Make the most of your workout

If you're short on time, but still want to exercise, you can make the most of your workout by following these tips.

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  • Exercising always makes me feel better, but finding the time to exercise is a challenge. Like you, I have lots to do every day. I don’t want to push exercising to the bottom of my to-do list, and I don’t want to feel guilty for making time for myself. Making my workouts more efficient has helped me lead a more balanced life, with time for my children and spouse. If you’re short on time, there are several easy ways to maximize your workout. Here are 5 to get you going. Consider your own fitness level before you try these methods, and consult your doctor as necessary.

  • Rev up intensity

  • . This principle works for whatever exercise you participate in. The general idea is to occasionally amp up your speed or intensity so your heart rate increases and your body works harder. If you are walking, move to speed-walking every few minutes and sustain the faster pace for at least a minute. If you are speed walking, try running for a minute. You could even add in short jogging sessions to your family walk, or race your kids down the sidewalk. I alternate faster speeds and harder resistance on the elliptical trainer, rowing machine, stair stepper and recumbent bicycle at the gym. The running clock on the display makes it easy to keep track of time.

  • Try intervals

  • Steadily lifting weights can be an inefficient way to exercise. If you are looking for a better workout, switch to interval training. An easy way to do this is to choose four exercises and alternate them for one minute each, making a four-minute circuit. Choose one upper body exercise (like shoulder presses), a lower body exercise (like squats), an abdominal or core exercise (like sit-ups), and a cardio exercise (like jumping jacks). You should spend a few minutes warming up, then move at steady pace and try not to rest between exercises. The number of rounds you do depends on your time and ability level. I like to do at least 20 minutes of interval training to feel like I’ve gotten a good workout.

  • There are endless possibilities for combining exercises together to make circuits. This kind of exercise keeps your mind and body fresh. If you need more guidance on interval training, try searching online for free workouts, download an exercise app for your tablet or try a DVD from your library. Make sure to modify exercises for your ability level. Kids like interval training too, so this is a good way to get your family involved. Put one family member at each station and rotate through.

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  • Reduce resting time

  • When I began running, I was really slow. As I tried to improve, someone told me ,“To run faster, you have to run faster.” Although that’s a completely obvious statement, it had a big impact on me and my running. To increase fitness and strength, you have to work harder and make yourself uncomfortable. Reducing your resting time between exercises (if you’re lifting weights) or between sprints (if you’re running, biking or swimming) will increase your calorie burn and your stamina. Your workouts may be shorter as a result, since you are maxing out your body faster. Don’t push yourself too often. Your body needs off days to rest and recover.

  • Become unstable

  • As you become more fit, you might need to challenge your body in new ways. Becoming unstable is a great way to do this. Do your bicep curls on one leg, try one-armed push-ups, lift a foot off the floor while holding plank position or try trail running instead of your normal neighborhood route. A few other ideas include closing your eyes for stationary exercises, using a sandbag for lifting instead of weights and trying exercises on a Bosu or exercise ball. These are all ways to challenge your body’s sense of balance, incorporate new muscles into the mix and keep things fresh.

  • Use your whole body

  • Exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups and mimic the movements you use in your daily life are the best, in my opinion. Burpees, push-ups, mountain climbers and inchworms are all examples of exercises that use multiple muscle groups. Explanations of these exercises can easily be found online, at acefitness.org or many other exercise sites. In addition, you can combine some of your regular weight lifting moves, like doing a squat and then standing and doing a bicep curl with weights. Working lots of different muscles helps you achieve all-over fitness in a shorter amount of time.

  • Children naturally use their whole bodies as they go through life. Follow your kids as they play at the park and you'll find yourself using different muscles and sprinting from activity to activity.

  • If you want to encourage your family members to exercise, or you need a little motivation yourself, use some of these tips for shorter, more effective workouts. Exercise will improve your health, and you'll feel great when you finish!

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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