With Memorial Day behind us, it seems like summer has officially begun. Which means — eek! — bikini season.
Some of us have dutifully hit the gym all winter long, and others are just now shaking last summer’s dirt off those sneakers, but we can all agree that a more effective workout in a shorter amount of time sounds pretty good.
After all, with the demands of work, friends and family (and nice weather begging for some lazy lounging time), it’s challenging to find enough time to get in a solid workout. Not being able to find time is only one of the reasons why people avoid the gym, though. Not seeing desired results or feeling unsure about the best way to utilize the gym’s offerings can also lead to missed workouts.
To make sure you’re actually making the most out of your gym membership (which, we know, doesn’t come cheap!), we called in a pro. Amie Hoff is a personal trainer in Manhattan and the creator of FitKit, a $40 portable workout kit with basic tools like a jump rope, pedometer, resistance tubes and more.
She gave us six expert tips for staying motivated, getting the most out of our gym memberships and saving money on fitness. Then, she taught us four total-body exercises that will whip you into shape in less time than a regular workout … and can also be done at home, if you don’t belong to a gym. Watch and learn in our video below!
1. Actually Get Yourself to the Gym
Getting to the gym is the most important – and hardest! – step. Amie recommends exercising before work, first thing in the morning. After a long day at the office, it’s easy to come up with excuses why you should skip the gym that evening. Plus, a recent study has shown that exercising first thing in the morning, before eating, directly combats the “detrimental effects” of a high-calorie, high-fat diet and can prevent weight gain.
Here are some ways to make sure you actually get up in the morning for your workout. (Don’t belong to a gym? These strategies work just as well for making sure you get in your morning run outside or actually make it to the yoga studio.)
♥ Lay out your stuff the night before. Prep before bed by laying out your exercise clothing, sneakers, iPod, clothing for work (if you plan to shower and go to the office straight from the gym), water and snacks. This way, you won’t waste precious time in the morning.
♥ Place your alarm clock on the other side of the room. It’s easy enough to hit the snooze button when it’s six inches away. Force yourself to actually get up by placing your alarm clock out of arm’s reach. Amie recommends working out for 30-45 minutes at least three or four times per week, so plan to leave yourself at least that much time (plus the time for traveling to the gym and showering and primping) before you have to be at your desk.
♥ Hit the shower (but only for a second). Not a morning person? Jump in the shower for a few seconds to wake yourself up, but skip the normal shower routine like scrubbing your body or your hair. Don’t want to shower? Just splash some cold water on your face.
♥ Make a date. If you’ve got a friend, co-worker or roommate who belongs to your gym, plan to meet them at a certain time. Trust us, you’ll be much more motivated to actually hit the gym if you’re being held accountable by someone you know.
2. Skip the Snack Bar
For optimal results, you need to nourish your body correctly. If you’re working out first thing in the morning, make sure you hydrate the night before and as soon as you wake up. Working out later in the day? Aim to drink about 20 ounces of water an hour before you exercise. Bring your water bottle to the gym and refill at the water fountain–don’t waste your money on bottled water once you’re there!
As for food, one of the most common errors is eating too much after a workout. If you need a snack after you exercise so you don’t start lagging as soon as you sit down at your desk, try to eat a “fist-sized” amount of food amounting to 150-200 calories. A bar that’s low in sugar but high in protein or fiber is a good bet, as are fruits like bananas or apples, alone or with a nut butter.
One caveat: Don’t buy these foods at the gym snack bar! ”You’ll be spending as much as three times the money that you would if you brought your own snacks,” says Amie.
3. Make a Workout Plan
“A lot of people waste their time wandering around the gym,” says Amie. They try out various machines and hop back and forth between bicycles and elliptical machines without a plan. Don’t be one of them! Before you hit the gym, decide exactly what you’re going to do. For a complete workout, she advises doing a mixture of cardio and strength-training.
It’s possible to combine both cardio and strength-training at once (see the video above for examples), or you can, say, run and then hit the weights. Choose activities that you enjoy and will stick to (don’t plan on using the elliptical if you know you’ll get bored after 12 minutes). If you plan to use free weights to strength train after your cardio, start with 5-pound weights and then build up to heavier weights over time.
An easy way to plan your workouts so you don’t waste time once you’re actually at the gym is to write down your intended plan in a journal or daily calendar. If you’ve ditched the paper planner in favor of your smartphone, keep track of it using a calendar or note-taking app.
4. Split the Cost of a Personal Trainer
Gym memberships can be expensive enough without the added cost of a personal trainer. But if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut physically, you need more motivation to push yourself or you don’t quite know exactly how to make the most of the equipment available in your gym, a personal trainer could be a good bet.
Plus, if you make an appointment that you’re paying for, you’ll be way more likely not to skip the gym. To defray the cost, consider a joint session with a friend.
If you do a joint personal training session, you’ll want to train with someone who has roughly the same level of physical fitness as you. In other words, if you’re working up to a 5K, it’s best not to ask your friend coming off of her fourth marathon.
LearnVest Tip: If you have an iPhone, Nike Training Club is a fantastic, free app with 85 customized workouts that can serve as a stand-in for a personal trainer.
*Get 20% off Amie Hoff’s FitKit using the code LearnVest!
5. Take Advantage of Free Classes
Many gym memberships come with the option of free group exercise classes. These can range from cardio sculpting to spinning to Pilates and yoga classes. Classes will expose you to new exercises, and instructors will likely push you further than you’d push yourself. Additionally, you sign up to exercise for a full 45 minutes or an hour, and you won’t be tempted to tap out early.
We know we’re not the only ones who get off the treadmill at the three-mile mark when we were aiming for five.
6. Do ‘Double Whammy’ Exercises
As we said, Amie advises us to combine cardio and strength training in each workout. While this can mean going for a run and then lifting weights, there are also exercises that accomplish both goals at the very same time, making them especially effective if you only have a short window of time.
Watch our video above to see Amie teach LV Video Editor Gabrielle her top four favorite exercises that can be done in a gym or in the comfort of your own home.
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How do you stay in shape? Let us know in the comments below!