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Time Management for Fitness: A Beginner’s Guide to Efficiency at the Gym

Updated on May 21, 2013
Does anyone have the time?
Does anyone have the time?

The need for efficiency

I was doing great getting to the gym and working out—until life changed and my schedule wasn’t as predictable and family responsibilities came along and . . . Sound familiar? Add to all these things creaky joints and early-onset arthritis from a combination of birth defects and dancing too often on stress fractures, and you can understand why efficiency in working out is a challenge for me these days.

Part of the reason that my trips to the gym dropped off as rapidly as they did is that I prefer to workout in the swimming pool. I can get a good, full-body workout this way without aggravating my joints. Less pain, more gain. However, time management became a problem. A good swim session for me was turning into a couple of hours spent at the gym. What grownup has time for that five days a week?

The New Year was coming soon, and I knew I needed to make a change. First, I decided that something is by far better than nothing; so getting to the gym became a priority, even if I had less than an hour to spend there. Also, I decided that it might be time to mix up my exercise routine a little and add a few dry-land exercises to my repertoire. A renewal of my gym membership came with a free consultation with a personal trainer, so I posed questions and made as much of that opportunity as possible as well. Time management was at the top of my list of questions for her, and she had some good ideas. Here are the results thus far:

Mixing it up

As I have known for some time, a good exercise routine is varied as well as balanced. I first began to incorporate a couple miles of bike riding at the beginning of my workout sessions before getting into the pool. Because time management is becoming more and more important in my life, the thought occurred to me that an efficiency workout might do well for me.


I tend to dawdle--all the time--so my first goal was to whittle down the time spent at the gym by setting specific time-management goals. In order get in and out of the gym in 45 minutes or less and still achieve a fat-burning workout, the key is intervals. Intervals are alternating periods of aerobic activity in which you first warm up at a moderate pace, then work as hard as you can, return to the moderate pace, then go back to 100 percent effort.

Mini-triathalon workout

Don't let this subtitle confuse you, I am nowhere close to training for a full-on triathalon. I have, however, learned that the three activities of a triathalon--running, biking and swimming--combine to make a well-balanced physical fitness routine.

For my efficiency workouts, I begin on the stationary bike at two minute intervals, beginning with a warm up pace. After 10 minutes of bike riding, I move on to the next activity.

Ideally the next activity will be jogging or working out on an elliptical machine of some sort, again for 10 minutes. The same intervals will work here.

Then jog yourself into the locker room and hop into a swimming suit for the final leg of your workout. Since this is a quick session, you will want to clip up or tie back long hair. Use of a swim cap might be a good idea. Make sure you quickly rinse in the shower to rid your body of excess sweat and then hop straight into the chilly lap lanes (if available). Getting directly into cold water after working out on land provides the added bonus of helping rid your body of the lactic acid that results in aching muscles later on.

Swimming provides both aerobic and anaerobic workouts at the same time. In order to keep from needing to wash, condition and comb out my long, thick hair, I use a buoyancy belt for a quick workout. If the pool is deep enough, deep end water jogging, jumping jacks, Nordic track, and other deep water aerobic moves will get me quickly through the next 15 minutes of my workout. On days when I wish to incorporate weight training, I grab a set of water weights and either jog with them or simply do fifteen minutes of underwater weight training.

Then it is time to stretch carefully and safely, either on the pool deck or in a warm water pool or hot tub. Once that is done, pop back to the locker room where you can wring out that wet suit and dress. You should have just burnt around 300 calories (depending on your weight and metabolism) and gotten on your way in just under 45 minutes.

Making it work

If there is any reason why you cannot or should not participate in any of these three exercises, simply adjust the times of your interval workout to continue to get the best results. Remember to check with your doctor before beginning any new workout regime.

If you are looking to lose some weight as well as get in better physical shape, beware that the additional exercise you are getting will also make you feel hungrier. Drinking plenty of water is not only a good way to make sure you remain hydrated but also to help you feel less hunger. In addition, when you feel extra hungry, start by eating a fruit or vegetable snack. Even if you give in later and have that sweet goodie, the vitamins and fiber of the healthy food will provide both nutrition and a natural filter to the other food you intake.

I will often pack raw almonds, an orange or some carrots in my gym bag to enjoy on the way to my next engagement. For women, a great post-workout snack is a banana and eight ounces of chocolate milk.

Whatever you choose to do, be healthy. If you get to the gym at all, consider it a success. Any time spent exercising is better than no time at all; and I find that the more I workout, the healthier my food choices tend to be. It’s as if my body takes the cue from those endorphins and starts automatically making better recommendations by way of craving more fruits and vegetables instead of those fatty, starchy things I want when I’m playing the part of a couch potato. My guess is this may happen to you as well. Here’s to your health!


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