Proper exercise selection is one of the most important aspects of time efficient training. The foundation of virtually every routine for a healthy individual should focus on an appropriate variation of the following exercises: squats, bench presses/push-ups, rows, and deadlifts, overhead presses, pull-ups/chin-ups. While these exercises may seem old-fashioned and out of date, they are unmatched in their ability to build strength, lean muscle, burn body fat, increase daily life functioning, improve performance and maximize time efficiency.
2. Invest the time to learn to do the best exercises correctly
After selecting the right exercises, it is vital to learn how to do these exercises correctly. Done correctly, these exercises offer incredible benefits, but done incorrectly they offer a high potential for injury and poor results. One of the best things you can do for your training is to invest the time and money necessary to master these exercises (and if you are a trainer, to master the art and science of coaching these exercises). Read books, study DVDs, take workshops, hire a strength coach or personal trainer who is skilled at these exercises, videotape yourself doing them and analyze your technique - do what you need to do to master these exercises. Trust me, the investment is worth it!
3. Avoid combo exercises
One of the trends in the last decade has been to combine exercises together. For example, somebody might take dumbbells and perform a lunge that moves immediately into a biceps curl which moves directly into a shoulder press – that’s one rep. At first glance this looks amazingly efficient because we have trained legs, biceps and shoulders with one “exercise.” However, this idea ignores the fundamental training principle of overload. Overload is stressing the body with the training stimulus that is greater than what is used to and thus forcing further adaptation. With many combination exercises, this is not possible. For example, the likelihood of the dumbbells used in this exercise example being perfectly matched to provide optimal overload for the legs, biceps and shoulders is extremely low. Therefore, while it seems like one has trained three areas; in reality he/she is lucky to have sufficiently overloaded one area and has simply taken more time to do it. Note: please understand that I'm not saying this is always a bad idea.
4. Group exercises effectively
After selecting the right exercises, efficiency can be further enhanced by effective ordering of the exercises. For example, group exercises for opposing muscle groups (e.g. bench presses & rows) or non-competing muscle groups (e.g. legs & arms). Another fantastic grouping I learned from strength coach Chad Waterbury is upper body pull, upper body push & lower body (e.g. chin-up, overhead press, deadlift).
5. Consider set-up & clean-up time when selecting exercises
Some exercises require a considerable amount of set-up and takedown time. For example, in the barbell back squat, you have to set up the hooks and safety rods in the power rack, place a barbell on the hooks, load and then unload the barbell. However, the barbell back squat is so beneficial that the necessary time to set up and clean-up is worth it.
When you do take time to set up an intensive exercise such as the squat, you can make up the time by selecting other exercises that are effective but fast and easy to set up. For example, you could group the squat with a seated cable row and dumbbell bench press.
6. Wisely program accessory work
One of the benefits of selecting versions of the big six exercises (explained previously) is that you can train virtually the entire body with these exercises. This limits the need for additional exercises. However, in addition to the big six, accessory exercises can be added to give extra attention to areas for either aesthetic or functional purposes. The trick with accessory exercises is to not get carried away. As strength training expert Jim Wendler would say, use them sparingly and only when you have a specific reason for doing so.
When programming accessory exercises, it often works well to put them into mini circuits (which can often be done with virtually no rest between them because they have little systematic drain) or pair them with noncompeting exercises.
7. Do not be afraid of rest
As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, many busy people rush through a workout as a way to save time. As a result, the quality of work diminishes and the load has to be reduced to accommodate incomplete recovery. With certain goals (e.g. strength, power, speed) rest is essential. Forgo proper rest intervals and the exercise becomes dangerous or just fancy cardio. Ensure sufficient rest so that the load (and thus the training effect) does not suffer.
Sometimes you can work around rest intervals with programming. For example, instead of resting two minutes between your bench press sets, do a set of the bench press, rest one minute, do a set of rows, rest another minute, and go back to the bench press. With this programming, you almost double your training efficiency while still allowing sufficient rest for the prime movers in the bench press. Other times, on big exercises the rest is well worth your time. For example, I have no problem resting 3 to 4 minutes before my final “big set” on deadlifts. I have also joked that I superset my heavy deadlift sets with heavy breathing.
Well, I hope that gets you started with enhancing your training efficiency. Stay tuned for next time and I'll give you 7 more tips to help you even more...