Time is a very valuable commodity in our fast-paced lives. Choosing to be at the gym means that you’ve prioritised your training over other important things. You’ve chosen to commit to training because you know it’s beneficial. You understand that strength is important and barbell training is the best way to get there.
But recovery (and progress) does take time
It’s an unavoidable fact that as you progress in strength, you will need to rest longer between sets to fully recover. If you don’t give yourself sufficient time between working sets to recover, it can derail your progress. As a result, your training time will inevitably get longer as you get stronger.
You understand that more time needs to be dedicated to training the stronger you get, and you definitely want to get stronger. However, you lead a busy life and don’t have the luxury to spend hours at the gym – there’s only so much time that you can commit to training. How can you be more efficient while still maximising your strength gains? Here are 3 tips for increasing your efficiency to make the most of your precious time spent in the gym.
Tip #1: No rest between warm-up sets
You can speed up your warm-up sets, by not resting in between them. Rest between sets isn’t required, especially so for the first few sets.
What usually happens is that you’ll load the bar, do a warm-up set, then dillydally a little. You might then check your phone or chat with your training buddy about what to have for dinner after training before loading the next weight and doing your next warm-up set. This unnecessary 1-2 minutes spent between warm-up sets becomes 4-8 minutes wasted when you do 5 warm-up sets. Multiply that by 3 lifts, and you’re looking at an extra 12-24 minutes that could have been saved.
Instead of wasting time faffing about, start your first warm-up set with the empty bar (and always start with an empty bar unless it’s deadlifts). Once you’re done with your first warm-up set, change to your next weight immediately, and then do the next warm-up set without rest. Repeat for the rest of your warm-up sets.
If need be, you can probably take a short little break before your last warm-up set. After completing your last warm-up set, rest sufficiently before going for your first working set.
Tip #2: Track your rest time
Feelings are subjective. If you don’t time your rest, you’ll end up slacking off and taking longer than you actually need. You’re already keeping a logbook to record your training (if you’re not, you should be) to keep track of your weights, sets and reps. In the same way, you should also quantify and track your rest time.
At our gym, every rack has a timer so that you can set the appropriate amount of time to rest and it’ll inform you when time is up and you should be going for your next set. Your rest time isn’t set in stone, but is estimated based on the intensity of the working set, your age, sex, and which set you’re currently on (later work sets will require more rest compared to the first few).
What we’ve observed is that when the alarm goes off, the lifter often feels like they’re not sufficiently rested, especially when the weight starts to get heavy. Usually, they try to negotiate for more time. But as coaches, we know that whatever was prescribed would be adequate. With some encouragement, we get them to do their next set. And lo and behold! They manage to complete the set without a hitch, despite feeling like they needed more rest.
Feeling ready isn’t the same as being ready. Chances are, if we leave it up to you, you’ll rest more than you need.
And, we shouldn’t have to say this, but: checking your phone while resting isn’t a good idea! Checking your phone can be the biggest time waster – we see it happen all the time. Finish your work set, set your timer, pick up your phone. Scroll through social media. “Oh, cool cat video!” Timer goes off, stop it from beeping and go back to watching your video. The video takes another 2 minutes to finish. You finish watching it, then go for your next working set.
An unnecessary 2 minutes more before each working set means an extra 8 minutes wasted if you’re on your Novice Linear Progression.
Tip #3: Warm-up between your working sets
You can start warming up for your next lift when you’re nearing the end of your current lift. Warm-ups are low intensity, so they won’t affect your current lift
The main idea is: start your warm-ups for the next lift when you’ve got 2 working sets left. (In general, 5 warm-up sets are required.)
If your current lift has a total of 5 sets, this looks like:
- Set 1 → Set 2 → Set 3 (insert 1st & 2nd Warm Up) → Set 4 (insert 3rd & 4th Warm Up) → Set 5 (insert 5th Warm Up).
- Strip the bar from the previous lift. Rest, then go onto the next lift.
If your current lift has a total of 3 sets, this looks like:
- Set 1 (insert 1st & 2nd Warm Up) → Set 2 (insert 3rd & 4th Warm Up) → Set 3 (insert 5th Warm Up).
- Strip the bar from the previous lift. Rest, then go onto the next lift.
Important: you should take sufficient time between work sets to ensure the proper completion of the set. You can hurry between the lighter warm-ups, but do not make the mistake of hurrying between work sets — that is an excellent way to get yourself stuck.
Warning: Don’t modify the program
Even if you need to hurry through your workout, avoid dropping an exercise or do fewer sets or you’ll risk screwing up your progress.
The beauty of the Novice Linear Progression is that it’s already as stripped back as it can be. It only includes what’s necessary to get you stronger as a novice. For best results, you should do it in its entirety without any modifications.
But what if you really have no time? Would it be better to cut down the program (e.g. reduce the sets or training days) or to not train at all?
The simple answer is: sub-optimal training is of course better than not training. We understand that everyone has different commitments in life and that you need to work with the resources that you have. If you’re not able to do the program as is because of time constraints and have to make certain modifications, you have to accept that your progress will be less than optimal. If you’re ok with it given your circumstances, then by all means go ahead.
However, if you want to get the best results, focussing on making your limited time more efficient should be the priority, by using the tips above. After all, if you’ve already decided to spend time on this proven and effective program, then why not make sure that you get the most out of it?
And trust us: you will adapt to the faster pace fairly quickly and still make progress and get your PRs done.
Your training is your personal responsibility
Depending on your where you’re at in your training advancement, your workout can take anywhere between 30–90 minutes (about 30-45 minutes for a novice just starting out, and somewhere around 60-90 minutes for late intermediates). Regardless, if you have not been strict about managing your time in the gym and start to follow these tips, you should be able to shave 15–30 minutes off your usual training time.
The thing is, you must take ownership of your training. Blindly and mindlessly doing your workout won’t get you far. Even with the support of a coach, true progress really is a personal responsibility – your coach can guide you but you have to do the work.
To bring the best of yourself to the gym, you’ll need to eliminate all distractions and get focused on being efficient. You should also optimise your training strategy for the best returns.
With a strong intention to do well, the right mindset of efficiency, and planning, we’re confident that you’ll still be able to make progress and get stronger while spending lesser time in the gym.