Getting to the gym is tough enough without wasting precious time on a lackluster workout. Why spend an hour chained to the treadmill when you could be getting a better full-body burn in half that time? With this in mind, we asked fitness experts how they make the most out of their workouts—with time to spare. (Spoiler alert: It could be as simple as breathing better.) Keep reading for their tips!
Focusing on your breath is essential for all exercise (nope, not just yoga). Your muscles need oxygen to function properly, so if you aren't breathing correctly and efficiently throughout your workout, you might not be benefiting from it as much as you could (not to mention you're probably getting winded more quickly).
"The more oxygen you take in during your workout, the more you will burn," says Cari Merriam of CorePower Yoga. Muscles need oxygen to work properly, as working muscle takes oxygen out of the blood three times better than muscles that are at rest. When your muscles are working properly, you increase blood flow, in turn increasing heart rate and depth of breathing. So the more efficient your muscles work, the better your workout will be."
But definitely note that while breathing is important across the board, the right way to breathe might differ from exercise to exercise. During strength training, exhale during the tougher part of the exercise (during the lift of a weight, for example). While doing cardio, aim for a consistent rhythm between inhale and exhale. And while stretching, breathe deeply—this is key in preventing muscle injury.
How many times have you been instructed to "engage your core" during a fitness class? Not only are you stablizing yourself by doing so, but you're also isometrically working your abs in the process, a surefire way to flatten your stomach.
"Incorporate core activation and ab-sculpting moves like bird dogs and planks to maximize your time and keep your abs engaged throughout the workout, " says Idalis Velazquez, trainer and C9 ambassador. Beyond this, you can also add some ab action to any exercise just by flexing your stomach. (Imagining a band around your midsection is helpful when firing up those muscles.)
This isn't just about making a move more efficient—incorrect form also puts you at risk for injury. In the end, quality is everything since exercises are designed to engage muscles in a very specific way. Focus more on your alignment than knocking out several reps. Velazquez recommends consulting a professional to ensure that you're getting it right. (Does your gym membership offer a free personal training session? This is where it might come in handy.)
It won't bulk you up (promise!), but challenging your muscles will add definition and burn fat in less time than a higher rep count with small weights, says fitness guru Kristin McGee. (Just be sure you're not taking on more than you can handle—your muscles should feel fatigued, not overstrained.)
Got 10 minutes? You can still burn a crazy amount of calories by going all-out with carefully crafted intervals—and that's not even including the major afterburn.
"High-intensity interval training is basically any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and fixed periods of less-intense activity or even complete rest," says fitness expert Tanja Djelevic. Invest in an interval timer (like Gym Boss's miniMax, $28), write down a list of dynamic exercises (push-ups, burpees, squats, jump rope, you name it), and go hard for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds rest in between move—and see if you can make it to seven minutes total. Check out the video below if you need more inspiration to get started.
Make over your time on the treadmill with these HIIT routines from McGee:
Run (almost sprinting) for 30 to 60 seconds, alternating with one minute's rest.
Sprint at an incline for 30 seconds, and jump to the sides to rest for 30 seconds. Alternate.
Taking a breather is important, but you can do so without halting your workout. "Opt for active rest in between exercises with less challenging moves that will still strengthen and tone your body," advises Velazquez. Planks, sit-ups, squats, and lunges are all great options—and try to limit your downtime to one minute.
No matter how much of a rush you're in, always set aside time to warm up and cool down. "Recovery and regeneration are key to getting the most out of your workouts," says Velazquez, who recommends spending about 10 minutes with a foam roller to smooth out muscle cramps and stretch out. You'll prevent injury and help your muscles recover faster from soreness—so you're still raring to go the next day. (Plus, it feels glorious. Try Tunalt's Muscle Roller Stick, $17.)
What are your tips for a super-efficient workout? Tell us in the comments below!