Top 10 Fitness Time-Wasters

Avoid these time thieves and make the most of your trip to the gym.

By Barbara Russi Sarnataro
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

We've all done it. We give ourselves an hour to get in a workout, then end up wasting nearly half of it -- running an errand or two, getting dressed at the gym, chatting with acquaintances we bump into along the way. Even with the best intentions, you can sidetrack your progress if you don't make good use of your time. Think you might be frittering away precious fitness time? Check out what three fitness experts identified as the top 10 fitness time-wasters, and see where you can improve.

1. Spinning Your Wheels. When it comes to strength training, doing too many repetitions with lighter weights equals wasting time.

"When we're trying to build strength and build muscles, we want to attack as many muscle fibers as possible," explains sports conditioning coach Fiona Lockhart. That means upping the weight and decreasing the reps: "Fifty biceps curls might build muscular endurance but you're not going to build the strength you're looking for," Lockhart says. Of course, it also takes a lot more time to do 50 reps with light weights than 10 to 15 reps with more weight. A good rule of thumb: If you're able to do more than 15 repetitions of an exercise, it's time to increase the weight, Lockhart says.

The same is true of cardiovascular exercise. It's easy to hop on the treadmill and type in the same speed, incline, and time every single time. But your body gets used to it. "If you're trying to maximize time at the gym, work at a higher intensity for a shorter time," says Teri Trese, MS, a fitness trainer at Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa. "If you can get and stay near 85% of your target heart rate, you'll accomplish more for your total fitness."

2. Failing to Plan. If you haven't been this person, you've seen her -- wandering from machine to machine with the 100-yard stare of someone whose mind is elsewhere.

It happens all the time, says Lockhart. You get to the weight room and float around until you find an open machine. Then your time is over, and you've only gotten through three or four exercises. "Think about what you're going to do in advance, then stick with it," says Lockhart. "If it's cardio, then get on the treadmill or bike and focus. Throw in some two-minute intervals."

For weight training, if you're not working with a trainer, become your own. "Write a list of six or eight exercises (for different muscle groups) that you are going to accomplish in the given time," Lockhart says. "When you have tasks, you get a better workout."

Have an alternate exercise machine in mind in case the one you want is being used, suggests Debi Pillarella, MEd, exercise program manager for the Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster, Ind. "You keep your metabolism stoked by keeping your body moving," Pillarella says. "You shouldn't rest for more than 90 seconds or your body will go back to the pre-exercise state and you increase the risk of injury."

3. Using Bad Form. Don't just do the exercise; do it right, says Fabio Comana, MA, MS, certification and exam development manager for the American Council on Exercise.

Improper exercise technique not only poses a greater risk of injury to muscles and joints, it also wastes your time. You may be thinking you're strengthening one muscle when in fact you are straining another or stressing a joint. For example, doing bicep curls with your knees hyper-extended and your back muscles shortened could do more harm to your knees and back than good to your arms. Fitness trainers or floor assistants are on hand at most gyms to assist you with proper form. Use them. Ask for someone to walk you through the equipment, showing you proper technique with machines and free weights.

4. Being Too Social. "Social support is great," says Trese. "Knowing that a familiar face will be there at the same time" can keep you going with your exercise regime. "But you don't want to make it just a social hour."

When walking on treadmills with a companion, Lockhart suggests agreeing to chat during the warm-up and cool-down, but to stay quiet and commit to pushing yourself for the time in between. "Work at an intensity that burns significant calories and is too high to carry on a full-blown conversation," Lockhart suggests.

When you work out with a friend or friends, set some rules first to be sure everyone stays on track with time, Trese advises. Try doing 8 to 10 exercises in 30 minutes, and resting no longer than a minute between exercises.

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