Working out is all about efficiency. On some days, even the most disciplined fitness fanatics struggle to find an hour for a workout when life (and all its commitments and time crunches) intervenes. So when we do finally walk through those gym doors or step into a home gym, it’s all about maximizing our time.
Maybe you’re looking to bulk up and pack on muscle to hit a new personal record on the bench press. Or perhaps weight loss is on your mind, and you want to burn as much fat as possible every time you hit a workout. Regardless of your intentions, the question remains — how can you most efficiently reach your fitness goals? There are no true shortcuts in the fitness world, but the solution to jump-starting your journey is knowing a few expert workout tips. These tricks and tactics offer subtle ways to bring marginal improvements to your training regimen. The right workout tips can expedite your progress from single-leg exercises and alternate grips to jumping rope between sets.
To learn more about maximizing workouts, we chatted with Sam Moses — a Colorado-based Certified Personal Trainer and strength coach — to learn more about maximizing our time in the gym. For his clients, Moses recommends first identifying your goals and having a plan for tackling them. He suggests researching online to select a workout structure tailored to your specific needs.
“Efficiency starts with having a plan and then executing on that plan, not just going to the gym and doing whatever you think works,” he said.
If you’re wondering how to hack your workout, we’ve assembled some of our favorite expert workout tips, categorized them by fitness goal, and listed some of the best products to help facilitate each tip best.
1. How to Gain Muscle Fast
Expert Workout Tip # 1 — Supersets
If your primary goal is muscle growth, it’s time to rethink your traditional workout construction. Conventional wisdom says approach an exercise with three sets of ten reps, perhaps with a warm-up set tacked on the front end. That’s an excellent, foundational basis for a muscle-building workout, but you can expedite the muscle growth process by shifting how you perform exercises.
The first workout tip is called a superset. While you would traditionally perform one set of an exercise, rest, then perform the next, a superset combines two separate exercises, and has you crank up a set of each one without resting in between. For example, you’d hit 10 pull-ups then immediately switch to perform 10 reps of bicep curls. Supersets allow for a more efficient workout — since you’re limiting the amount of rest — and increased intensity. In essence, it’s an extra challenge for your muscles.
“Traditional strength training focuses more on recovery time between sets to facilitate lifting heavier loads, meaning those workouts typically take longer,” Moses said. “A way to get more lifting in without fatiguing your body too much is to superset movements that bias different musculature. By doing so, you can increase the volume of lifting without decreasing your capacity to handle heavier loads.”
Moses likes to pair full-body compound exercises (like squats) with an upper-body exercise (like an overhead shoulder press) for his supersets. But he generally wants to ensure the exercises he includes in supersets aren’t entirely different from one another.
“Getting some overlap is a great way to overload the musculature you’re targeting that day, increasing your strength adaptations after the fact,” he said. “For example, pull-ups heavily bias the latissimus dorsi while deadlifts utilize the lats as a secondary stabilizer. Both exercises incorporate the lats, but pull-ups obviously work them more actively.”
A typical superset from Moses might look something like this:
- Barbell squat (compound lower body) + Dips (upper body push)
- Deadlifts (full-body hinge) + Barbell rows (upper body pull)
Expert Workout Tip # 2 — Drop sets
Drop sets, another muscle-building workout tip, take a similar approach by re-imagining how to construct exercises and sets. Instead of using the same weight for all sets of an exercise, you complete each set to failure, drop the weight by 10% to 30%, then repeat with a higher volume of reps.
So, three drop sets of dumbbell curls might look something like this:
- 6-10 reps of 30 pounds
- 10-15 reps of 22.5 pounds
- 15-20 reps of 15 pounds
Drop sets are an incredibly efficient technique for completely obliterating your muscles and boosting volume (we all love that “pump” feeling after a workout). However, studies have shown that performing sets to failure can increase fatigue and recovery time, which can negatively impact your performance. So if you want to reap the benefits of drop sets, we recommend only including them at the tail end of a standard set for an extra challenge, not completely replacing all of your workouts with drop sets.
2. How to Burn Calories Fast
Weight loss remains one of the most popular fitness goals, particularly as beach season approaches. However, not everyone fancies a 5-mile jog every morning. Some — particularly those looking to pack on lean muscle while also dropping a few pounds — favor training methods that incorporate exercises that can do both. This is our next workout tip, and you’ve definitely heard of it before.
Expert Workout Tip # 3 — Circuit Training
Circuit training combines elements of traditional weightlifting and cardio to build muscle and burn fat simultaneously. Circuit training has spiked in notoriety in recent years with the popularity of CrossFit and remains a great way to ramp up your heart rate while building strength. In a circuit-style workout, you quickly complete a set of each exercise with little rest in between.
“I’d argue (circuits) are the greatest bang for the buck you’ll get in the gym for many reasons,” Moses said. “Starting with what everyone cares about — weight loss — circuits are essential. By increasing the pace of your exercise, you also increase the intensity, which results in more calories being burned throughout the workout.”
According to Moses, circuits also boost the body’s Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). This process means the body’s metabolism stays high even after you finish your circuit. That’s right — you’ll still be burning calories just sitting around, thanks to the increased metabolic rate, which gets a nice spike from high-intensity exercise like circuits.
“If your goal is weight loss, I highly recommend employing circuits to get there quicker,” he said.
A typical circuit might look something like this:
- 8 pull-ups
- 15 deadlifts
- 60 seconds of jump rope
- 10 push-ups
- 1/4-mile run
Circuit training is an effective and efficient way to build muscle and endurance while offering a workout for the entire body. It often features exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups, and it’s also incredibly fun to build your own circuits and alter them every day to ensure things never get boring.
“Of course, you’re never going to lift as heavy of weights when you’re fatigued in a circuit, but you can still get plenty of loading stimulus with an elevated heart rate,” Moses said. “This is actually my personal go-to trick if I’m pressed for time on my own workouts. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in a half-hour.”
Expert Workout Tip #4 — HIIT
You’re probably sensing a trend here. The best workout tips optimize efficiency by leaning into intensity.
Like circuit training, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) blends different cardio levels to push your body to its limits. Blending short periods of intense movement with steadier intervals to recover burns calories rapidly and keeps your body in a calorie-burning state even after the workout. A typical HIIT workout might incorporate two minutes of jogging followed by 30 seconds of intense sprinting for an extended period of time. There are tons of ways to incorporate HIIT into your favorite cardio exercises. All you need to do is adjust the intensity to keep your body working hard.
How to Get Stronger
While benching 300 pounds or running a 7-minute mile are fantastic goals to work toward, some folks crave a workout that helps them live a more vigorous life every day. The idea of strength doesn’t need to apply strictly to the weight room; it can simply promote a healthier and stronger lifestyle. The following expert tips keep this idea of every strength in mind.
Expert Workout Tip # 5 — Unilateral Training
More often than not, one side of your body is stronger than the other. We favor our dominant limbs, which can lead to various muscle imbalances throughout our bodies. These imbalances are particularly true for those who suffer from injury (like yours truly), as the non-injured side of your body compensates for the weakness caused by injury.
Unilateral training is an excellent antidote to these imbalances, which incorporates single-limb exercises to ensure that strength distributes equally. These types of exercises are critical because they more directly mirror the way we move in real life.
“You don’t walk around by hopping your two feet over and over; you take steps, right?” Moses asked. “In this way, single-leg exercises are incredibly important to reinforce functional strength in the body. So, if we’re talking efficiency in making your body more functional, I’d suggest you switch out some of your squats and deadlifts to walking lunges and single-leg Roman Dead Lifts. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by how hard they are and impressed by how much stronger they make you.
Some examples of good unilateral training exercises are:
- Box step-ups
- Single-leg squats
1. Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells
BEST FOR BUILDING STRENGTH
If muscle-building is on your mind, there’s no better tool than a pair of dumbbells. These adjustable dumbbells from Bowflex essentially replace 15 pairs of individual dumbbells and consistently rank on our round-ups of the market’s best dumbbells. The adjustable and compact nature makes them great for storage in a home gym, while it still offers plenty of weight to crush your strength goals. That adjustable feature is super quick, making these an excellent choice for your next drop set.
2. GoxRunx Jump Rope
BEST FOR CIRCUIT TRAINING
Hacking a workout tends to make efficiency a top priority. After all, that rest between regular sets only allows your heart rate to stabilize, and even the best of us end up checking our phones or getting lost in a side conversation. Why not make the most of that downtime? Jumping rope between sets is a great way to keep your body stimulated and burn calories. The jump rope is a fixture of circuit training and offers a packable tool to fit in a quick workout wherever you go. Try jumping rope during commercial breaks on TV or before leaving the house. This jump rope from GoxRunx can even stay in your suitcase on road trips or vacations, just to make sure you’re getting a workout no matter what.
3. BalanceFrom 3-in-1 Plyometric Box
BEST ALL-PURPOSE TOOL
Though it might not look like much, this multi-purpose box offers many creative ways to work out. Great for box step-ups in unilateral training or box jumps in circuit training, BalanceFrom’s 3-in-1 box includes three different sides at three different lengths — 20, 24 and 30 inches — to suit whichever height you need for your workout. These are a staple at any CrossFit gym and represent a simple, effective way to train your body. It boasts an impressive 4.8-star rating on Amazon based on almost 6,000 reviews, so you know it’s worth the investment.
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