Most people’s schedules don’t allow them to spend hours in the gym. So when you only have time to squeeze in a quick sweat session, don’t spend even a second debating whether you should hit the free weights or take a cycling or toning class. To help you clock in an effective workout, we asked the experts to help us take the guesswork out of getting fit. Read on to learn the five gym moves to make when you’re in a rush but still want to see results.
Dilemma No. 1: Free weights versus machine
Winner: Free weights
While machines are a good option for fitness novices, they only allow you to focus on one muscle group at a time. Free weights, on the other hand, liberate you to incorporate full-body moves into your workout routine. “Try grabbing a pair of dumbbells and alternating overhead presses with squats,” says Geralyn Coopersmith, the national director of The Equinox Training Institute. “You’ll strengthen your core and glutes in addition to your arms and shoulders.”
By turning your lifting session into a total-body workout, you’re also targeting the muscle combos that you use in everyday life. This will come in handy, say, the next time you’re carrying a heavy bag of groceries to your car or your three-year-old up a flight of stairs.
Dilemma No. 2: Cycling versus weight lifting class
Winner: Weight lifting class (with cardio)
“You can get a lot of bang for your buck by finding a weight lifting class that incorporates cardio,” says Kristi Molinaro, a fitness expert and founder of 30/60/90, a high-intensity interval training program in New York City. “You’ll burn fat while building muscle.”
To reap the most benefits, don’t scrimp on the weights. “A few biceps curls with a set of five-pound dumbbells won’t do you much good,” says Molinaro. “You’ve got to push yourself past what is easy and comfortable to make the most of every workout.” One rule of thumb: You should need to wipe your brow with facial tissues by the end of your sweat session.
Dilemma No. 3: Steady cardio versus interval training
Winner: Interval training
If you’re crunched for time, interval training is the way to go. “A combo of fast-paced, high-intensity moves mixed with longer, lighter recovery phases pushes you into an anaerobic zone,” says Molinari. That’s when you burn serious fat while increasing your fitness level.
Examples of intervals include running or biking sprints, lifting weights or jumping rope -- any exercise where you amp up to the pace. You shouldn’t be able to maintain the intensity for longer than 30 seconds.
Dilemma No. 4: Treadmill versus elliptical trainer
Running on a treadmill is a high-impact activity, while using an elliptical machine is low-impact. “To reduce the risk of injury workout boredom and plateaus, alternate between the two,” says Coopersmith.
That being said, if you’re running short on time, the treadmill will put you on the fast track to fit. Increase your speed, do intervals or add an incline to get your heart rate up and burn mega-calories.
Then, at your next gym visit, switch gears by hopping on the elliptical. It’s easier on your knees, and the built-in programs are aimed to burn fat. Plus, the swinging upper-body grips can strengthen your arms with every stride. (Just remember to wipe down the grips with an antibacterial wipe or a facial tissue sprayed with cleaner before you hop on.)
Dilemma No. 5. Taking a class versus going it alone
Winner: Taking a class
“Group classes are great because you have a fitness professional cramming in as much as he or she can into a limited amount of time,” says Molinaro. “A good instructor will also help you with your form and push you to work harder than if you were on your own.” When checking out the options on your gym’s schedule, Molinaro advises pushing yourself with a high-intensity interval training class.