6 Swaps for More Efficient Workouts

Life is busy for most of us, and finding time for a workout can be challenging. When you do find that time, you want to make sure you're getting the most ''bang for your buck,'' meaning you're being as efficient as possible with your workout program. By making some small changes to your current routine, you can increase your calorie burn, improve your fitness level and make your health-related goals even more attainable! Here are some ideas to get you started.

 
INSTEAD OF: Stationary biking 
TRY: Spinning
Stationary biking can be a great workout that's low-impact and easy on your joints. But it can also be easy to get distracted by the TV show you're watching or magazine you're reading while pedaling. Before you know it, 15 minutes have gone by--and you're not pushing nearly as hard or fast as you'd intended. 
 
Spinning classes are a good option for staying focused and pushing yourself harder. It's easy to dig deeper and keep going when you're surrounded by other class participants, and it's motivating to have an instructor calling out what to do and when to do it. There's usually upbeat music to keep you moving, and it's less tempting to cut your workout short when you're in a room full of people. Plus, you'll torch major calories--one study (sponsored by the American Council on Exercise) found the heart rates of each participant in an indoor cycling class to be between 75 percent and 96 percent of age-predicted heart-rate maximum, with the majority of the time spent on the higher end of the range. Although these classes might be too intense for a beginning exerciser, they are a good alternative for someone in a regular routine that's looking for a challenge.
 
INSTEAD OF: The elliptical machine
TRY: The stair climber
The elliptical machine is designed to mimic a running motion in a low-impact way. This is a popular gym machine because it can be a challenging workout that's easy on your joints. Many models allow you to change the incline and resistance, which can create a more intense workout. But it can be tempting to leave the resistance on a low setting and allow momentum to take over as you pedal as fast as you can.
 
Although the elliptical machine can give you a great workout when used appropriately, you might want to try the stair climber to bump up your intensity a notch. Stair climbers are more challenging than they look! You can't let momentum take over on a stair climber since you have to make the effort to take each step. If you don't hold the side rails, this can also be a great workout for your core as you work to maintain your balance. Although both the elliptical and stair climber are primarily lower body workouts, they use your muscles in different ways. So if you switch to this machine, you might notice the workout is more challenging than you expected, and your body could take some time to adapt. 
 
INSTEAD OF: Walking at a constant pace
TRY: Walking intervals
Walking is a great form of cardiovascular exercise for a variety of reasons: It's easy on your joints and easily accessible—plus, there's no equipment or training needed! Walking also helps strengthen your heart, bones and joints. Starting with a consistent pace and slowly building up your distance and speed is a great way to challenge yourself and improve your fitness level. To get started, you can find a list of comprehensive resources in SparkPeople's Walking Guide.
 
After getting comfortable in a regular walking routine, you might find it's time to turn up the intensity.  Interval training is a great way to break out of your comfort zone and burn more calories. During one of these sessions, you'll alternate between shorter, fast-paced walking intervals and longer, slower-paced recovery periods. When you vary your effort by mixing periods of high and low intensities during your workout, your fitness will improve faster and more dramatically—and your workouts will be less boring.  As you become fitter, you can slowly increase the fast-paced intervals and decrease the slow-paced intervals to give you an even greater calorie burn!   
 
INSTEAD OF: Jogging in place
TRY: Jumping rope
Jogging in place is a convenient and easily accessible alternative when you don't have other cardio options available. It won't burn as many calories as regular jogging (since you don't have to propel yourself forward with each step), but it's certainly better than nothing in a pinch.
 
If you're short on options and space, consider jumping rope instead.  Jumping rope has a huge calorie burn advantage over jogging in place. It is estimated that 10 minutes of jumping rope (at 120 turns per minute) has the same benefit as jogging for 30 minutes. Jump ropes are inexpensive, easy to store, and an easy way to add some challenging variety to your routine. 
 
INSTEAD OF: Crunches
TRY: Planks
Crunches are a popular abdominal exercise, but it turns out they aren't the most effective exercise for strengthening your core. The traditional crunch only targets your upper abdominal area, leaving out the obliques and lower abdominals. Crunches also go against the natural curve of your lumbar spine, which can end up causing back pain. 
 
Planks not only strengthen all of your abdominal muscles, but also your shoulders and hips. Since the abdominal muscles are responsible for stopping motions (vs. starting motions) the plank is a more functional way to train these muscles, as it works them isometrically. There are a number of variations on the traditional plank which can help build functional strength in new and challenging ways. 
 
INSTEAD OF: High reps, low weight
TRY: Low reps, high weight
When it comes to strength training, ''high reps, low weight'' is a popular recommendation. The idea is to use a lighter weight so that you can perform a large number of repetitions of each exercise. While this can help build endurance, it's not the most effective way to build muscle and strength. If you can do 100 squats or lunges, for example, it's time to find a way to increase the intensity and decrease the number of reps.
 
Building muscle and strength doesn't necessarily mean you want to look like a bodybuilder (which is very difficult to do without a lot of concentrated effort). A more effective use of your time is to decrease the number of repetitions and increase the weight. The general recommendation is 8-12 repetitions per set, with the final rep being the last one you can do with proper form. If you can easily keep going after finishing a set, it's time to increase the amount of weight you're using. 
 
No matter what kind of workout you choose, make sure it's something you enjoy! You'll be much more likely to stick with your routine if you can look forward to your exercise sessions. Also keep in mind that after about 4-6 weeks of doing the same routine, your body starts to adapt to it. It's important to change your workout routine regularly to avoid both fitness and weight-loss plateaus. Don't be afraid to try something new!
 
Sources
 
American Council on Exercise. ''Indoor Cycling, America's Hottest Fitness Craze, Geared for the Conditioned, New Study Finds,'' accessed October 2014. www.acefitness.org.

American Council on Exercise. ''Reality Check: Are Planks Really the Best Core Exercise?'' accessed October 2014. www.acefitness.org
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Member Comments

Great article Report
Very, very helpful information, I need to change up my routines. Report
Hmm.. my primary physician told me no more than 5 lbs with the free weights....So I guess one listens to all sides and follows evidence based practice best one can.... Report
Good info. Report
Crunches vs planks? I don't know. Report
thanks. Report
Great article very helpful Report
Great article Report
These change ups are good! My body responds to changing things up! Report
Great challenges to shske up routine. Report
Parents (not televisions) should talk to children during dinnertime. Report
Pretty challenging. Report
A slow cooker can help busy people make healthy meals faster. Report
AZURE-SKY
Many of the suggestions in this article are for younger people without health issues, but aren't appropriate for everyone.

If the elliptical works for your health - knees/hips/back situation, stick with it. Changing equipment isn't necessary. You can increase the intensity by using one of the resistance programs, adding time or speed to your existing workout.

It's the same if you're using a stationary bike. Change your resistance, change your speed, do a combination of lower speed/higher resistance and higher speed/lower resistance. I can't use a regular stationary bike because of the back strain, so I use a recumbent bike. I can get a good workout on it.

If you use a treadmill, and it has pre-programmed workouts, you can use those. Add incline, change your speed. No need to change equipment.

As for jumping rope, I haven't done that in over 50 years, and I'm not going to start now. It puts too much strain on my back, hips, knees and ankles.
Report
I was wondering if jumping rope will effect pacemaker/defibri
llator? Also a knee replacement. I would like to try but do not wan t to damage my life lines! Report


 

About The Author

Jen Mueller
Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist, behavior change specialist and functional training specialist. She is also a RRCA-certified running coach. See all of Jen's articles.