Secrets For Making The Most Of Your Gym Workout

You don’t want to spend long hours at the gym, but you want to get stronger, fitter, leaner, and just plain look good. It’s possible that you’re not getting the most out of your workout time.
GO EARLY
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Hitting the gym during the first half of your day has multiple benefits, according to Jimmy Minardi, founder of NYC- and Hamptons-based Minardi Training. He says to get your workout in before 1:00 pm, so conflicts are less likely to edge out your gym time and your energy is at peak levels. “Working out in the morning can boost energy for the rest of the day, giving your metabolism a jumpstart,” says Minardi. “And the thermic effect of exercise lasts at least four hours after a workout, so you’ll experience an increase in calorie expenditure throughout the day.”

TAKE A FRIEND, BUT ZIP YOUR LIPS
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It’s great to have a workout buddy, but make sure you’re there to motivate each other rather than get distracted by catching up. “Too much chatting between sets can take the momentum out of your workout,” says Minardi. “It’s good to rest enough between a high-intensity set to allow your muscles a chance to recover, but anything beyond a few minutes might make you lose your focus.”

PRACTICE PROPER POSTURE
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If you have a bad habit of tilting your body forward on the elliptical or stair-climber, stand up straighter next time around, says Joan Pagano, a certified trainer in New York City and author of Strength Training Exercises for Women. “Leaning on the handlebars reduces the effectiveness of your work by removing the emphasis from your lower body muscles,” she says. “You’re also stressing your shoulders, back and arms—so if you can’t avoid leaning, then ease up on the intensity.”

BEAR WEIGHT (SOMETIMES)
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Weight-bearing exercise has gotten a bad rap, but Minardi says you shouldn’t be afraid to step off that elliptical sometimes. “People spend too much energy on non-weight-bearing exercises like elliptical training, spinning and flat treadmill running,” he says. “This is good for people who may be recovering from injury, but not for those looking to improve overall health.” (It’s one of the 10 Things You’re Not Doing at the Gym (But Should Be).)

 Weight-bearing exercises (like yoga, dancing, or agility moves) strengthen bones and muscles, improving balance, coordination, and flexibility, says Minardi, so don’t fear a little pounding. “Any exercise where you bear your weight—even a brisk walk—has a greater overall payoff than a seated exercise.”
GET INNOVATIVE WITH MACHINES
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You don’t necessarily have to use every machine in the gym exactly as intended, or for just one exercise, says Pagano. “Use creatively,” she suggests. “With the leg press, for example, do a set using both legs, then lighten the weight and do it with one leg at a time. Keeping your feet on the platform with your legs fully extended, work your ankles by first pushing the platform away with the balls of your feet and then pushing it away with the heels of your feet, lifting your forefoot.” Pagano says this move will work your calves and lower legs better than ever. (Try the gym machines used in Kristin Cavallari’s Favorite Total-Body Gym Routine, too.)