Maximizing Your Time in the Gym

Jason Li, Exercise Science BS, USAW LVL2, Catalyst Athletics LVL1, NSCA-CPT

The snatch, clean, and the jerk are some of the most complex movements that require a lot of practice. Athletes need to train frequently enough to refine the skill as well as lift heavy often enough to cultivate their strength qualities to lift new personal bests. Trying to manage all the different aspects of Olympic Weightlifting can turn some training sessions into 3-hour long events that are not always possible or necessary to make progress. If you’re like me and have a normal full-time job it’s helpful to know how to properly manage your training to maximize your limited time in the gym. Here are some helpful tips to help you organize your training to get the most out of it when you are running short on time.

1) The most technical and powerful exercises of the training session should be done first.

It should go without saying that if you have limited time you should definitely practice the specific skills of the sport. Maintenance of Technical abilities and developing motor skills benefit from frequent exposure so you should include some variation of the lifts at the beginning of every training session. Regardless of what phase of training it is, you should be doing some variation of the competition lifts. Even if you don’t have time for other parts of your program you can at least make sure that your lifts stay sharp by prioritizing the competition movements. I generally choose to focus on one of the three movements during an abbreviated training session that way I don’t have to divide my already limited time even more. Choosing to focus on one lift within the session allows you to get the most out of this one training session.

2) Organize your exercise order to move efficiently to not waste time with set up

If you’ve been training for a while you know that setting up and cleaning up after yourself in the gym can take up a lot of time. To save time it helps to reorganize your training to minimize the set up time. If I have lifts from the floor planned that day, I’ll generally also have heavy pulls planned so when I’m done with my main work, I can go right into pulls with no time wasted setting up. The same goes for things like push press or jerks from the rack. I’ll program squats right afterwards since I know the barbell will already be in the rack from the exercise before it. This is a way more efficient plan than having to unload the bar to set up a whole new piece of equipment and sometimes do another few minutes of warming up.

3) Do your corrective exercises while you rest in between your warm up sets

A lot of times athletes will usually do their corrective exercises before moving onto the barbell but to save time I sometimes plug the corrective exercises between my empty barbell warm ups rather than treating them like separate sections of the workout. Corrective exercises are not particularly intensive and shouldn’t generate a ton of fatigue so it wouldn’t impact your barbell performance. A typical rest period for strength and power training is 1-3 minutes so you might as well be productive with the time and go through your corrective exercises. This method can shorten some training sessions by up to 30 minutes depending on how many corrective exercises you have generally programed.

4) Superset all your accessory work

This is a strategy I use often to cut down on training time. While one muscle group is resting you can use the time to train a different muscle group and by the time you come back to the first exercise the previously fatigued muscle should be rested enough to perform another set. It allows me to get all the extra work that I need in a shorter period of time and provides a nice conditioning effect when you move from one exercise to the other with little rest. This method may not be ideal for some exercises that require a little more skill like a snatch balance but this works well for most exercises like lunges or push ups.

5) Save all your accessory work for another specific day

While not ideal, sometimes life happens and things come up. If you are really pressed for time make sure you do the more important barbell work and save the accessory work for a separate day. As a rule of thumb, accessory exercises are included in training to supplement the main work and are meant to provide a general training effect whereas preceding barbell work has a more specific effect. If given the choice you should always prioritize the barbell work. It’s important that you don’t use this as an excuse to skip accessory work however as you can only cut corners for so long before you hit a wall in your progress.

Unless you are a professional athlete I’m sure that at some point you’ve struggled to find the time to train the way you know you should to make progress. To summarize here are some easy strategies you can implement to make sure you can get the most out of your limited time in the gym:

-Prioritize the competition movements first and choose to focus on one of the three movements to focus on for that particular training session.

-Cut down on clean up and set up time by reorganizing your order of exercises; I generally like to group exercises together in such a way where I don’t have to unload the bar, set up an entirely new piece of equipment, or rewarm up a different movement pattern.

-Take advantage of your rest periods between warm up sets. Certain kinds of exercise that aren’t too taxing metabolically or generate a lot of fatigue but are still beneficial to you can be done while you’re resting 1-3 mins between warm up attempts

-Superset your accessory work. For some exercises where technique can still be maintained under fatigue like a lunge or Dumbbell bench press you can once again maximize your rest time you would normally use to train multiple body parts and cut down on your training time. As a bonus this is also a great way to maintain a general level of conditioning

-If you are really stretched for time save your accessory work for a separate day. While this is the least ideal of all the strategies it is sometimes necessary. The main work is what provides the largest stimulus to our bodies and whatever else is extra and can be moved around if needed in some situations.

Hope all these strategies are helpful when you’re running low on time!