Staying Fit Without Spending Your Life in the Gym

Not all men are gym rats, spending hours with the weights and much of the time socializing and flexing in the mirror. Some like to get in and out—do what they came to do and leave before anyone gets attached. And we’re here for that. Staying fit doesn't have to mean spending hours in the gym for no reason.

Long gym sessions are for professional athletes, amateur competitors and gluttons for punishment. If you’re none of these, there’s good news: Learning how to stay fit and healthy doesn't have to mean slaving your life away in the gym. You can maintain your fitness regimen and even attain new goals (Like gaining muscle and losing fat), without spending half your day in the squat rack.

Let's make it happen.

Circuit Training

Circuit training isn't new, but it’s a mainstay in staying fit because it allows you to get a pretty effective workout in a short amount of time. The premise of circuit training is moving through a group of exercise stations quickly, with little rest in between. Some gyms have an area specifically set aside for circuits. If yours doesn’t, you may have to get creative if someone hops on a machine you were eyeing for your next station.

Circuits are also great because they make learning how to stay fit without a gym easier. Here's an example of an at-home circuit you can do at home with nothing more than your existing bodyweight. 

  • 60 jumping jacks
  • 10 pushups
  • 10 lunges, each leg
  • 10 burpees
  • 10 doorway chin ups

That represents one circuit. Now, see how many you can get through in 30 minutes. You're snickering right now, but by all means, if you can do a few sets of burpees without tossin' your cookies, we'll give you a medal. 

Here’s a sample gym circuit for leg day:

  • 8-10 squats (goblet, barbell or smith machine are all fine)
  • 8-10 leg curls
  • 8-10 calf raises
  • 8-10 leg press
  • 10 hyperextensions

For this session, you can either throw in 20 minutes rowing or biking to get your cardio in after 30 minutes of circuits, or insert a 5-minute high-intensity cardio “station” into the circuit and extend the total time out to 45 minutes or an hour.

The main thing to keep in mind here is that circuit training is all about testing your limits and not wasting time. These are just a couple examples that you can do both at the gym or at home. Whether you're learning how to stay fit without a gym or just trying to take things up a notch in the ol' weights depository, find your groove and stick to it. 

Supersets

Like circuit training, supersets are designed to minimize your total time spent in the gym. But, also like circuits, they have the potential to kick your ass. After all, you want these shorter sessions to be effective.

The idea with supersetting is combining two different exercises, alternating between them and, in essence, skipping your rest time in between sets. There are many ways to set up your supersets, but one of the more common (and effective) is to combine exercises that work opposing muscles. For example, supersetting bicep curls with tricep extensions, leg extensions with leg curls, dumbbell chest presses with dumbbell rows. Here’s how a superset workout might look for leg day:

  • Smith machine squats (or barbell squats if you’re a badass) + Romanian deadlifts (3 sets of 6 reps)
  • Weighted walking lunges (make sure to count each leg) + calf raises (3 sets of 12 reps)
  • Hamstring curls + leg extensions (3 sets of 8-10 reps)

Remember, you’re alternating exercises. So, you’ll do one set of squats followed by one set of Romanian deadlifts, then back to squats and so on for three total sets. Rest time should be minimal, so you’ll want to keep the weight relatively light. Another perk to supersets—done correctly, your heart rate will be elevated the entire time, so there's no need for additional cardio!

Decrease Rest Time

Something both circuit training and supersetting have in common is reducing rest time. But you don’t have to use these methods to cut back on your chill time in the gym. Simply get off your ass (or your phone). Unless you’re doing heavy compound lifts—squats and deadlifts, for example—you don’t need to rest for 2 minutes between sets. Push yourself. If it’s helpful, set a timer on your phone for 30-60 seconds. Start it as soon as you finish a set and be ready to go when the alert goes off.

Don’t Skip Leg Day

In your quest to learn how to be fit, you may have noticed the example workouts were heavy on legs. There’s a reason for that—and all of the Instagram memes out there on skipping leg day. Leg day is just really that important. Think about your bicep muscles compared to your quadricep muscles. Not only do your quads dwarf your biceps, they’re actually a lot stronger, and used for all of the big power moves like jumping and squatting. Because your leg muscles (including glutes) are so big and powerful, working them is super productive.

If you train legs, you know a leg day session takes far more out of you than arms, for example. You’re burning more calories and breaking down and building up more muscle tissue. The latter also means that you’re doing more to increase your resting metabolism, which is great for fat burning. Some research even shows that leg day can increase the effectiveness of upper body workouts.

The bottom line: If you’re trying to make major progress on minimal time, you can’t afford to neglect your legs.

Skip (or HIIT) Your Cardio

If you love plodding away on a treadmill (or a trail) for hours, more power to you. But if you’re normal, and would rather never run a day in your life, we have good news. A separate cardio session isn’t always necessary and if you want to include cardio, it doesn’t have to be boring and take forever.

There are two main reasons people do cardio (unless they actually enjoy it, then there’s three): cardiovascular health and calorie burning. If you lift or spend any significant amount of time doing resistance training, you’re building muscle tissue that will help you burn more calories, even at rest. So not only are you burning calories while lifting, you’re priming your body to burn them long after you walk out of the gym, something most cardio exercise doesn’t do nearly as effectively. Second, if you’re doing your weight training with any sort of intensity (as in circuit training or supersets), your heart is getting a workout too.

Skip: Because you want to get the most of your time in the gym, we suggest you skip the traditional cardio. It’s a time-suck. Instead, reap the benefits of walking or running when you have the time and when you can enjoy it, not see it as a chore. Walk or bike outside on your lunch break or after dinner every night. Not only will your heart be healthier for it—especially if you stroll at a decent pace—but exercising outdoors imparts a whole host of additional benefits.

HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training is a good option for people that insist on cardio, but don’t have the time for the dreadmill or bike. Sprints, squat jumps, burpees and jumping lunges can be combined to create short, intense cardio sessions that deliver results. Choose your favorite two or three and combine them in a 15- or 20-minute session that includes one minute of intense work followed by one to two minutes of rest (or walking). Sounds easy, but you’ll hate yourself by the second or third round.

Eat Right

You can kill yourself in the gym, but if you refuel with a burger and fries, you’re not likely going to make gains, particularly aesthetic ones. How you fuel your body affects your ability to burn fat and put on muscle and the overall quality your workouts. So it’s a double-whammy for getting more out of the gym.

There it is, folks. Staying fit or learning how to be fit doesn't have to be a process that consumes your life. If you're focusing on the right aspects of your workout regimen and diet, you can have a quick and effective workout that'll keep those gains coming while ensuring you have time to do all the other things in your life you love. Boom.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.