April 20, 2024

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7 Tips for Working Out Smarter Not Harder

Staying active with a busy schedule can be tough. But it doesn’t have to amount to spending hours at the gym.

“There’s an ideal world where you do all the things: I would have strength training and cardio and then throw in some yoga or pilates and have the perfect way to eat,” Phil Catudal, a personal trainer, told me.

But realistically, many people are pretty restricted on time.

Luckily, researchers and experts agree you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to be fit and healthy. And, in some cases, working out less or at a lower intensity, may actually be the key to getting stronger and faster.

So for Insider Today, Insider’s daily newsletter, I chatted with multiple people in the world of fitness about their top tips for busy people to maintain a healthy workout schedule.

First, find something that you actually enjoy doing

Chinese woman stretches on a sofa

Chinese woman stretches on a sofa

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Let’s be honest, not everyone likes hitting the gym, and that’s OK, said Gabby Landsverk, a senior health, nutrition, and fitness reporter at Insider.

“People have the misconception that a workout has to be a chore, and that’s absolutely not the case,” Landsverk told me. “It’s the same idea that makes people think they have to spend hours in the gym, right? We have this idea of no pain, no gain, and the research shows that it’s actually the opposite.”

She said people should find something they love doing, whether it’s dancing, playing a sport with their friends, or anything else with movement.

For Landsverk, it’s adding drop sets to her workout routine. Research has shown that this time-saving technique can help build muscle in a third to half the time of regular weightlifting. 

Be realistic about how much time you have

Young attractive smiling woman practicing yoga, stretching in Scorpion exercise, variation of vrischikasana pose, working out, wearing sportswear, grey pants, bra, indoor full length, home interior

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“People who are bad at time management — which is generally all of us — they think, ‘Oh, I don’t have 30 minutes or one hour of my schedule,’ but I guarantee you have five minutes every hour,” Phil Catudal, a personal trainer, told me.

That could mean doing strength training (like 10 squats, 10 pushups, and two pull-ups) for five minutes every hour of the workday. By the end of the day, you’ll have worked out for more than half an hour through these “trigger workouts.”

It might not be as effective as working out for 30 minutes straight, but it’s only a marginal difference, Catudal said. Plus, it keeps your body on track and gives you a shot of dopamine, a chemical released in the brain that helps people feel pleasure.

Lower your expectations and barriers to exercising

“There’s absolutely zero benefit in doing an exercise program for two weeks and then quitting for three months,” Rob Newton, a professor of exercise medicine at Edith Cowan University in Australia, told me.

“You’re just going to be sore and sorry, and it’s not really going to benefit your health or fitness terribly much,” he added.

Instead, staying consistent is more important. That can look like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking a little further away.

Don’t underestimate walking

Woman Checking Time On Her Watch While Commuting To Work With Coffee

Woman checking time on her watch while commuting to work with coffee

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Walking is one of the easiest ways to get your heart pumping. And while research hasn’t yet nailed down an exact number of steps that we should aim for (that 10,000 steps a day goal was debunked a while ago), nearly everyone agrees that the more steps you can get in the better. And, adding just 500 more steps to your day can help you live longer.

“We don’t tend to think of walking because it feels easy,” Landsverk told me. “But there’s a lot of evidence that that’s actually one of the best ways to get started with exercise and start to see benefits like more energy, lower risk of illness, better heart health, things like that,”

Want to take that walk up a notch? Grab a backpack.

Newton told me they’re perfect for working out: they have handles, are pretty strong, and won’t tear.

Rucking — walking, running, or hiking with a weighted backpack — can help you shed fat and gaining endurance and strength. No wonder it’s a go-to technique for Military fitness. While you can buy weighted plates specifically made for this activity, Newton says there are some DIY techniques anyone can try.

“We show people how to make up various weights — that can be sand in plastic bags, tied off,” Newton said. “They just add the plastic bags to the backpacks, they can adjust the weight of them. And then with the backpack, you can do every exercise you can imagine.”

Block out time on your calendar to work out

Spain, Barcelona, jogging woman with headphones at harbour — stock photo

Woman jogging with headphones on

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Michael Joyner, a physician and Mayo Clinic researcher, cited how many of the most consistent exercisers carve out time in their day to workout. A lot of them also do it in the mornings before the day catches up with them.

“Come up with a consistent pattern that fits into your schedule and make it a priority so that you don’t have to make a daily decision,” Joyner told me.

You could even put it as an event in your calendar — just like if you had a meeting with your boss or a doctor’s appointment — to help you stay accountable.