How You Are Wasting Your Time at the Gym

I go to the gym at least 4 times a week. Before I had children it was more. This week, while I am on vacation, I am trying to go everyday. I love the gym. I admit it freely and without fear of persecution. I know lots of people don’t get this or they think of the gym as a terrible evil place where demons live, but I love it. I will make no apologies or pretend otherwise. If it makes you uncomfortable that is your problem- note to yourself maybe you should look at why you care if I love the gym.

I see lots of regulars at the gym working out hard and just as often as myself, but they never seem to make any progress. They lift the same weights day in and out, their body never changes and they never seem to get that high I love so much. It makes me sad to see so many people who obviously want to reach a goal, who are putting in the time and probably the effort, but who go home everyday exactly as they were the day before. If it bothers me, I can only assume it bothers them even more. I would NEVER go to the gym on a daily basis if I didn’t experience results. Even I’m not that dedicated.

These people are wasting their time. I watch it and it is painful. Here are the top 8 ways people waste their time at the gym; don’t be one of these people.

  1. Changing music or checking their phones. I’ve blasted through whole workouts in the amount of time it took one guy to find the right song on his iPod. Seriously, create a play list for working out and leave your phone in the locker. Unless someone is about to die or your baby is alone with a sitter for the first time you don’t need your phone, whoever is calling can wait.
  2. Standing around talking. Sorry folks, this isn’t social hour or even happy hour. This is a workout, if you can talk you aren’t working out hard enough. If someone you know wants to chat just tell them politely that you really need to finish up with no distractions can they call you later? Smile and put your ear phones back in.
  3. Resting between sets. What the hell are you resting for? You “rest” about 22 hours in the day. Trust me, your body doesn’t need a rest; be it 30 seconds or 2 minutes, you do not need to rest. If you are between sets then do a set for an alternate body part while you “rest” the first muscle. But for god’s sake do not stop and sit. If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to pick something heavy up.
  4. Lifting 5-10 pounds. Seriously, women stop doing this. They should just take 5 pound weights out of the gym. Unless you are old or doing rehab you should never be caught holding a 5 pound dumbbell. Waste of time. Go home, sit on your couch and lift your pocket dog up and down. Same thing and just as useless for getting in shape.
  5. Avoiding cardio or weight training.  To get fit fast and see results you need both. Sorry, but you really do. Nothing can take the place of lifting weights and nothing works your heart or burns calories the way cardio does. So don’t tell me you are trying to bulk up so you can’t run or you are trying to “lean out” so you can’t lift. It just makes you sound ignorant.
  6. Going home and eating ice cream. Or whatever your thing may be. Bottom line is the rest of your day, including what you eat, has more impact on your overall health and ability to lose weight than what you do at the gym. Don’t negate your hard work with over indulgence. Might as well not go to the gym, or you can lift the gallon of ice cream for 10 reps before indulging. I just saved you time and the money for a gym membership. You’re welcome.
  7. Waiting on a machine. You have to be flexible at the gym, especially if it is a peak hour. You don’t have time to wait for a specific machine to clear up. Bottom line, for every body part you want to work there are about 20 ways minimum that you can work it. So if your favorite machine is busy, take this opportunity to break a rut and find something new to do. If you don’t know what other exercises work that particular muscle then ask someone. Everyone was new once. Everyone knows what it was like to feel stupid in the gym.
  8. Leaning on cardio equipment. Get your hands off the cardio machine! Now! Unless you need it to balance yourself, or it is an elliptical machine (though I do these hands free too), your hand should ever touch a piece of cardio equipment again. If you are leaning, clutching, pulling, or vice gripping a machine then you are not working out hard enough. Let go!

Now that you know what not to do, let’s talk about what you should do. Here is a quick outline of what you should be doing with your gym time. This will get you the results you’ve been looking for and it takes about the same amount of time you are probably already spending in the gym. Now that you aren’t doing the 8 deadly sins of the gym you should have plenty of free time to get it right.

  1. Lift weights first. It helps to burn the glucose in your blood and the glycogen in your muscles which forces your body to burn more fat for energy when you get to cardio. Don’t argue, just do it.
  2. Lift as heavy as you can. Seriously. If you don’t know how heavy you can lift just start picking things up. I lift pretty heavy, for an out of shape girl, and I don’t think anyone would ever call me bulky. So if your fear is bulking up, I suggest you avoid the ‘roids and lift something heavy. Lift for at least 8 reps and 3 sets. If you can lift whatever it is for more than 8 times, it isn’t heavy enough.
  3. Learn the major muscle groups and work out at least 2 groups a day with at least a 2 day break before working them again. Try Chest/Triceps one day, Back/Biceps the next day, Legs/shoulders the third day. Then repeat or take a day off. I do abs everyday I go to the gym. Everyday. After 6 weeks or so of this schedule switch the order up or do new exercises to avoid hitting a plateau. Right now I am doing 1 exercise per body part everyday. Everyday it is a different set of exercises than the day before. No day is the same. I am doing this this week because I finally get to go to the gym every day, I finally put down the ice cream spoon, and I am looking to blast through a plateau I’m stuck on. Its going to suck because I’m not doing a lot of down time, but that is why I will only do this for a week.
  4. Do abs between sets. This way you are staying active but letting the muscles have a break. So do 8 squat reps, then do something for abs, then 8 squats reps, abs etc.
  5. Do fast, high intensity cardio for 2-4 minutes between exercises. So when your 3 sets are done, do cardio at a super high intensity for 2-4 minutes. I mean, you can barely breathe, you certainly can’t talk, and you are actually sweating intensity level cardio. Studies show that high intensity interval training burns loads of fat and is actually better for your cardiovascular health than long duration cardio. Plus, by the time you are done lifting you will have done about 30 min of cardio without really trying or getting bored.
  6. Work your way up to at least 3 exercises per body part every day you work them. So for example, if it is chest day, you could do chest press, incline chest press, and flys. This works the muscles from slightly different angles and it ensures that the muscles work to their fullest extent.
  7. Once weight lifting is over, do at least 20 min of cardio. If you did the cardio intervals while lifting, then you already have about 30 min give or take under your belt. So now you just need about 20-40 min more depending on your energy level and time allowance. I hate cardio. I think it is boring and it makes my lungs hurt, but it is a necessary evil. To spice it up avoid sitting on one machine, move around to stay motivated. Do 5 minutes per machine or a different machine each day. Or you can do interval training on 1 machine. I hate to run but I have found that if I do the treadmill and vary my speed between running fast on a low incline and walking fast on a high incline that I get a great calorie burning workout without the burning lungs and vomit.
  8. Don’t forget to stretch and warm up. It prevents injury and helps your body move easier through the exercises and real life. You can never stretch too often or too much.

The bottom line is this, If you are already putting in the time at the gym, but you aren’t seeing the results you wanted, then you are doing something wrong. If you avoid the 8 gym sins listed above and engage in the 8 must do tips then you should start seeing results in a very short period of time. You’re putting in the time, shouldn’t that time count? Good luck and get moving!

This post assumes certain things are true about you, the reader. If these things are not true, please do not follow the suggestions contained within. This post assumes you are relatively healthy with no major medical issues. It further assumes you are capable of moderate level exercise and do not have any pre-existing conditions that would effect your ability to exercise or try new things- laziness and excuses not withstanding. If you have pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness during exercise or you get injured, STOP immediately and seek professional guidance.

In case you question my ability to give advice concerning this topic, please rest assured that I not only have a degree in Biology and have been a certified personal trainer since 2002, but I have owned and operated a body for a significant number of years and can attest to it’s responses to high intensity, frequent exercise. Enjoy!


Here is your Zen and the Art of Friends moment about gyms.

2 thoughts on “How You Are Wasting Your Time at the Gym

  1. How bad is it that I was eating an English Muffin dripping with butter while I read this? It was light butter. But if I use twice as much as the regular, what am I really doing? :-D

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