By: Barbell Logic Team

For each lift, you have warm-up sets, work sets, and rest between sets. Within these basic components, most lifters have a lot of wasted minutes that accumulate and add unnecessary time to your workout. By systematizing your training, you can cut down your training time. By trying breaking down your workout into its component parts and systematizing it where you can. You are keeping all the training variables the same, you are just cutting out the fluff and extra you spend in the gym that is not directly related to getting stronger.

Spend Less Time in the Gym

Photo: Nick Delgadillo

Sometimes, no matter how much of a priority you make it, your ability to train changes with the ups and downs of the seasons, your weeks, or your days—those life variables that mess with your best-laid plans. Right now, during the biggest holiday season of the year, your workouts may be getting blown about by visiting family, broken up from the kids’ out-of-school schedule, or overlooked in the jumble of holiday parties. To avoid missing workouts or having to cut them short, you might be thinking that you need to make programming changes during the holidays. Changes to your schedule sometimes necessitate programming changes too, but before you overhaul your training plans, make sure you aren’t overlooking some easier ways to cut down your training time.

By systematizing certain aspects of your training, you may be able to trim down the length of your workouts. The idea is to preserve the main training variables (sets and reps, the type and order of lifts, and the weight on the bar) while removing the fluff from your training—the extra time you spend during your warmups, between sets, and getting ready to lift that does not help you get stronger.

Not all of these tips will work for everyone, but if you can implement just one they will help you get more out of your training time and may help you avoid unplanned program changes.

Standardize Your Warm-ups

For each lift, you have warm-up sets, work sets, and rest between sets. A lot of extra, unnecessary time accumulates within the basic pieces of your workout, adding up to lengthy, broken up, or skipped training when you have to unexpectedly cut the session short. For example, think about how you warm up for each lift. You start your warm-up with the empty bar. Then, maybe you consider your first jump in weight. You do your next set and consider again. If today’s work set is particularly nerve-racking, you might debate with yourself about whether you should take your last warm-up set closer to the work set weight so you can “feel” it beforehand. Or should you save your legs and keep the jumps a little bit bigger? While you are doing this, you are taking extra swigs from your water bottle, pacing, fretting over how these warm-ups feel compared to last time, how you feel, if you need to use the bathroom before your next set, and so on—generally taking a lot of extra time between your warm-up sets.

Photo: Nick Delgadillo

Dallying warm-ups are a major time-suck. If you are trying to get in and out of the gym in record time, you need to standardize your warm-ups for each lift. Here’s how: Every lift starts with the empty bar. (The deadlift is often the exception here since often your first warm-up will be loaded so that you can pull from the correct height without having to deadlift inside a squat rack.) Your target is your work set. Between the “empty bar” set and the work set, you should perform the following pyramiding sets: 1 set of 5 reps; 1 set of 3; 1 x 2; and 1 x 1—each of these at evenly increased jumps in weight (more or less). For ease of loading, round up or down to the nearest five pounds where you can. And, if you can’t easily make even jumps in weight, take the bigger jumps during the first sets and the smaller ones for your last sets and between your last warm-up set and work set. This takes some minor calculations the first few times, but pretty soon, you will have the system down.

And that is the main point. You shouldn’t be thinking about anything during the warm-up sets except your lifting. Your bodily warm-up will take care of itself as you move, lift, and gradually add weight to the bar. Use the time to focus on your movement and coaching cues, thinking about how you are going to lift how much or whether you are going to make it.

A system will also keep you from taking too much time between warm-up sets. The length of your rest between each warm-up set is exactly equal to the amount of time it takes to load the plates onto the bar. If you follow the above pyramiding sets scheme, you shouldn’t have a problem with this plan. When you complete your final warm-up set, take 5-minutes rest and then perform your first work set.

You may have your own system. Certainly, more advanced lifters will learn how they like to warm up best. But this system works well for most lifters most of the time.

Approach the Bar the Same Way Every Time

A consistent approach to the bar is the mark of a seasoned lifter, taking the same steps on the platform, grabbing the bar the same way every time, and walking through the same setup for every set, as if when it’s time to go the lifter flips an autopilot switch in her brain. As we discussed previously, lifting rituals can look funny to the outside observer. But this is an important process that prepares your brain and body to complete the work set. How you approach the bar, with practice, can put you in the right frame of mind, helping you focus for the upcoming set.

Without a set approach, it is easy to lose time getting into the right state of mind for your work sets. You shouldn’t rush your rest between sets, but when it’s time to lift, you also shouldn’t need to spend several more minutes just to get the bar on your back or in your hands.

Practice this first by paying attention to how you approach the bar: How you take your grip, how you unrack the bar, how you go through your set-up. What is the last thought that runs through your mind before you unrack the bar? Was it useful or distracting? Pay attention to your thoughts and your order of operations. Then, tweak them, establish a set approach to the bar that works for you. Often visualization, a mantra, or a specific cue to focus on can help organize your setup and keep out distracting thoughts.

When you do this, you help eliminate the pacing and grunting, the nervous hand-wringing, the gripping and regripping, and rechalking that tends to happen before hard sets. Over the course of a full workout, this extra time can add up.

Time Your Rest Between Sets

Rest between sets is crucial to your success and should never be cut short when you can manage it. But there is a lot of room for efficiency here, simply by paying attention and standardizing your rest times. Often, lifters will take some undetermined amount of time to rest between sets. Then, they have to find the right song that is going to carry them through the effort. Then, it takes another minute or two for the theme song-inspired, Rocky-esq montage to play in their heads while they gather the courage for the set, another minute chalking up and rehearsing the lift in their mind, and finally, they approach the bar.

Making your workouts more efficient does not mean cutting your rest between sets down. This is one of the quickest ways to start failing reps. Instead, time your rest between sets and note it in your training log. This will turn your rest into an adjustable variable. It will also prevent you from taking extra time between some sets and rushing others. It’s efficient because it prioritizes the important thing while cutting down unaccounted-for time. Most lifters who start timing their rests and sticking to a planned amount of rest between sets find that workouts take less time even when they’ve increased their rest between sets.

Having a certain, set way of doing things is the mark of an experienced lifter, because over a long enough time you get good at cutting out the extra stuff from training—the parts that don’t add a lot of value—and focus on the big stuff. So, while these tips can save you time in the gym. They will also just make your training better.

Let us know some other ways you’ve found to save time in the gym!

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