Hit a Workout or Diet Plateau?

Hit a Workout or Diet Plateau?

Let’s talk about plateaus.

It’s likely that somewhere along your journey, you’ll hit one. You’re eating like you feel you should, and working out regularly. Yet for some reason, you’re not shaking up your body enough to invoke change.

Workout Plateaus

At this point, many people want to run to cardio as the answer. They get sucked back in to the Cardio Trap thinking, “if 30 minutes on the treadmill each day helped me lose a few pounds, then 60 minutes will of course help me lose even more. And if 60 minutes at a moderate pace helps me lose more, 60 minutes at a strenuous pace must be even better.”

This philosophy is a huge misconception. Even if it works initially, it can and most likely will eventually backfire. What happens when 60 minutes is no longer enough? Go to 90? 120? Do you REALLY want to work for 2 hours to get the same amount of results that you once got in 30 min? This is something to consider before you even consider falling down that rabbit hole:

“What happens when what I’m currently doing, is no longer ‘enough’?”

Because the time will come. Your body is amazingly adaptive, always seeking ways to bring you back into balance. It naturally wants to adapt to cardio, so that you can go farther on less fuel (burn fewer cals doing more…and more…and moreeeeee work).

That’s why lifting is my number one recommendation when seeking fat loss…even if you LOVE and adore cardio. (aka “cardio for fun, weights to transform”)

Your body also adapts to resistance training, by building your muscles – making you strong enough to carry the same load in the future.  This means that when you hit a lifting plateau, you also must make adjustments to your workouts. But these adjustments typically come in terms of  weight amounts, not time. So you can still create changes to your body by increasing the challenge of the work load, without increasing your work time.

If you want to throw in a cardio workout or two each week for fun…because you enjoy it, that’s fine. However, be careful throwing in more than 2-3 intense cardio sessions a week (unless endurance is your goal). More is not always better, even if it “feels” awesome.  Unknowingly, many ladies are putting far too much stress on their bodies and heading directly toward adrenal fatigue.

Going beyond a certain level of intensity need not be the goal of every.single.workout.

Diet Plateaus

Understand that the number of calories you consume is also subject to this adaptation, making you require less and less to achieve the same goal. Many people start with the absolute lowest number of cals, thinking it will get them to goal weight faster.  What they find out instead, is that it gets them to plateau faster…with no way out.

3As you lose weight, the amount of food you need automatically lowers for you. (Don’t believe me? Go punch in your stats here, and compare the food your body requires now, vs 5-10 pounds from now.) You don’t need to implement the “minimum food / maximum workouts” suggestions that society promotes – WAY before it’s time. That lifestyle will backfire and kill your metabolism.

It seems counterintuitive to eat more and workout less, especially when you’ve tried the opposite in the past and it seemingly “worked.” Remember…if it “worked,” you wouldn’t need to keep starting over.

Slashing calories, ditching carbs (or other entire macronutrient groups), fasting, or going all out on the treadmill for 90 minutes instead of 30 is not sustainable in the long term for many of us.  If the method is not sustainable, it’s not maintainable – no matter how attractive the “results” are in the short term. Chasing down non-sustainable methods, is a huge setup for hitting the inevitable plateau, that much sooner.

We recommend a no-nonsense, slower approach, that helps you to achieve results that you can maintain long-term. Using the Hierarchy of Fat Loss, and incorporating periodized resistance training, provides built-in progressions that naturally keep you climbing toward your goals.

This is no fast fix, so the weight will drop slower than it may if you were on a fad diet or jumped right in to hours of cardio a day. So many people look for those temporary measures, and view them as the gold standard. Many will attempt this lifestyle, but ultimately decide that this way is taking too long and decide to do something drastic to make the process move faster.

Most of those people will end up back where they started, or worse. Quick fixes actually take you further away from your goals in the long run; leaving you impatient, uninformed, and ill-prepared for what it really takes to reach them.


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Why Heart Rate Monitors Are Not Accurate For Lifting

Why Heart Rate Monitors Are Not Accurate For Lifting

When it comes to fitness gadgets, one of the most popular items is the heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors can be a great way to track calorie burn, and measure recovery levels during overly-stressed periods — but they are not always the best in every workout situation. In fact, when it comes to lifting, Heart Rate Monitors are not accurate for lifting.


Heart Rate Monitors are not accurate for lifting

If you jump on a cardio machine for a half hour workout, you’ll notice a spike in calorie burn. If you spend the same amount of time doing a lifting routine, you’ll notice you don’t burn as many calories as you did in your cardio session. So cardio is the obvious winner, right?

Not quite. Heart rate monitors not are accurate for lifting

When it comes to lifting weights, the bulk of the calorie burn comes in the EPOC (afterburn).  Afterburn, as the name suggests, is the period of time after your workout concludes in which your body’s metabolic rate is much higher than normal. So while you may burn fewer calories during the initial lift, you burn more overall in the hours/days following due to boosted metabolism. On the flip side, when it comes to cardio, what you see is what you get. This means is that when your cardio workout ceases, so does your calorie burn.

This can put heart rate monitors at a disadvantage when it comes to lifting, because they can dissuade “burn addicts” from strength training. Being addicted to the burn often causes people to place more focus on cardio than necessary, because they love to see that number spike during workouts. And I get it. We all want more bang for our buck – but when we let an initially low number on our heart rate monitor dissuade us from lifting, we’re heading down the wrong road.  Because muscle is the key to a healthy metabolism and high quality of life, we can’t count on the number of calories burned during the workout to tell us how well we’re doing.

The type of workout, doesn’t immediately correlate to the burn that your HRM will show. This is true not only of weight lifting, but also with different types of cardio, as with HIIT/interval type workouts. Longer cardio sessions may show a higher burn than short, quick, HIIT style workouts. Circuits may show a higher calorie burn that lift/rest/lift style training.  The key is to understand that both weight lifting and interval type workouts (anaerobic) lead to building (and keeping) more muscle than their alternatives.  As you continue to build more muscle, your resting metabolic rate continues to increase (think more calories burned simply by sitting on the couch! Yeaaaahhhhh!).

Heart rate monitors are not accurate for lifting. Why is that?If you’re attached to your heart rate monitor, have no fear. The key is to make your heart rate monitor work for you – use it during cardio to gauge effectiveness and adaptability and keep in mind that wearing it during lifting isn’t going to give you an accurate result.  If you’re bent on trying to get a more accurate number, you can look into adding something like a Fitbit to your arsenal, which will do a slightly better job of helping you understand how to properly fuel your body.  Just be sure to note that when it’s all said and done, even these “more accurate” devices typically underestimate the amount of cals burned. So don’t use either as an excuse to undereat. ;)

Keeping the limitations of your HRM in mind will help you to continue including the workouts that are giving you the most return on your investment, while sprinkling in moderate doses of activities that you love.  Seek true balance, rather than constantly fighting the uphill battle of too much cardio, and zero weights, to the detriment of your fat loss goals.

Remember: “cardio for fun, weights to transform!”



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How Much Cardio is “Too Much?”

How Much Cardio is “Too Much?”


Contrary to my personal anti-treadmill stance, cardio can absolutely play a role in fat loss. But just like everything else in life, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Although our motto here at EM2WL is “cardio for fun, weights to transform,” we DO recognize the value that cardio can add to a goal-specific workout plan (and that fact that some of you REALLY actually…umm…love it).  So it’s understandable that cardio lovers in the Fam, striving to heal their metabolisms and finally lose fat tend to panic a bit when they hear anything about doing “too much” cardio!

When it comes to cardio, it seems that people either love it or hate it. Whether you’re a group instructor, runner, or despise cardio, your workouts should work for you, not against you. In order for this to happen, you must understand the purpose behind each type of workout, how it pertains to your goals, and apply it accordingly.  

Cardio is endurance exercise. The more you do, the better your body adapts, and builds up the ability to be able to withstand the same circumstances next time.

This adaptation is great if the goal is to cover a certain distance in increasingly quicker amounts of time (think: training for a marathon), or simply last longer in Zumba class.  As far as general heart-health is concerned, this is usually the goal.  

Your new level of efficiency is usually noticeable during workouts when you’re suddenly able to do more cardio than you initially were physically capable of doing just weeks/months before. For example: you may have originally broken a sweat doing ten minutes of cardio before, but now you have to do fifteen minutes to get to the same level.

If you were formally breathless chasing the kids, or climbing a flight of stairs – this type of adaptation is an amazing/healthy feeling.  However, when the goal is fat loss, this adaptation means you now have to do more work to achieve the same results you initially were achieving with your cardio-only workouts. 

Adaptation = doing the same work for lesser results.

When it comes to adaptation, strength training is no exception.  If you lift the same weight day in and out, your body eventually adapts and that weight just won’t cut it.  You’ll have to introduce new stimuli to keep getting results, or risk hitting the infamous plateau.

But there’s good news when it comes to weight lifting adaptation: all you have to do to bust past that plateau is to lift heavier weights! The duration of your weight lifting sessions will never have to change (like your cardio has to) so long as you’re increasing your weights. This allows you to still be efficient without putting in extra time. Weight lifting gives you the most bang for your buck.

In other words: endurance exercise improves your endurance, but doesn’t necessarily contribute to fat loss beyond the initial newbie phase.

Lifting improves your strength, endurance, lean body mass (muscle!) and assists in fat loss. 

So how do you know that you’ve entered the “adaptation zone?”  

In addition to monitoring your performance during the workout, you can turn to your heart rate monitor (HRM) for clues. Using a HRM – or other wearable fitness device that monitors HR (like Fitbit) will allow you to see when your body gets to a point where it becomes more efficient at cardio.  

As endurance improves, your HRM will subsequently show that your calorie burn is lessening for common cardio activities.  When you notice that you’re burning less cals boing the same amount of work, your body has adapted. At that point you must either increase time, or change up your workout style to continue getting results.

If, for instance, you’re training for a race or are focused on increasing endurance, remember increased efficiency is in fact a good thing. When that calorie adaptation occurs, you’ve just shortened your race time. Increasing the time of the workout is actually the goal in that case.  On the flip side, when it comes to fat loss, inefficiency is key.  

Doing the same workouts, but burning less cals, would mean that over time you’d be eating too much (even on a diet) – and eventually start GAINING weight.

That is what we’re trying to prevent when we provide warnings about “too much cardio” during your reset or early stages of fat loss.  It’s not about removing something that you love, but rather understanding the roles that workout style plays in your fat loss journey.

There is no magic, universal number for how much cardio is too much. By using the tips above, your best answer is to listen to your body and evaluate often to see where your efficiency levels are at and if they’re conducive to the physique goals you’re trying to achieve.


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The hierarchy of fat loss – How much cardio do I need?

The hierarchy of fat loss – How much cardio do I need?

IMG_7937Most of us are blown away when we learn the shocking truth that cardio is not the be-all-end-all of fat loss.  It can take some time to fully wrap our heads around the concept (especially if you’re the type who actually ENJOYS it and can’t imagine life without it).   Not surprisingly, one of the questions we receive most often in the early stages of discovering EM2WL is: “OK. So, where exactly does cardio fit? How much cardio can/should I do?

“The hierarchy of fat loss.”

The Hierarchy of Fat Loss (a concept coined by Alwyn Cosgrove several years ago) is simple way to self-regulate and decide for  yourself if/when its time to add cardio into your fat loss protocol. It will also help those that can’t imagine a cardio-less existence to work in their love of endurance in a way that does not contradict their physique goals.

The hierarchy outlines the top five factors you must nail down in order to achieve fat loss. The five levels are listed in order of importance, as is the nature of any hierarchy.  This means that if you’re looking to do/add/focus on items that are NOT listed here, they are being given far too much importance in your journey.  Let’s take a look at each of the five and why they’re so important in the fat loss equation.


The perfect lifting and cardio routine mean nothing without proper eats. So check them TWICE before assuming any workout “is not working” for you. ;)

Level 1- Nutrition: Here’s the reality. No matter how hard you work out, run or lift, you can’t out work a bad diet. Period. If your nutrition is not on point, yet everything else is, you will not optimally achieve results or reach your fat loss goals. Main changes to make in your diet are to eat more protein, more fiber, and more food. Oftentimes, people aren’t eating enough food for fat loss- less isn’t always better. If you’ve spend periods of time eating low calorie diets (1200-1500 calories), then you may want to consider a metabolism reset. Before you can expect to lose weight, you must fix your metabolism so it is in proper working order.

Level 2- Nutrition: Nope, that’s not a typo. Level 2 is the same as level 1- nutrition! Why? It’s that important! If you have time for one thing and one thing only with regard to fat loss, nail your nutrition. Make sure you’re hitting your fiber, protein and calorie goals, and that you’re eating enough to sustain the type of workouts you’ll be doing.

Level 3- Activities that Burn Calories, Promote/Maintain Muscle Mass and Elevate Metabolism: This means lift! Lifting promotes muscle mass growth. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you’ll burn at rest due to an increased metabolic rate. Not only is muscle good for boosting your metabolism, but it has great cosmetic benefits as well- it looks good! If you’re not comfortable with lifting on your own, consider seeking out guidance from a personal trainer.


A snippet from Martha Stewart’s book on “Living the Good Long Life” – at 74 years young, she KNOWS that lifting is the key!! What are YOU waiting for?

Level 4- Activities that Burn Calories and Elevate Metabolism with EPOC (after burn effect): If you find yourself having an extra day to workout or time leftover at the end of your lift, add in HIIT/Tabata/Interval/Metabolic Resistance style training. If you are short on time but still wanting to burn fat, these types of workouts are crucial for you. While this type of exercise may not promote muscle mass growth, it certainly can help maintain the muscle mass you already have.

Level 5- Activities that Burn Calories but Don’t Necessarily Maintain Muscle or Elevate Metabolism: Cardio is considered the icing on the cake, and in the puzzle of fat loss, is considered the least effective. This lines up with what we here at EM2WL always preach- cardio for fun, weight to transform.” Cardio works best when it’s not done frequently, because it shocks the body. If you do cardio all the time, your body adapts. If you continue to do the same amount of cardio and burn less calories, or don’t see an elevation in heart rate, that may be a good sign you’re doing too much, too often.

Putting it all together:  What the hierarchy means to you

If you’re short on time (let’s face it, who isn’t!?) and can’t get to the gym, focus on your nutrition. When you do find yourself having some time, get a lift in. If you can commit to 1-2 days of exercise a week, lift weights those days. If you have 3-4 days, lift and do some HIIT (Level 4) training. If you have more than 4 days a week, then have the icing on the cake and do some cardio and fun aerobic activities you enjoy- Zumba, Body Pump, etc.


Remembering the motto “cardio for fun, weights to transform” will help you to fit in the activities you LOVE without having to use them as punishment.

For my cardio loving followers reading this, don’t freak out. Oftentimes people connect a regular cardio routine to results. If you go from doing nothing to doing just cardio, of course you’re going to see results. But once those results stop, the enjoyment of your workout(s) may stop also. When your cardio workout comes to an end, so does the calorie burn. On the other hand, with lifting, you may not burn as many calories initially during your workout but you’ll continue to burn calories up to 36 hours after your workout is over (called the after burn/EPOC). This is more beneficial for you compared to just burning calories while you’re on a piece of cardio equipment and not a minute more thereafter. If you’re looking to elevate your metabolism, then going for that after burn is what you want and need.

Especially if you’re a newbie to the world of proper nutrition, it’s important to take baby steps into your new healthy eating journey.  Adequate consumption of protein, fiber and water are key. Focus on adding in or improving upon each (of the three listed above) into your daily intake until you nail it. For example, if you’re currently not drinking enough water, make it a goal to drink at least a gallon a day. Once you can consistently do so for several weeks/at least a month, next tackle eating more protein. Continue this process until you’ve aced all facets of a proper nutrition plan. In order to ensure adherence, eat the types of foods you enjoy while hitting your macronutrient totals. Keep in mind that the foods you consume have to work for your lifestyle and fit your taste preferences in order to be most successful and stay on track.

Not sure where to start? The Beginner Strength Training Manual answers all your lifting Q&A and comes with a full 12-week periodized workout plan with video demonstrations.

If you don’t have much time to lift, that’s okay. Do more compound movements and work multiple muscle groups (not isolated movements like bicep curls). Make sure you’re regularly alternating rest periods, sets, and rep ranges. This is important because if you don’t change these variables, your body will adapt and not respond as desired. Rest periods are especially important because they are needed in order for the body replenish its energy stores. Over a period of time, rotate through the following rep/set/rest schemes (also known as periodization). A sample 12-week rotation could be:

4 weeks: 30 seconds rest, higher reps (12+), lower weight

4 weeks: 45-60 seconds rest, lower reps (8-12), higher weight

4 weeks: 60+ seconds rest, low (5-8) reps, heavy weight

The problem with fat loss is most people approach the process in the opposite order, doing cardio first, then HIIT, then deciding to lift, and then tackling nutrition – no wonder the process can be so frustrating.  When you turn the hierarchy on its head, you’re not going to see the results that you want. If you follow the fat loss hierarchy in order, you’ll see better and faster results. Work smart, not hard, and you’ll be more than impressed with the results awaiting you.

Go kill it this week, Fam!


~Kiki :)


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The Truth About Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT)

The Truth About Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT)

metabolic conditioningWith the ever-increasing popularity of intense workout programs like CrossFit, metabolic conditioning, or metabolic resistance training (MRT) seems to be a fitness trend that’s here to stay.

These workouts tend to be intense, impressive, and very cool-looking. Typically, they have the added benefit of giving you a goal to work towards (beat the clock!).  Who doesn’t want to flip a big heavy tire, beat things with hammers, and carry around heavy weighted objects as fast as possible?

If you’ve done your part, by the end of the workout, you’re exhausted, sweating from head to toe, and sprawled out on the ground, hoping someone will bring you a protein shake (or maybe a gallon of Ben and Jerry’s…).

Obviously you’ve just had a great strength training workout, right?

Not necessarily.

What is Metabolic Resistance Training?

It can be confusing to understand exactly what this term means since this term is thrown around pretty haphazardly in the fitness world.  It is not just a bunch of random exercises done as quickly as possible.

Simply put, Metabolic Resistance Training is a form of metabolic conditioning.  The purpose of metabolic conditioning is to increase the efficiency of one of the three pathways used in exercise metabolism. Metabolic conditioning has the added benefit of conditioning the muscles to better use to fuel delivered to them.  Ultimately, this should result in a better capacity to burn fat.

Celebrate your strength!

I do love pushing vehicles as a supplement to my serious strength training workouts!

Metabolic conditioning can be a great tool if your goal is fat loss.  Not only does metabolic conditioning burn tons of calories during a workout, it also increases  caloric burn  in the 24-48 hours after your workout.  This is due to excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).  There are various different types of work to rest periods intended to increase EPOC.

A few examples are:
Tabata: 20 seconds of hard work, followed by 10 seconds of rest for 8 total rounds
30 On/30 Off: 30 seconds of hard work, followed by 30 seconds of rest for 6 total rounds
Circuits: Perform 3-6 exercises in a row with minimal to no rest between sets. These exercises should follow a logical pattern and should include elements of pushing, pulling, squatting, hinging, and carrying objects.

Energy Systems – The Goal of MRT

The primary goal of metabolic conditioning is to increase the efficiency of one of three metabolic pathways used in energy metabolism.

Creatine Phosphate Pathway: Also referred to as the Immediate Pathway, this energy system is responsible for providing short (less than 10 seconds) bursts of energy.  This is the energy pathway utilized when performing quick power exercises like Olympic or powerlifting-style lifts or sprinting.  It takes this energy system about three to five minutes to recover to its fullest potential.

Glycolytic Pathway: Also referred to as the Intermediate Pathway, this energy system provides the energy required for short, intense activities lasting one to four minutes.  If you are completing high-intensity cardio intervals or doing multiple reps of a particular exercise, this is the pathway being utilized.  It takes this energy system about 1-3 minutes to fully recover.

Aerobic Pathway: Also referred to as the Long-Duration Pathway, this metabolic pathway provides the energy required for longer-duration exercises of moderate-intensity work. This energy system can provide energy for hours of activity, since it has a limitless reserve (fat) to draw upon.

The energy system being conditioned by these workouts is largely determined on the rest period between sets.  When structuring a metabolic resistance training circuit, it is important to keep the end goal in mind!  The goal is NOT to throw weights around as fast as possible!  These workouts should be well structured in order to maximize results.

It is important to remember that regardless of the activity performed, there is always some crossover between energy systems.

metabolic conditioning

Metabolic conditioning is a fun way to get some cardio in, but nothing beats strength!

Is MRT the Same as Strength Training?

MRT typically involves weighted objects such as tires, battle ropes, farmer’s walks, sandbags, and kettlebells. These weighted objects are lifted in rapid succession, and the intensity is kept very high.

However, it is important to remember that the main goal of these workouts is not to maximize strength and to build muscle. The main goal of these workouts is to better utilize energy stored in the body. The primary goal of these workouts is more maintaining strength levels than gaining strength and adding muscle mass.

It’s key to remember that metabolic conditioning is not meant to be a haphazard, random bunch of exercises thrown together with the goal of burning a bazillion calories. These types of workouts are an advanced technique. So advanced in fact, that they are what many elite athletes turn to when they have reached their potential and are simply trying to maintain their current level of fitness. For the average recreational exerciser, it is important to complete these workouts under the supervision of a skilled trainer or strength coach.

 The bottom line? You should view MRT workouts as a highly effective form of cardio, along the same lines as HIIT, meant to burn fat. These workouts are not intended to replace conventional strength training. 

 Is MRT right for you?

MRT can be a fantastic tool in your fat loss arsenal, provided that all other key elements are on pointe.

metabolic conditioningAlwyn Cosgrove, author of the best-selling series New Rules of Lifting, who has a great reputation for results-driven fitness, has come up with a Hierarchy of Fat Loss that can serve as a great checklist to go through when evaluating whether and how new training philosophies will help you reach your goals.  You should think about approaching the following elements in order.  As long as you are achieving the results you desire, even if progress is slow, there is no reason to add elements further down the list.  Stay patient and trust the process!

1.  Nutrition    If your ultimate goal is to lose fat and increase lean muscle mass, start with nutrition. Keep it simple, and don’t overthink things. Your first step is to make sure that you are eating enough calories to support a healthy metabolism and maintain your lean muscle mass while you are losing fat. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism, so don’t sacrifice your lean mass for a smaller number on the scale! After you have made sure that you are taking in a sufficient amount of calories, look at your protein. A great goal is to take in approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Take in plenty of healthy fats, and round everything out with some carbohydrates.

2.  Nutrition  Yes, it’s that important! Until you get your nutrition on pointe, there’s no point in prioritizing anything else!  Activities that burn calories, maintain and promote muscle mass, and elevate metabolism   Our metabolism is largely determined by our resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR largely depends on how much metabolically active tissue (AKA muscle!!!) you have. Therefore, activities that increase RMR by maintaining or gaining muscle mass should be of next importance. A solid, periodized strength training program utilizing heavy weights with well-managed rest periods will accomplish this goal. Your strength training program should include plenty of compound movements like the squat, pull, push, lunge and hinge. Depending on your split, you should be lifting heavy weights 2-4 times per week. Bonus points here if your strength training program uses percentages of 1RM to determine your training loads! Circuit training, high-rep, low weight workouts, and metabolic conditioning do not fall into this category.  Some of our favorite recommendations for a solid strength training program include STS, Stronglifts, and New Rules of Lifting for Women.

3. Adding in activities that burn calories and elevate metabolism.  This is where activities falling under the realm of metabolic conditioning come in. Metabolic resistance training, HIIT, circuit training, and tabata training are powerful fat loss tools. They are far superior for producing results than traditional, steady-state cardio. If you have your nutrition on pointe, are killing your strength training workouts, and not seeing the results you desire, you may wish to experiment by adding in 1-2 short metabolic conditioning workouts each week. These are meant to supplement, NOT replace your strength training program. These workouts are very taxing and intense, and you may find that by adding them in, your appetite goes soaring through the roof! Make sure that you are continuing to fuel these workouts and getting plenty of recovery time. Adding a short metabolic finisher to the end of your workout might be a better option if you are new to this type of training or are short on time.

4.  Activities that burn calories but don’t necessarily maintain muscle or elevate metabolismIf you still have additional time to devote to your training, you might consider adding in a steady-state cardio workout. These workouts will burn calories, but do not put you at any significant metabolic advantage. You should be aware that these types of activities can work against you if your goal is to build or even maintain your current muscle mass. Therefore, steady state cardio should be included as a last resort, only if you are making sure that these activities do not put you in too large of a caloric deficit, and only if you truly enjoy these types of activities.


BeccaBecca is a busy wife and homeschooling mother to five children ages 5 to 13. About three years ago, she embarked on a journey to health and fitness that resulted in the loss of approximately 100 pounds. Today, she is a competitive powerlifter and strongwoman who loves ice cream and deadlifts.  As an ISSA certified personal trainer, she is passionate about helping women to get started on a lifestyle of strength and fitness.

Maximizing Your Time in the Gym Without Sacrificing Results

Maximizing Your Time in the Gym Without Sacrificing Results

How to Maximize Gym Time

Let’s face it, life is busy. Whether we’re single, married, have ten kids, have no kids, in school, working, you name it- we’re always racing the clock! Although our schedules are hectic, many of us realize the importance of finding time in our day to squeeze in some exercise. When working with a limited slot of time, we want to find ways to optimize that part of our day so we can be efficient, work hard, and get results. There are certain things that we can do to maximize our gym time and get more bang for our buck.

Have a Plan

planning-250091_1280Unless this is your first time ever reading this blog or hearing from me, you know that my biggest pet-peeve (and with good reason!) is to see (or even HEAR) about people wandering aimlessly about life – well, at least the fitness side of it – with no plan. Ack! I mean, unless you are completely new to working out, or testing out gym equipment is your hobby, get a plan – and work that baby.  Not only is following some sort of plan best for maximizing gym time, but it’s best for maximizing RESULTS! In other words, if you want to workout with purpose, having a plan is non-negotiable.

Random workouts – especially once you move past the newbie gain phase – often equal random results. You may ultimately desire to move to a more intuitive style of workouts, but when time is of the essence and you’re not quite familiar with how certain things fit – just stick to the plan.

Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know how easy it is to get sucked into the “atmosphere” and completely lose 2 hours of your day before feeling like you’ve done enough to warrant leaving. I also know that amount of time is completely unnecessary, and is typically a contributing factor to why many of us will totally scrap our workout if we’re running short on time. If you have a plan (preferably created by a professional, unless you are familiar with periodization and putting together effective workout combos) you have an accurate measure of how “done” you are at any given time increments. Let your trainer know that you are time crunched, or search out specifically, workout plans that fit with your goals and available time slots. Don’t follow some random 6-day, 1hour/day, workout split if you only have time to hit the gym 3 days/wk for 30-45 min, tops.

Have a Plan B

empty gym

Your gym not this big OR empty? Have a Plan B!

This is where the OCD-plan-follower can relax a bit, and the ADD exerciser can rejoice. Yes, an overall, solid, plan is first and foremost, but remind yourself that it’s OK (and often necessary) to be flexible. Why? Because there will be a time that you get to the gym, totally pumped to hit the squat rack. You’ll head in, struttin your stuff with your Converses and new beasty, striped knee-high socks, and bam – all squat racks taken. Argh! This happens a lot in busier gyms during peak times. Don’t rely on one particular piece of equipment for your exercises. Have an idea of what you want to do, but don’t be married to it.

For instance: If it’s leg day – and you’re scheduled to do squats – you’re good no matter what, because you have a backup plan. Full squat racks aren’t stopping you, it’s off to the hack squat machine or an empty area to do squats with dumbbells. Bench day and no rack available? Head for the Smith machine (add extra weight to make up the bar weight difference), or take a set of dumbbells or even the straight curl bar (many gyms have up to 120 lbs) over to the free weight adjustable bench area.

Now this does NOT mean that you should take a professionally written program and chop it up by doing your own take on EVERY move, but you should know how to if you ever truly needed. Take the time on a less busy/off day to get to know alternate pieces of equipment that can generally get the job done (or ask your trainer if you’re working a plan they’ve given you).  Often there are pieces of equipment that look completely different, yet perform similar functions (like the seated vs lying leg curl machines)


back superset

Total Body Supersets Workout Plan

When pressed for time, supersets can be a godsend.

Supersets consist of doing two exercises back to back with no rest in between. You can do exercises for either the same or different muscle groups. For example, you can use the rope attachment on a cable machine and do overhead tricep extensions, one set, and then move the rope down a little and do regular tricep extensions, one set, and repeat. Minimizing time between sets not only does the obvious- saves time- but it really adds a burn to the muscles, as it works muscle fibers differently than normal-set weight training.

Tri-sets (three exercises done back to back), and giant sets (four or more exercises done in a row) also fit into this category. With all supersets, you perform the entire set of two or more exercises, then rest as instructed in your program. If no rest period is indicated, typically 30 seconds is appropriate.

Word of caution for the ladies.  Many ladies who are drawn to more endurance style workouts will enjoy supersets because they will feel like they are truly “working” – but I would be cautious of falling into the superset trap of thinking that every thing is better when superset. Sometimes longer rests are called for, and necessary, even in shorter workouts – depending on the phase. So if you are always short on time in the gym, be sure to switch up the types of supersets you do (one month superset the same muscle group, the next month group opposing parts, etc), when the supersets are performed in the workout (on every set one month, on every other set the next, etc), and from time to time put supersets aside altogether for an entire phase or two.

Do High Intensity Interval Training

stopwatch-259303_1280HIIT is praised mostly for two reasons – one, it is a huge time saver and two – the intensity level leads to quicker results than regular cardio and puts your body in a calorie burning state for hours after. Imagine swapping that twenty minute trek on the dreadmill with a quick eight minute sprint session. Suddenly, you’ve gained twelve minutes that you can use to do strength training, ab exercises, stretching, etc. This means that if you were used to splitting up your strength and cardio work to two separate workouts of an hour or so, you can now condense them both into ONE workout that is an hour or less.

Try adding true HIIT or Tabata finishers to your strength workouts, rather than dedicating an entire day to each. What do I mean by “true?” Well, because HIIT has become all the rage, we are now bombarded with HIIT workouts popping up left and right ranging anywhere from 10-60 minutes. While they may all be hard in their own right, true HIIT brings the intensity like no other. Intensity meaning that if you can do any interval for longer than 30ish seconds, or any workout lasting longer than 20ish minutes (not including any warmup/cooldown)…it’s not hard enough. You need super intense intervals where you are going at a crazy, all-out (RPE 10+) effort for 20-30 seconds (and absolutely can’t go longer even if you wanted), and then resting for another 20-30 before repeating. This type of training is short and to the point, making it perfect to tack on to the end of you workout.

A couple words of warning with HIIT.  1) It’s not for everyone, allow yourself to work up to it if you’re newer to working out (perhaps with one of the HIIT-like workouts with longer duration or intervals mentioned above). 2) If a 20 minute HIIT workout early in the AM leaves you worn out and more sedentary than usual for the rest of the day – you are negating the benefits of the afterburn. You may want to stick to 30-40 min of a different cardio activity that will still allow you to get in normal amounts of daily activity/productivity every day.

Stay Focused

Be focused in the gymAbove all, the most important way to maximize your workout is to have laser beam focus. Don’t stress over having to shorten your gym time for a season.  Be fully present, engaged in the workout, giving it your all, and knowing that it’s enough. If you head into a workout feeling obligated, and like you just have to get it done to get it out of the way, you won’t be as efficient as possible. If you practice negative self-talk and feel that working out serves as a form of punishment for bad food choices, you’ll have a hard time finding yourself getting in a good sweat (or being satisfied with a less sweaty workout). Remembering why you choose to be active is important, encouraging part of your journey. While physical benefits (toned muscles, smaller waistlines) are a nice perk of working out, living a healthier and happier life far surpass them all.


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