Too busy to exercise? Here is how to make a few minutes in the gym count

In my experience the most common barrier to good health is a hectic and stressful work life. An extremely busy schedule means health and fitness take a back seat. Often people come to me with weight and body fat goals and just one condition: achieving them in the smallest amount of time possible.

In an ideal world, we would be exercising frequently throughout the week and taking time to enjoy the process. This would make success rates considerably higher and easier to sustain. The point of this blog post, though, is to accept the reality — to help you incorporate effective fat loss workouts into busy work lives.

What type of exercises to select
When you’re strapped for time, the thing you should consider when selecting exercises is: how much muscle is required to make this movement work? A simple way to answer this is to think about how many joints are required in the exercise. The more muscle we use within a movement, the greater the caloric expenditure. This is true during the exercise period and after training too, as the body needs to work harder to recover.

It makes perfect sense to fill your gym sessions with exercises that incorporate large muscle groups and full body patterns, rather than the single muscle groups that fitness magazines may suggest. Squats, deadlifts, presses, pulls and adaptations of high intensity intervals (pictured and explained below) have many variations to allow us to create an effective fat loss workout. Prioritise these above isolated exercises such as bicep curls and leg extensions.

Isolated exercises are a great way to focus on specific parts of your body; however, if you’re strapped for time, they don’t give you as much bang for your buck.

How to put the exercises together
It is important to structure these exercises into an efficient workout. Full body workouts are denser in nature — they get more done in less time. This way, instead of training at the gym five days a week, you can get away with three days and still get great results.

There are a few principles to remember. As a rule of thumb, think heavier exercises at the beginning and lighter exercises towards the end. This means you look after your safety as the more strenuous work gets done when you are fresher and less likely to execute poor form.

A method I like to promote, particularly with clients who don’t have much time in their week, is super-sets, tri-sets and giant sets. A super-set is when you pair two exercises back to back, a tri-set is three exercises and a giant set is anything from four exercises performed in a circuit fashion. It’s a great way to get more done in less time — it is more efficient than the traditional singular exercise with X amount of reps and sets. It’s also a great way to get the heart rate elevated and get the blood pumping around the body. You will most certainly work up a sweat.

So, next time you’re strapped for time, develop your workouts with exercises that include multi-joint movements and pair these together in a circuit with minimal rest in between. An effective way to do this would be to pair lower body exercises such as squats with upper body exercises such as pulls and alternate between the two throughout your working sets. High intensity intervals (HIIT) are another great way to use your time efficiently and make the most out of cardio machines in a short space of time.

Squat
This is primarily for the lower body. However, because of the nature of the movement and the amount of joints it requires, the exercise involves virtually all muscles. This is intensified once loaded, as the torso has to stabilise in order for the lower body to work. It is one of those exercises that is natural to the human body and is something we have been doing since babies. You can do this exercise bodyweight, with dumbbells or with a barbell as shown in the picture. 

Deadlift
When done properly this recruits a hell of a lot of muscle. The main area it covers is that of the posterior chain (everything behind us). These muscles tend to be the weakest for many, as desk-bound jobs promote poor postures. Try this exercise for a stronger, healthier posture (and a perky bum).

Overhead press
This requires the muscles of the shoulder girdle to work but also involves the core. It can be done with a barbell as shown, or with dumbbells.

Incline press
If you are finding your shoulder mobility is a problem, then starting out with the incline press means you can include a form of pressing into your gym routine. Integrating this as part of a beginners’ programme can be an effective way of getting you ready for the overhead press. This press is recommended with dumbbells first before moving on to a barbell. 

Palms-up cable row
The palms-up cable row with a slight lean away is another exercise that can prepare you for deadlifting with good form and helps you build up adequate postural muscles. The lean away works the muscles of the shoulder girdle.

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