don’t chit-chat with your friends. I’m not saying you should be antisocial. Catch up with them before you start your workout or after you’re done. Smile and say hi when you see an acquaintance. Spot each other and encourage each other during difficult lifts. But don’t yack nonstop. Socializing with your pals is calming and distracting in exactly the *wrong* way. You want to ramp up your workout intensity, not reduce it.

5. Get up off your butt. Few things destroy your intensity like going into a state of complete relaxation between sets. Also, your butt is preventing someone else from using that equipment while you rest. What to do instead? You could do supersets: pair two (or more) exercises, and as soon as you finish A, go do a set of B, then return to A. Or walk around the gym to keep your heart rate and energy high. You’ll definitely burn more calories with either of these strategies.

6. Leave your cell phone in the locker. Gabbing on the phone is typically combined with sitting on one’s butt between sets. Talk about an intensity killer.

7. Personalize the challenge. This one sounds weird, but it works. When you’re gearing up to do a heavy or difficult lift, turn it into a mental challenge: it’s you against the weight, and you’re the one who’s going to win. Walk purposefully over to the equipment you’re going to use. Look at it as you approach. Think about how many reps you’re going to accomplish and how you’re going to kick butt. You can say ridiculous things (in your head, OK?) to the equipment, like, “I’m going to dominate you” or “Prepare to be defeated.” This probably isn’t for everyone, but why not give it a try?

8. Make your workout shorter. I could write a book on this one. Bottom line: it’s impossible to maintain intensity and energy when the workout drags on too long. An ideal length for most people is 45 minutes to an hour. If you don’t have 45 minutes, you can get a great workout in half an hour if you keep moving. Intensity and duration are inversely related—meaning you can work out for a long time or you can work out very hard, but you can’t do both in a single session.


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