10 Things That Will Make Your Workouts So Much More Effective

girl doing a runners stretch

If your New Year’s resolution has you planning to lift more, run more, or sweat more, chances are, you’re looking to do it in the most efficient and effective way possible. Sure, showing up may be half the battle, but the other half of the battle is made up of hard work, consistency, and training smart.

Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer or you’re new to fitness, here are 19 workout tips to take your fitness to the next level. And remember: doing any type of physical activity is a great first step.

drinking coffee

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1

Wake up with a cup of coffee before your morning workout.

The caffeine in a pre-workout cup of joe helps stimulate your central nervous system, so you’ll have a little extra oomph in your indoor cycling or boot camp class. Plus, in addition to a performance boost, research shows that it can actually make exercise feel more enjoyable, so you’re more likely to push harder.

Drink up a half hour before you start sweating to give it time to kick in, Jessica Cording, R.D., tells SELF.

walking up stairs from metro

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2

Walk into the gym with a plan.

Having a plan of action before you step foot in the gym can help you avoid wandering aimlessly around while you decide what to do next. This indecisiveness not only adds time to your workout, it also makes it less efficient, since you’re letting your heart rate drop. “A clear plan is your secret weapon,” Jared Kaplan, founder of Studio 26, previously told SELF. Know what exercises you’re going to do, where you’re going to do them, and in what order.

It’s also a good idea to have a plan B, just in case the machine or floor space you were planning on using is taken. Move on to other parts of your workout and come back, or be armed with a backup exercise in mind that utilizes different equipment.

kettlebell sitting at gym on headphones

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3

Get motivated with a solid workout playlist.

Get pumped up on your way to the gym and during your workout with songs that make you feel strong, powerful, and like you can do anything. If you’ve been using the same earbuds since who knows when, upgrade your sound quality and comfort with one of these four best workout headphones rigorously sweat-tested by SELF staffers as part of our annual Healthy Living Awards.

armband phone in gym

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4

Put your phone on airplane mode.

Resist the urge to chime in on your group text or check that Snapchat message. Your workout is the time you get to invest in yourself, so turn your phone on airplane mode to avoid unnecessary distraction. Even better? If you don’t need your phone for your music or any workout apps, leave it in the locker room. The workout ‘grams can wait.

stretching listening to headphones

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5

Start your workout with some dynamic stretches.

Dynamic stretches are a core component of pretty much any warm-up. With dynamic stretching, you’ll be moving through different stretches, rather than holding the stretch in place. This gradually raises your body temperature and heart rate and starts to warm up your muscles, priming your body for activity. A dynamic warm-up also helps improve your range of motion, so you can get deeper into each exercise and reap the full strengthening benefits of each move. The exact stretches you should perform in your warm-up depend on the type of workout you’ll be doing: Try this 5-minute warm-up before you run, or this dynamic warm-up to do before a strength-training session.

foam roll

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6

Master foam rolling, and do it often.

Foam rolling is another excellent way to improve your range of motion, so you can get more out of every squat, lunge, and push-up. Foam rolling helps relieve tightness by releasing knots your fascia, the thin sheath of tissue that surrounds your muscles. This tightness gets in the way of your ability to do exercises with a full range of motion, which may limit the benefits of the exercise. Foam rolling before a workout (and when you have spare time) is a good habit to get into to make every gym session more effective. When you roll, make sure to go slowly and pay special attention to any spots that feel particularly tight, like your hips or calves.

lifting weights in gym

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7

Embrace strength training.

If you’ve steered clear of the weight room in the past, now’s the time to get familiar with strength training. Having strong muscles can help prevent injury and help you move better in day-to-day life, whether you’re lifting a moving box or climbing stairs. Strength training also improves your bone density, which is important to prevent fractures and osteoporosis. It also prevents against age-related muscle loss—the natural decrease in muscle mass that happens as you age—which keeps your metabolism humming. And although you probably associate cardiovascular exercise with heart-health benefits, research shows that strength training also helps keep your heart healthy by lowering your blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels. Read more about the many benefits of strength training for women here.

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8

Maximize your gym time by minimizing rest between exercises.

Strapped for time in the gym? Cut down your rest intervals. By taking minimal rest, you’re automatically upping the intensity of your workout and keeping your heart rate elevatedthroughout your weightlifting or interval training session. This cardio challenge trains your body (and mind) to work efficiently and persevere through fatigue, Rob Sulaver, C.S.C.S., founder of Bandana Training, explained to SELF. When you do cardiovascular training regularly, your body gets better at delivering fresh oxygen to your muscles, so you’ll actually get better at pushing through your workouts even when you’re tired.

The right amount of rest varies depending on the workout and the person, but as a rule of thumb, you should aim to take just enough that you can go hard during your next set, but not so much that you’re totally recovered. A quick disclaimer: If you’re already feeling this way during your strength workouts, you might not want to cut down your rest intervals any further; too little rest won’t allow your muscles to recover enough to be ready for your next strength set.

Here are some guidelines on how much rest to take depending on your workout.

weights deadlift

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9

Incorporate compound movements to hit more muscles at once.

Compound exercises recruit multiple muscle groups and two or more joints at once. That’s opposed to isolation exercises, which target one muscle group (like bicep curls). Because they help you get more done in less time, they’re great for increasing overall muscle mass, and they also burn more calories because they require more energy output. Compound exercises can be single moves that put multiple groups to work at the same time (like lunges and squats), or they can be two moves strung together (like bicep curls to shoulder presses).

To make the most of the time you put into the gym, you should aim for compound moves to take up 70 to 80 percent of your workout (and target specific muscles you want to work with isolation exercises the rest of the time), Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder of TS Fitness, told SELF. Check out seven of his favorites here.

selecting weights off a rack at the gym

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10

Amp up exercises by adding weights.

While you can get a heart-pumping workout using only bodyweight exercises, adding in weights gives your muscles an extra challenge. If you feel like you’ve mastered moves like basic squats and lunges, try holding a set of dumbbells or a medicine ball to make these types of bodyweight moves more challenging and effective.

Author: sidhardh

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