Inefficiency Experts

by Michael Mejia, from

Exercising poor time management in the gym can have a negative impact on your results.

Aside from money, if there's one thing you probably wish you had more of, it's time. Between going to work, school, working out and spending time with loved ones; sometimes it seems like there just aren't enough hours in the day to train. Considering that time has become such a hot commodity these days, you might be surprised to learn just how much of it you're wasting. I'm not talking about sitting in traffic, waiting in line, or surfing the web looking for insightful, thought provoking articles on fitness. After all, some things just can't be helped. I'm specifically referring to the time you're wasting in the gym. That's right, whether you realize it or not, you're probably guilty of at least one of these time consuming workout blunders. Read on to see if identify with any of these workout related time wasters and learn what to do to manage your workouts more efficiently and improve your progress in less time.

Performing needless exercises
It never fails. Every single time I set foot in a gym, I see at least one person performing an exercise that is a waste of their time. Take for example the self-proclaimed "hardgainer". You know who you are. You complain about how you can't make any progress, then pound your body into submission with set after set of lateral raises and cable curls. This makes about as much sense as trying to blow up a blimp with a straw. Listen up! If you want to put on some size, I mean add some serious muscle to your frame, do yourself a favor and lay off the isolation exercises for a while. To make big gains, make compound, multi-joint exercises like squats, dead-lifts, pull-ups and bench press exercises a priority in your workouts. Besides stimulating a larger pool of available muscle fibers, these exercises also cause a greater release of anabolic hormones into your bloodstream. Add isolation exercises to your workouts when are looking to fine tune your physique.

Another group that seems to have a penchant for doing isolation instead of compound exercises are overweight individuals. I mean really now, if you're carrying around an extra 20 pounds or so, how much good do you think wrist curls and calf raises are going to do? Don't get me wrong, I am by no means suggesting that if you're overweight you shouldn't lift weights. Quite the contrary, I'm of the opinion that you would be better off in the weight room than wasting your time plodding along on a treadmill. While I don't have the space to go into any great detail here, suffice it to say, that you can derive far more benefit from the long term effect weight training has on resting metabolism, than the transient caloric deficit created by aerobic exercise. It's just that, like our friend the hardgainer, you too should focus on doing more compound, large muscle group exercises. Not only do exercises like squats and bench presses increase the secretion of growth hormone, a potent fat burner, they're also far more effective in terms of building the calorie burning muscle mass you'll benefit from most when fat loss is your goal.

Too Much Volume
By volume, I mean the number of sets, reps and exercises you perform each workout. Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better. It simply isn't necessary to train your muscles from every conceivable angle with dozens of exercises. Whenever I do consultations, one of the biggest problems I encounter is trying to convince people to reduce their training volume. Much of this stems from the fact that too many people are trying to emulate the maniacal training routines of drug induced athletes that litter the pages of today's muscle magazines. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a 150-pound accountant following "Mr. Olympia's" chest routine. The fact of the matter is, even if these walking chemistry experiments actually do these routines; which by the way is doubtful, their bodies are better equipped to withstand them thanks to the miracle of modern pharmacology. You on the other hand, as a drug free trainee, will most likely end up overtraining and not reaching your goals.

All you really need to know about volume is that it's directly linked to your training intensity. The harder you push, the less you'll be able to do. If you're doing in upwards of 15 to 20 sets for a single body part, chances are your intensity ain't exactly where it should be. This is especially true for smaller muscle groups like biceps, triceps and calves.

The following guidelines should prove useful in helping you determine the proper training volume:

Goal *# of exercises per body part *# of sets rep range
Strength 1 to 2 5 to 6 3 to 5
Hypertrophy 2 to 4 2 to 4 8 to 12

*Depends on the size of the muscle groups being trained. Larger muscle groups generally require more exercises and more sets than smaller ones.

Too Much Rest Between Sets
This may seem like a somewhat radical concept to some of you, but, the amount of rest you take between sets is supposed to be determined by your training goals. It shouldn't be based on how long it takes you to hit on the receptionist, or rehash last week's episode of The Sopranos with your buddies. For example, if you do a heavy set of squats (say a 6 rep max), you're going to need to rest at least 2 to 3 full minutes before attempting it again. In fact, if you're doing maximal singles, you may need as long as 5 to 7 minutes off between sets, so that both your muscles and central nervous system can sufficiently recover. This is precisely why you see powerlifters taking so much rest between lifts. Unfortunately, most of you aren't powerlifters, though you seem to have the resting part down pretty well.

By contrast, the lighter loads and higher repetition ranges typical of bodybuilding style workouts require far less recovery time between sets. Therefore, if increased muscularity is your goal, you need to keep your rest periods short and sweet; anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds. This "incomplete" recovery allows for the accumulation of metabolic waste products (such as lactic acid) which serve as a powerful trigger for muscular growth.

Low Intensity Aerobic Exercise
Can someone please explain to me why so many of you insist on doing hours and hours of low intensity aerobic work? And please, don't give me this garbage about it being a more effective way to burn fat. Oh sure, some people will tell you that it is. Just ask the legions of so called "fitness experts" that continue to perpetuate this myth on a daily basis in both the print and electronic media. The whole basis of their argument is that at lower exercise intensities, you burn a greater percentage of calories from fat. True. However, fat also provides the bulk of your energy when you're lying on the couch eating a bag of Doritos! The point being, it's the total number of calories you burn and not the distribution of what you use for fuel that matters when it comes to weight loss.

Besides being an inefficient way to burn body fat, low intensity aerobic exercise (40 to 60 % of your age predicted maximal heart rate) does little to improve cardiovascular function. I'm not saying you shouldn't do any aerobic work mind you; just make sure its worth your while. High intensity aerobic training (75 to 90% of your age predicted maximal heart rate) not only burns more calories, but, it also improves cardiovascular function to a far greater degree. And, the best part is, you're done in half the time. I mean, why waste the better part of an hour doing aerobics when you could be done in twenty minutes?

All of which brings us back to our original question. Why do so many people continue to workout this way? Simple, because it's easy. It's far too difficult to read a magazine or enjoy your favorite sitcom when you're cranking away at 90% of maximal heart rate. Granted, training this way is no picnic. Nevertheless, even if you can't maintain such an intense pace for any appreciable length of time, there's always interval training. Short bursts of higher intensity exercise followed by brief recovery intervals is still a more effective cardiovascular stimulus than trudging away at a snails pace.

Try and apply the advice outlined in this article to your next workout. Your workouts will be more intense and focused than ever. Best of all, you will reach your goals in less time.

About the Author
Michael Mejia MS, CSCS is a private conditioning specialist based out of Long Island New York. He is a specialist in the design and implementation of sports specific training programs as well as a freelance writer and lecturer. Mike can be contacted via e-mail at Michael Mejia

Return to Nutrition and Weightlifting Page