I’m pretty good at fitting a workout into my routine. Whether it’s 10 minutes of pilates on my lunch break or a 35-minute strength-training class after work, I can find time on even the busiest of days. But is finding time enough? Whether you find random pockets of time to squeeze it in like me or rely on 60-minute training sessions six days a week, we can all agree that if we’re going to spend the time to work out, we better get the most from it.
So what does it take to turn any exercise into an effective workout that will help us reach health goals? Just ask Danyele Wilson, a NASM certified trainer, HIIT master trainer, Tone & Sculpt coach, and all-around badass. After obsessing over her at-home workouts (and envy-worthy abs) on Instagram, I knew I had to pick her brain. Here are her secrets to get the most out of every single workout and reach your fitness goals (hint: work smarter, not longer).
1. Define your “why”
As with any health or wellness goal, find a reason to achieve that goal that will motivate you. No matter how much you think you want to work out every day and eat a clean diet, if the reason is that you’re “supposed to” or because it will help you look a certain way, you probably won’t stay motivated through the toughest workouts and busiest days. Instead, think about why you really want to exercise. Is it to feel more confident, be more connected to your body, or to live a longer life? Now that’s what will get you through the tough times. “It’s important to set the tone and intention for your workout, so when it gets hard, you have a clearly defined reason to carry you through,” Wilson explained.
2. Never skip a dynamic warm-up
It goes for new relationships, and it goes for exercise: when you go from 0-100 way too quickly, it can cause some serious damage. As Wilson said, “a warm body is ready to perform; a cold body will put you at risk for injury.” Next time you’re thinking of going straight into a sprint or a HITT circuit, stop and take a few minutes to make sure your body is ready so that it can perform its best and to decrease your risk for injuries. You want to warm up the body to ensure the muscles have enough oxygen and increase flexibility to reduce injuries. Wilson recommends fitting in at least five minutes for a warmup. Try active stretching and low-heart rate cardio like walking on the treadmill.
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3. When weight training, start with compound lifts
Compound lifts are any strengthening exercise where you’re using more than one muscle group at a time (like squats or deadlifts, rather than bicep curls). Wilson said that knowing this is key to getting the most from your workouts. “Compound lifts demand the most energy, so it’s important to get those big lifts out of the way before you start to fatigue,” she explained. If a phrase like “compound lifts” sounds a little too out of your league or weight training is not your thing, Wilson’s tip works as a framework to make the most of any workout. Start with whatever exercise, movement, or part of the body feels the most challenging for you and will require the most energy (instead of putting off the hard stuff until the end). At the beginning of the workout, you’ll have more endurance for tougher movements.
4. Focus on mind-muscle connection
If you’re like me and move through workout classes thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner later, new’s flash: we’re missing out on a key piece of the exercise. “Focusing on the mind-muscle connection is important to ensure you are never just going through the motions and are working out as efficiently as possible,” Wilson said. In other words, focusing on the targeted muscle can engage it more, making it work harder and more efficiently. When you’re more mindful of each movement, you’ll be better with your form (more on that below), and you’ll focus on the working muscle, making it work more effectively.
5. When you feel tired, focus on form
If you haven’t already perfected your form, you need to. Proper form helps you maximize a workout by using your energy for the extra push, meaning that no movement goes to waste. If you have improper form, you might be targeting unintended muscles and setting yourself up for injury. Plus, good form means you can run faster, jump higher, and push harder (yes, you will feel like Superman). Wilson especially recommends focusing on form when you get tired during a workout. It’s so much easier to slack on form when your body feels exhausted, so being extra conscious can not only help you push through the rest of the workout, but Wilson also relies on this trick to prevent injuries.
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6. At the end of the workout, try something that will empty the tank
Whether you’re looking to maximize a 10-minute, 30-minute, or 60-minute workout, you should end feeling like you gave it your all. Not only is this good for your confidence, but it’s good for your body and ensures that you’re challenging yourself. Wilson recommended ending each workout with a burst of movement that will empty the tank. “This will allow you to surprise yourself with how far you’re able to go,” she said. “Tie meaning to those final movements, dig deep, and finish strong.” Try a rep with a heavier weight or a cardio burst of jumping jacks, and don’t forget to crank up the workout playlist.
7. Remember that how you do one thing is how you do everything
Exercise is not only beneficial because you know it’s good for your health. Exercise is an opportunity to boost your confidence, challenge yourself, and learn what you’re capable of. Wilson sees exercise as an opportunity to practice the skills she wants to incorporate in her entire life, believing that the way she does one thing is the way she’ll do everything. “If you’re willing to take shortcuts during a workout, you’ll be willing to take shortcuts in other areas of your life,” she explained. “Decide not to settle, so the power you feel after finishing a tough workout will spill into other areas of your life.” BRB, going to go crush a HITT circuit after that motivation.