For the majority of us, deadlines and overtime have a way of sapping our motivation to delay going home and exhausting ourselves in the gym. Thankfully, with a solid strategy, you don’t have to sacrifice your next promotion to lose that gut. It wasn’t luck or stagnant behavior that earned you the corner office, why expect the gym to be any different? This article examines everyday practices by many casual gym goers that end up costing time and results, and offers simple ways to add a little effort and reap a lot of reward. In fact, 10 minutes of extra work will result in less time in the gym.

Stick to the plan

Be honest with yourself, before you enter the gym, do you know what exercises you are going to complete? If so, are you still using the same routine you learned in college? Spending 10 minutes at lunch preparing and writing a workout plan could easily save you that same amount of time searching for your next lift. Additionally, it will help you avoid over training. The National Strength and Conditioning Association teaches that when an individual trains too much, performance actually diminishes. You can avoid plateaus by varying the amount of weight you are lifting (increasing and decreasing) as well as the specific exercises you are doing.

Consider what muscle group(s) you want to focus on that day and choose a variety of exercises for each. Plan a separate workout for different muscles groups for a day later in the week. Bring the plans with you to the gym and track your progress. Even if you only have time for 2 visits to the gym per week, a plan will ensure you hit all major muscle groups over those two days, and tracking your progress will help you gradually push yourself more.

Pick up the pace

Again, our workout time is limited, so let’s make the most of it. If you’ve only got 30 or 40 minutes in the gym, don’t be the guy that sits on a bench for 5 minutes between sets. While you are resting after one exercise, move onto another that works a different part of the body. For example, if you are working your upper body, alternate between “push” exercises, such as bench press, and “pull” exercises, like a row or pull-down. It may seem that you will only tire yourself quicker, but because you are working different muscle groups, your chest is actually recovering while you focus on your back, and vice versa. You can also combine less related exercises. After a leg press, do crunches for 30 seconds. Then, after lunges, hold a plank for 1 minute. Combinations like these can help take the place of additional workouts, eliminating the need to dedicate an entire session to core work.
Another option is to combine aerobic exercise with your resistance training. Pullups, then jump rope, pushups then sprints, etc. The goal is to keep your heart high throughout the entire workout, building strength, burning calories and increasing cardiovascular ability. The NSCA cautions, however, that this type of “circuit training” cannot produce the same results as a focused aerobic workout. The organization does recommend this, though, as being good for those looking for a maintenance program.

Mix it up

To avoid over training (and boredom) you’ll need to change your workouts every six weeks or so. If circuit training is not ideal for you consider manipulating the exercises you are currently doing. For example, add “negative” lifts to your routine. The NSCA defines negative work as the force applied an object in its downward motion, ie the lowering of the barbell during bench press. A negative lift, then, is one that focuses on this portion of the exercise. After a set of pullups, get yourself back into the peak position of the exercise (chin above bar) and hold. Your muscles will fatigue and you will begin to lower, but do not allow yourself to drop. Control the lowering as slow as you can. This “negative” principle is a quick way to extend a certain workout and really exhaust your muscles.

An additional method of adding sets is Pyramid Training. This can be done with any number of lifts or exercises. With each set in a given exercise, you are going to increase the weight and lower the number of repetitions. For example, 10 bicep curls with 10 lbs, then 8 curls with 15 lbs, 6 with 20, 4 with 25, etc. You can also work down the pyramid, starting first with the heavier weight. Both negatives and pyramids are great variations to extend the focus on a particular body part in a relatively quick and efficient manner.

As they say in the office, work smarter not harder. The same is true of the gym. You don’t need to be there everyday to see results. You probably should continue to show up for work everyday, however, the two don’t correlate perfectly, after all.