It’s pretty much the holy grail of exercise: get better results while putting in less time. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?
There’s just one problem though. If you’re like most people, you’re a creature of habit. Once you’ve discovered some exercises that you enjoy, or a specific workout that feels comfortable, it can be hard to deviate from that routine.
As a personal trainer, I’ve met clients who have been using the same workout program for years, with only minor tweaks here and there, and they wonder why their results have been so minimal.
In order to see meaningful change from your exercise, you have to make meaningful changes to the way you exercise. Which is why I’ve rounded up four radical workout ideas that will help you break free from boring routines, and start to see faster progress all while spending less time exercising.
Before we dive into these workout tips, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need to implement all of these ideas. Choose one technique, apply it to your workouts for 4-8 weeks, and then add a new challenge.
By progressively overloading your muscles and your body with new hurdles, you will be sure to see continual improvements over time. And what does that mean? No more plateaus. We’re all in.
Increase Your Workout Density
Workout density refers to the total number of exercise sets you perform in a workout. Many people choose 5-6 exercises to be included in their workout, and perform 3 sets of each exercise. That leads to a total density of 15-18 sets.
But what would happen if you dramatically increase your density?
Try reducing your rest periods so that you can squeeze 5 sets of each exercise into the same length of workout. This one tweak will challenge your muscular endurance and your cardiovascular conditioning, both of which will give your metabolism a major boost (a.k.a. say hello to continual fat-burning!).
To get the most out of this one, try putting a time limit on your workouts to force you to focus. If you “have to” be out of the gym in 40 minutes, then there’s less room for chit-chat and needless water breaks.
Implement a Tag-Team Approach
Sometimes it can be hard to motivate yourself to push yourself to do a bit more or to work a bit harder. That’s why I love using tag-team training to spice things up.
Here’s how it works:
- Find a partner who has a similar fitness level to yourself
- Decide on a set of exercises that you’re both familiar with
- Your joint goal is to complete the workout as quickly as possible
- One partner performs the first exercise while the second spots (or cheers!)
- As soon as the first partner completes exercise #1, the second partner jumps in and completes it as quickly as possible
- Partner #2 finishes and tags partner #1 back in
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
This tag-team approach offers two really important benefits. First, your rest time will be dramatically reduced because each of you only rests while the other is exercising. This is a fast-paced workout.
Second, there is an element of friendly competition mixed with encouragement and support. If your partner just ripped off an amazing set of squats, there’s a good likelihood you’ll want to return the favor. You both win!
This strategy works especially well for bodyweight workouts or those that require little equipment. If there are no weights to change or machines to set up, a tag-team workout can be blazingly quick and effective.
Slow It Way, Way Down
One of the most often overlooked variables that can be used to ramp up the effectiveness of a workout it the tempo. How fast is each repetition performed?
“Wait. Aren’t we trying to get more progress from faster workouts?” (Good question!)
By slowing down the tempo of your workouts, your muscles are experiencing greater time under load. Your muscles are contracting to resist a force for a longer period of time.
Imagine doing 10 push-ups. Most people might take 8-10 seconds to fire off these push-ups, but think about what would happen to your muscles if you had to lower into each push-up using an agonizingly slow count to 5. Suddenly those 10 push-ups put your muscles under load for up to 60 seconds or more.
A slower tempo can create muscle tearing (something you want in order to build stronger muscles) with far fewer reps than you’d need using a faster tempo. You will be in and out of the gym in less time, having done fewer sets, but will have challenged your body in ways it’s never encountered before. Moral of the story: slow it down.
Mix Your Cardio and Strength Sessions
Watch people in the gym and you’ll see that most come in with a single purpose:
“Today I’m hitting the weights,” they might say. Or, “I’m just doing a cardio workout.”
Who said that cardio and weights need to be mutually exclusive?
One of my favorite tricks to help clients get faster results, particularly those clients who are looking to shed fat, is to mix their cardio and weights sessions. This is known as concurrent training and it has show to be a fantastic way to get more done in less time.
Let’s say you like to jog on the treadmill. Grab one or two sets of dumbbells and place them on the floor beside you. You want all of your equipment nearby so that there’s as little transition time between exercises as possible.
Complete a short yet challenging jog/run on the treadmill for no longer than 5 minutes. Hop off your machine and perform 1-3 sets of a given exercise, let’s say lunges, before getting back on the treadmill.
Now your goal is to run on the treadmill for the same distance and in the same amount of time as you did during your first run. You’re competing against yourself!
Follow that cardio set with another 1-3 sets of strength training before completing yet another cardio interval. Repeat for even 30 minutes and you will see just how challenging (and effective) concurrent training can be.
About Dave Smith
Dave Smith is a professional fitness and weight-loss coach who was chosen as “Canada’s Top Fitness Professional” in 2013. He shares awesome health and weight-loss tips through his blog and podcast that you can find at makeyourbodywork.com.