English: an exercise of upper back and biceps

English: an exercise of upper back and biceps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s no secret that I have spent quite a bit of time in the gym over the past 20 years. For much of that period, I would spend at least an hour in the gym on a daily basis, commonly stretching it to two hours. I was in shape but I also struggled to find time to get it all in. As I grew older (and hopefully wiser:) ), I discovered some gymhacks that allow me to be in and out in 30 minutes or less while actually improving my fitness. Try these tips to help you work harder, smarter and faster.


Do you ever find that some days you feel like you could lift the entire squat rack or run the treadmill belt into dust whereas other days you feel like somebody turned up the gravity in the gym? Of course, there are several factors at play in how you feel each day but there is one that is easy to control. Hydration. Unless you’re training for a marathon in a southern summer, water is all you need. Aim to intentionally hydrate at least two hours before you enter the gym by drinking 12-16 ounces. Continue to sip water throughout your workout, as needed and finally drink another few ounces when you’re finished. It’s amazing how better your body functions and how much more energy you have when you stay hydrated.

Active Rest

If you go to the gym for social connections, then by all means, talk to your fellow exerciser between sets. But don’t just stand there (or even worse, sit there!). Instead, use that time for some active rest. I have three favorite moves that I do during this time, depending upon what body part(s) I’m working that day and what is still sore from the day before. Each of these requires no equipment so that it can be done where you are and also is easy enough that you can still carry on a conversation.

Push Ups: This familiar move works your chest, arms, shoulders and core while slightly elevating your heart rate. Play with variations: incline, decline, hands gripping the sides of a Bosu ball, etc.

Body Weight Squats: If your upper body is maxed out, do some squats during your rest and recovery period. These are great to keep your heart rate up as well as giving your booty a boost!

Sun Salutations: Okay, this will get you some strange looks. But if you look better, feel better and get out faster, who cares, right? I love doing these between sets on those days when my mind or body are still protesting a stressful day. This flow helps to stretch the body while it is on constant motion. Here’s a basic tutorial.

Tweak the Recipe

Do you ever find yourself standing in the middle of the gym, pondering what you should do? Or, when a preferred piece of equipment is in use, do you wander aimlessly until it becomes available? This hack can save you from that. First, develop a simple recipe for each type of workout you do. For example, on days when I focus on my back, I always do a high pulling movement, a lower pulling movement, an exercise to address the read deltoids (backs of the shoulders) and a lower back exercise. Once your basic recipes are down, brainstorm variations. For my upper pulling exercise, I can do pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull downs, high rope pull downs or visit one of half a dozen machines in my gym that follows this basic movement pattern. By having a recipe, I’m never stuck wondering what to do and the variations keep it interesting, limit overuse injuries and give me options when equipment is in use.


Do you spend an hour on the treadmill or elliptical moving at a constant pace? Do you get bored? Do you feel challenged? Yeah, thought so:) Try cutting your time in half and doing intervals instead. When you’re on the more difficult portion of the interval, really work. It’s worth it. That extra effort will pay dividends in fat loss and cardiovascular health later. If you are really short on time (or like a challenge!), try Tabata intervals. These are 8 rounds of 20 seconds at 100% effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. Sound easy? Yeah, I only made it through 5 rounds on my first try and spent the next 10 minutes on the floor. You can do this protocol with anything that raises your heart rate, but I find that the elliptical machines that give you the option of including your arms in the movement work the best. Look for smartphone apps to manage your intervals, Tabata or otherwise.


Yes, you burned calories at the gym. No, you did not burn enough to polish off that platter of wings with no net gain. Sorry:( Be realistic about the calorie demands that your body has and don’t eliminate all your hard work by following your workout with too many fork lifts. Health and weight loss is more about what you put in than anything.

Know Your Goals

When I was training for a marathon, my workouts looked very different. My goals had shifted and so my workouts had to follow suit. I knew that I would be wasting my time trying to build muscle since the long training runs didn’t allow my body to create new muscle. Instead, I shifted my focus to maintaining strength and flexibility to help prevent injury. Make sure your efforts are aligned with your goals.

Happy hacking:)



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