Why short focused workouts are the most effective

By Raymond Onyango.


I’ve seen it a lot in every health club I have worked in, individuals that come and spend hours upon hours at the gym, but seldom have much to show for it. Granted some of these folk spend far too much of their time hanging around the water dispenser chatting up other club members, and hardly put any real effort into working out. However there are also those who genuinely try very hard, easily spending about a hour or so in the cardio room before heading out to hit the weights, but even they seem to look just the same month after month. So what is going on? Why do so many of us have so little to show for our efforts in the gym? What can we do to accelerate our progress short of actually taking up permanent residence within the precincts of a health club?

Much of the problem with the majority of our exercise regimens can be distilled down into a single word – Efficiency, or more appropriately, the glaring lack of it. The majority of individuals in the gym do not make any progress due to three major reasons, namely 1. Trying to do too much at once 2. Lack of a plan and 3.  Poor time management – efficiency. Let us examine each one of these in turn

More is not always better

More is not always better when it comes to working out. Let us say that you have just spent an hour in the cardio section of the gym doing some intense jogging on the treadmill, cycling and cross training, then you decide to cross over to the gym for some strength training. By the time you get here a couple of things are happening to your body physiologically. For starters, your blood sugar is already depleted, and you may be going into a hypoglycemic state, where your physical performance begins to drop and with no more fuel to drive it, your body is literally beginning to break down muscle tissue to meet its energy demands. Secondly, because you are already performing below your prime, you wont push the weights as hard as you would be able to when fresh, so your workout will be below par at best, and thirdly, because you are tired, you are much more likely to loose your form and incur an otherwise avoidable injury, simply because you are trying to do too much all at once.

You don’t have to use every single piece of equipment in the gym just because it is there! What you really need to do is to focus on just a single aspect of your fitness every time you walk into the gym and the spice it up by incorporating some variety throughout the week.  For instance on Monday, run, stretch then go home to eat, sleep to let the muscles recover. On Tuesday lift some weights, stretch, go home. Wednesday try an aerobics class and leave it at that. Thursday hit the weights again. On Friday, try a Yoga class to improve your flexibility and end the week in style. This gives you variety, without the overload of tying to do it all at once.

Have a plan

While you do not need anything complicated, you do need to have some kind of a plan. A plan that lays out your exercise agenda for each day and the week as a whole.  I am all for fitness programs because they keep us consistent and accountable, allowing us to gauge whether we are actually making progress in the right direction. Getting better at exercise is like learning a new language – body language. Like any other language, it you need to grasp its overall structure in order to make progress and you must begin with the basics before you can get into the more advanced aspects of it.

If you are one of those people who walk into the gym and simply do what ever they feel like, it is quite likely that you will not make much progress, even if you keep at it for the rest of your life.  It is also quite likely that you will become one of those people hanging out at the water dispenser looking for someone to talk to, so you can while away the time and still say that you ‘spent’ two hours at the gym today! Get a plan and you will get ahead, it’s simple.

Practice good time management

If you cannot get your workout done from start to finish in an hour or less, you really need to reconsider what it is that you are doing at the gym.  The problem with far too many of us is that we place a lot of faith in isolation movements that only target individual muscle groups. So you will see lots of people doing bicep curls and leg extensions because they read about them in some glossy lifestyle magazine rather than concentrating on the fundamental building blocks of any successful workout – compound exercises. The bulk of your goal – weather you’re looking to burn fat or build muscle – should be focused on compound whole body movements such as squats, lunges, dead lifts, pull ups, push ups, planks and the like.  These sorts of exercises target several different muscle groups a one go and therefore save you lots of time without compromising on effectiveness.

Further to this, precisely because so many muscle groups are needed to perform an exercise such as the squat, it burns many more calories that the leg extension for instance and also has much more of a cross over effect in your day to day life than it machine counterparts.

You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to achieve results, you just need to observe some basic principles, maintain balance in your workouts and lead a generally active lifestyle. Go hiking, biking, running or play with your kids. Enjoy what you do and chances are your body will change for the better – and you will probably live longer too!

Have a focused week will you!