Counting reps or watching the time elapse on the treadmill can be boooring (even if there is a Real Housewives marathon on to distract you). Even worse, your workout might not be getting you results. When you go to the gym, every minute should count — otherwise, what's the point? Get more out of your hard work with these six easy tips from Jessi Kneeland, personal trainer, coach, and founder of Remodel Fitness.
1. Skip the tabloids.
If you're hitting cardio machines just to meet your daily movement requirements (and maybe break a sweat), by all means, page through the latest issue of People. But if you're looking to slim down or tone up, you shouldn't be able to comfortably read a mag while working out. "Intervals are way more effective than low-intensity cardio for fat-burning," says Kneeland. "There are many ways — some of them even programmed into the machines—to break up your time into intervals, so that you can cycle through pushing yourself harder and then giving yourself a break." Focus on the resistance and incline, not who's breaking up in Hollywood.
2. Less is more.
If you can bang out 100 perfect push-ups, more power to you. But reps aren't everything — if 90 of those push-ups are half-assed, they barely count, muscle-wise. "Form always trumps reps," says Kneeland. "I would rather see five perfect reps than ten sloppy ones. Good form not only protects your joints, it also ensures that the right muscles are doing the work. The right muscles doing the work means the right muscles getting more toned."
3. Snack beforehand.
Cramming a workout in on your way home from work usually seems like the easiest and most efficient option. But if that's your routine, don't hold off on eating until after the gym. "Most often people do best with a snack or a light meal one to two hours before the workout," advises Kneeland. "Something with protein is always best, and some carbs (like fruit) will make a tough workout feel easier. If you haven't eaten anything in three or more hours before your workout, odds are good your blood sugar will crash during (or right after) your workout, making you feel fatigued, light-headed, nauseous, or just yucky." Eat to burn, people.
Sit-ups and bicep curls are great, but you can get more toning in (and get out of there faster—who doesn't love that?) when you do moves that target multiple muscles at the same time, like planks and burpees. "A move that uses your whole body will burn more calories and fat than a move that only ones one specific muscle," says Kneeland.
5. Switch up your routine.
If going to the gym feels like going through the motions, you're probably doing it wrong. Your workout should be getting harder every week if you want to see results. "If you do the same reps, weights, and exercises every time you train, your body will get used to the workout, and you'll stop seeing progress," says Kneeland. "Progressing in some form each week (more weight, more reps, more sets, less rest, etc.) will help, then switching up the routine to new machines or new classes every four to six weeks will ensure you continue to see results."
6. Bring a friend.
"For most people, having an 'accountability partner' not only gets them to the gym more often, it also makes them work harder once they get there," says Kneeland. Science says so, too: A Kansas State University study found that people who work out with a partner who they perceive as slightly better than them increased their workout time and intensity by as much as 200 percent. Competition: the ultimate motivator.