With limited time and a desire to see results, many of us are looking for ways to get the most out of our workouts. This is something I think about constantly as a group exercise instructor—how to create safe, effective, and fun workouts that maximize the time we have in class. Through experience, I have found five things to be particularly helpful:
- Add total-body compound movements. Maximize your time by working multiple muscle groups at once. In doing so, you’ll increase your heart rate and boost your metabolism. For example, instead of doing basic squats, try squats with an overhead shoulder press to engage both the lower and upper body. Add a biceps curl to your normal lunge routine or an outer leg lift with your triceps extensions.
- Mix it up. As we exercise, our bodies become stronger. So in order to keep our muscles challenged, we need to switch up our routine. For strength training, try increasing the weight load or add simple balance movements to standard exercises, like standing on one leg or sitting on a yoga ball while doing biceps curls. For cardio, try cross training. Go for a trail run, take a spin class, or add short bursts of high-intensity cardio between your strength-training exercises. And don’t forget to challenge your body in all areas of fitness. In addition to doing cardio and strength training, work on your balance, coordination, and flexibility.
- Perfect your form. Having proper form can easily make or break the effectiveness of your workout. If you are unsure about your form, talk with a certified personal trainer or ask for clarification from your group exercise instructor after class. Even if you are confident about it, remember: as our body gets tired, form can easily be compromised. So while it is good to challenge yourself, know when to stop.
- Warm up and cool down. To increase range of motion and prevent injury, always warm up and cool down. A good warm-up dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also helps prepare your muscles for optimal flexibility, allowing for a more effective workout. Stretching promotes greater range of motion and eases the stress on joints and tendons, which may help prevent injury. It also helps reduce the buildup of lactic acid, which can lead to muscle cramping and stiffness. The cool down keeps blood flowing throughout the body and prevents feelings of light headedness which can occur when your heart rate and blood pressure drop rapidly.
- Dehydration can lead to muscle fatigue, loss of coordination, decreased energy and athletic performance, inability to regulate body temperature, and heat illness (e.g. heat stroke). To prevent dehydration, always keep a water bottle nearby and drink before, during, and after your workout.