Q: I’ve been working out five days a week for an hour, but with a new job I wont be able to hit the gym as often or for as long. I am worried about losing the progress I’ve made, and welcome any tips you might have.
A: There are many ways to adjust an exercise program to make it more time efficient. Some good options:
Look at your current routine and replace isolation exercises with functional ones. Functional exercises use multiple muscle groups with each repetition while isolation movements work only one muscle group at a time. For example: When working legs, its not uncommon to use one machine for the hamstrings, one for the inner and outer thighs, one for hips and one for quadriceps. To work the same muscles using a single exercise, you could perform squats or lunges instead. Other examples of functional exercises are push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts and climbing stairs. Cardiovascular exercise works multiple muscle groups as well.
Since you are pressed for time, I would suggest starting out with a simple program that includes primarily body-weight only exercises like the ones mentioned, performing one set of each to muscle fatigue. Typically, this equates to about one minute per set. Depending on the amount of time you have left, you can go back and complete a second or third round.
Another option is to work the upper body and lower body at the same time. This type of training is the most time-efficient, and as a bonus, provides greater calorie burn. An example of an upper/lower body combination would be to work the arms with bicep curls or shoulder presses, while doing lunges or squats for leg strengthening.
Minimize rest breaks during the workout. If using a program similar to the one described, you can further maximize efficiency by eliminating or decreasing your normal rest breaks between reps or sets.
Note: The energy or effort put forth during exercise is key to continual progress, but it is also important to safeguard against overtraining.
There are a few easy ways to tell if you are going too easy on yourself or working out too hard. The “talk test” or “sing test” are simple methods that can be used to measure intensity during cardiovascular workouts in order to help avoid overexertion. An example of exercising at a light intensity level would be if you were able to sing during the activity, meaning breathing is not difficult. A moderate intensity level, would allow you to carry on a conversation while exercising, but the degree of difficulty would leave you feeling somewhat winded. Exercising at a pace where you are too winded to carry on a conversation is considered a vigorous intensity level.