Showing up to sweat is never really a waste of time, since there are endless benefits to just getting moving. But if you’re waking up extra early to hit the gym or are skipping happy hour to make a spin class, don’t you want to make sure you’re doing as much for your body as you possibly can?
Which is why, if you’re a busy, high-achieving person who wants to make the most of the precious time you’ve carved out to do your body good, it helps to think about efficiency. And it turns out that time you’re putting into some of your go-to workout moves just might be better spent doing something else.
Not cool, right? Here, experts reveal how to make every second—and rep—count.
Keep reading for three ways to stop wasting time during workouts.
1. Stop doing the same thing over and over and over
If you hit your favorite indoor cycling studio or hop on an elliptical five days a week every week, your heart will stay happy and endorphins will be flowing. But if you want to see results (say, in terms of fat burning), your body will generally hit a plateau after three weeks, says Nedra Lopez, trainer and owner of New York City’s The P.E. Club.
“A waste of time would be doing the same thing every time and never increasing your weight, volume, or reps,” she says. “You need to consistently be increasing intensity—and keep your body guessing. Don’t just stick to things you’re good at.”
2. Stick to exercises you can execute with perfect form
Sit-ups generally get a bad rap, and that’s primarily because it’s hard to do them right, explains celebrity trainer David Kirsch. “It’s easy to do the exercise incorrectly and end up targeting your arms and neck instead of engaging your core,” he says, suggesting planks instead.
Even push-ups—one of the most basic, time-tested, effective exercises—can be useless if you’re not strong enough to do them correctly, he says. Feeling it more in your lower back and neck instead of chest, triceps, and core? That’s a sign that, like a bad relationship, you might not be getting as much out of the move as you’d like.
“Pay attention to the areas that the exercise is meant to target,” Kirsch advises. “If you’re doing an exercise incorrectly, it’s a complete waste of time and could end up hurting other areas of the body that’s not meant to be affected by the workout.”
3. Consider your conditioning
With the popularity of HIIT came a move towards plyometrics, which can be super effective in terms of fat burning and weight loss. The problem, Lopez says, is that high-impact exercises like box jumps require a certain amount of conditioning and flexibility. If your glutes aren’t strong enough to fire properly, for instance, the move could go from efficient to dangerous.
“People now think they have to jump up and down all of the time, and most people aren’t conditioned enough so it can be a waste of time,” she says. “If you’re going to do burpees and jumping lunges and you have tight hips and hamstrings, you’re going to hurt yourself unless you have a plan for active recovery and are also doing targeted strength training or yoga.”
One thing to remember to increase efficiency? Increase intensity at a level that works for you, and keep dialing it up as you get stronger. High impact does not mean the same thing for everyone across the board.