How much of your workout is spent actually working out? Probably not as much as you think, as these habits can eat into your gym time. Ditch them to maximize your time—and results.
Ditch Your Cell Phone
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Next time you're at the gym, take a quick look around—chances are you'll see quite a few people who are more tuned into their phones than their workout. They can be a major time-stealing distraction during sweat sessions, says Patrick Henigan, the owner of Jacksonville Fitness Academy in Jacksonville, FL. What may seem to take only a few seconds—picking a song to pump you up, taking a quick call, responding to an email, checking social media or posing for a few (dozen) snaps to get the perfect gym selfie—actually adds up and reduces the quantity and quality of your workout. Plus, staring down at your phone while you're exercising (or anytime, for that matter) throws off your posture, putting you at risk for pain and injuries.
The most obvious solution is to not take your phone with you when you're working out. If you aren't willing to go quite that far, though, there are other ways to stop letting your cell barge in on your training. "Buy wireless headphones so you never have to fuss with your cord or worry about it jerking out of your ears at an inopportune moment," says Henigan. It'll also allow you to keep your phone somewhere other than your pocket, like in your gym bag. Consider flipping your phone to airplane mode, too. That way you'll still have access to music and training apps, but no calls or texts will come through. And since the goal is to minimize distractions, save any social media checks or web surfing until after you're done.
Skip the Locker Room Routine
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Some women spend quite a bit of time in the locker and bathroom area at the gym. Think about it: You go straight to the locker room to use the restroom, remove your makeup, change into your workout clothes and shoes, put your hair up in a bun or ponytail, and then finally head out to exercise. Then when you're done, you're right back in the locker area showering, washing, and blow-drying your hair, moisturizing your body, getting dressed and putting on makeup. Cutting down on the time spent in the locker room can give you a little extra time to work out, or it can allow you to get your workout done sooner so that you're able to move on with the rest of your day. Make sure your gym bag is well organized and has all the items you need and, if possible, change into your workout clothes, remove your makeup and take a bathroom break before you get to the gym (even if it means doing it right before you leave the office). If you're really crunched for time, save your post-workout shower for home so you can simply do a quick wipe-down and go.
Go In with a Plan
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Walking into the gym and winging it is one of the easiest ways to let time slip away. "You end up walking around from machine to machine, without any idea of what you want to do," says Jessica Thiefels, a certified personal trainer and owner of Honest Body Fitness in San Diego. Working out on the fly means you have to figure out which exercises to do and then how much weight, how many sets, and the number of reps you want to do for each of those exercises, which typically translates to an unfocused, unproductive workout, says Thiefels.
So, it's important to go in with a plan. "Writing a long-term workout plan (monthly, for example) allows you to write in the progression you need to meet that goal, while writing your workouts at the beginning of the week or the night before allows you to base your plan on how you're feeling that week or day," says Thiefels. Once you've come up with your outline, save your workouts. That way if you're feeling lazy or don't have time to plan a workout in the future, you can use one of your old ones and get started ASAP.
But Be Flexible
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Just because you plan your workout in advance doesn't mean you can't stray from it at times. If you plan to do 20 minutes on the treadmill but they're full, or you need the squat rack and they're all being used, don't stand (or worse, sit) around waiting. Find another machine or do a different exercise that targets the same muscles. For instance, if you can't use the squat rack, do the leg press machine or lunges. If you must use equipment that is already in use, ask the person if you can work in with him or her between sets, or do something active (like jumping jacks, mountain climbers, jumping rope or stretching) while you wait for the machine or equipment to be free. (Try this no-equipment circuit workout while you wait.)
Cut the Chatter
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You don't have to be anti-social at the gym, but stopping to say hi to this person and that buddy can quickly lead to a long conversation. To discourage gym gabbers, have your earbuds in as soon as you hit the front door. That signals to others that you're not there to talk but rather get sh*t done. Same goes even if you have a workout partner:. Arrange your routine so that the two of you arrive at a specific time, work out for a certain amount of time, and then catch up over a recovery smoothie after.
Photo: Getty Images
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Bring your own...bottle. You know, to make sure you're hydrated while working up a sweat. Trekking to the water fountain, waiting in line, and then making your way back to your workout area steals precious minutes from your workout, though, so fill 'er up before you walk through those gym doors. (Psst: Check out the hydration tips every fit girl needs.)
Skip the Isolation Moves
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We're not saying bicep curls or tricep kickbacks don't have their place in a good training plan, but training just biceps, triceps, and other smaller muscles can waste a lot of time. Doug Barsanti, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of ReInvention Fitness, recommends doing compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, pullups, and pushups instead, as they target multiple muscles at once. "Working the big muscles creates a better metabolic environment for fat loss, and working more muscles with fewer exercises saves time in the gym," he says. Another bonus: "When using compound exercises, you're also working the coordination between the small muscles that stabilize you and the big muscles that move you, which is important for developing strength and fitness you can use outside the gym."
Photo: Getty Images
Shorten Your Rests
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Resting between sets should be short and sweet, as you don't want your body to cool down. Tyler Spraul, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and the head trainer at Exercise.com, says it's only necessary to wait until you're 100 percent ready to go again if you are really crushing your nervous system by working out at a very high intensity (think high weights with only a few reps, he says). Otherwise, most programs have recommended rest times, so follow the instructions and use a wristwatch or timer app to help you stay on track.
Quit Zoning Out
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Failing to really dial in and have your mind focused during exercise is one of the biggest wastes of time, says Spraul. Not only does it increase the risk of injuries, but it also decreases the effectiveness of your workout. He recommends using positive self-talk (repeating motivating, invigorating phrases like "I'm crushing this!"), focusing on what success will feel like at the end of the workout, and actively stamping out any kind of doubt or worry that tries to creep up on you by disputing it with more positive self-talk. As you tune in during your workout, you'll be better able to feel what your body is capable of (which is a lot more than you might think), and also have an easier time really feeling your progress, says Spraul.
Photo: Getty Images
Switch It Up
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If you're doing the same old thing every time you go to the gym, it's time to make a change. You're not necessarily wasting your time completely, but when you do the same thing over and over again your body gets used to it and doesn't burn as many calories," says Sarah Hays Coomer, a Nashville-based personal trainer and author of Lightness of Body and Mind: A Radical Approach to Weight and Wellness. "Plus, doing the same exercises repeatedly can cause certain muscle groups to get overworked while others atrophy and get weaker." That imbalance can lead to injuries, aches and chronic pain, she says, so get more from your workouts by mixing things up, whether that be through duration, type of exercise, or intensity. (Here, how exactly to switch up your go-to workout so you don't compromise your progress.)