What is a Fitness Hack? In short, my definition of a workout hack is a shortcut or skill that increases your productivity, achieving smarter exercise and better results.
noun /ˈfitnəs hak/
1. A shortcut, skill, or trick that increases one’s exercise productivity and efficiency
2. A superior approach to exercise that gets better results
If you want to gain the most benefits from your exercise efforts, saving time and mental energies, you’ll enjoy these twelve fitness hacks to plan your workouts smarter.
1. THE “MAKE TIME” AUDIT
A while ago, I stopped saying, “I don’t have time.” If you catch me saying it, please call me out on it. I realized it was a lie to myself and hindering my progress. So, now I say, “I don’t care enough about ‘X’ to make time.”
We all make time for things that are important to us. So, if you find yourself not making time for fitness, maybe you haven’t spent enough time on your “WHY.” Your “why” (reasons) and your goal’s benefits are topics I like to cover in my Strong Body Strategy Calls. It helps clients pinpoint clear goals and achieve more fitness success.
Next, the important part of this mindset fitness hack is evaluating your wasted time. We all things we do that “leak time.” Some of them you might want to keep, like watching your favorite TV show, and others don’t serve you at all, like googling your ex-boyfriend every week.
To find out what your TOP time wasters are, perform a daily or weekly time audit.
STEPS FOR TIME AUDITING:
- Choose a typical day from wake up to bed to track
- Have a journal or digital notepad with you at all times
- Write out everything you do and for how long
- Repeat for another day or two if needed
- Look over the list to find things you want to do less of or eliminate
When I did this exercise, I found that my biggest time-wasting leakage that doesn’t serve me is being on my phone in the morning. I sit down for a minute to sip my coffee, and the next thing I know, I’ve been on the Amazon app researching automatic pet food feeders or trying to find the best pair of block-colored ⅞ leggings with pocks – for two hours.
Now, on good days, I resist the urge to pick up my phone. Instead, I pick up a book and read in the morning or get working on my priority tasks. What positive habits do you want to develop to replace your time-sucking bad ones?
2. BE A FIT PLANNER
Did you know that I plan and track all my workouts with the same software I write my clients’ programs? Yup, I use the same mobile app my clients do!
Planning detailed workouts or hiring a coach to program your training saves you heaps of time and mental energy. In addition, you are less likely to procrastinate or skip the gym if you already know what specific exercises you have planned that day.
Scheduling workouts on your calendar gives you added accountability to show up to them. For some people, that’s enough of a reminder, but if you’re like me, you can barely remember what day of the week it is.
Your workouts are essential meetings with yourself. Breaking your own fitness appointments is just as bad as canceling dinner with friends when they are already at the restaurant waiting for you.
I’m prone to get caught up with tasks when I’m working, and I’m notoriously bad at remembering things like eating lunch, or texting people back, so I came up with this life hack…
5 STEPS TO AVOID MISSING (WORKOUT) APPOINTMENTS
- Put the appointment on my digital calendar
- Add a calendar alert for 20 minutes before
- Add an email alert for the day before
- Review my digital calendar in the morning and plan my day
- Set the alarm on my phone for 15 or 30 minutes before very critical stuff
If scheduling and time management is not your issue, and you still find yourself flaking on your fitness or feeling generally unmotivated, my next new fitness hacks may help you find a solution.
3. KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING
How often do you start your week of workouts strong on Monday, get busy on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then do nothing for the rest of the week because you beat yourself up and are wallowing in self-pity sauce and guilt gravy? You’re not alone.
One of the most common fitness mindset pitfalls is all-or-nothing thinking. To prevent the snowball effect of a skipped workout, do something – anything really – for at least 10 minutes. If you’re short on time or can’t even bring yourself to get changed into workout clothes, do a simple stretch flow, run up the stairs a few times in your office building, or do some bodyweight exercises at home in your living room.
The most important thing is keeping in the habit of daily activity, increasing self-discipline, and avoiding the harmful effects of sitting. Over time, your small daily actions keep the momentum going, and this consistency is what gets results long-term.
4. WELLNESS HABIT STACKING
If you could learn a new to speak a new language while you slept, wouldn’t you want to? Unfortunately, I can’t help with that, but I can help you get more done in your day.
Habit stacking is performing two actions at the same time. Do not confuse this with multitasking. Multitasking is performing two tasks simultaneously and has been shown to impair cognitive function and reduce productivity, as this study shows.
Habits aren’t tasks because they take little mental energy to execute after they are fully formed.
The trick to this fitness hack is to choose one habit (think, daily activity) that is automatic for you, one you barely have to focus on but also enjoy, and stack it with a new positive activity you want to form into a habit.
Some habits can’t be stacked, like lifting weights while chopping veggies for meal prep or doing aerobics while reading. Also, some habits we stack aren’t constructive, like snacking while binge-watching Netflix.
Stretching or foam rolling while catching up on your favorite TV shows is a better habit stack, but even better, you can stack two wellness habits together.
HABIT STACKING IDEAS:
- Go for a walk and listen to an educational podcast (bonus points if you get some vitamin D!)
- Eat a healthy breakfast while mapping out workouts for the week
- Lifting weights in your garage while listening to online course lessons and taking notes between sets.*
*That’s my favorite habit stacking fitness hack. I’ve completed five different 8-week courses online with this method!
What can you habit stack with fitness or health activity that will increase your productivity?
5. BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR FITNESS GOALS
Flexibility with your smart workout plan and daily goals is just as important as having good hamstring flexibility to perform a pistol squat.
Life happens, and being flexible about precisely what you will do that day can ensure you still get something done.
😾 The alarm didn’t go off, and you missed your a.m. workout?
🆗 Do 15 minutes of stretching on your lunch break.
😾 Your cat had zoomies at 4 am, and you got shitty sleep?
🆗 Lift lighter weights, do fewer sets, or pair down the intensity in a workout.
😾 Your partner hogged the bed all night, forcing your neck into a weird position, so you’re super stiff?
🆗 Modify your workout: Do some upper-body stretches and lower body exercises instead of the bench press and chin-ups you had planned.
🎯 Remember —> Done is better than perfect; some is better than none!
6. FLEX YOUR FITNESS BOUNDARIES
Remember how a workout is an essential appointment with yourself? Well, healthy boundaries are what ensure’s we keep those appointments successfully.
If you find yourself continually skipping workouts because of family or friends, it might be time to set a boundary.
Taking care of your body is not only good for us, it’s good for the people around us. I’m more likely to be moody, irritable, or downright mean to others on weeks I miss workouts. Boundaries help you to be your best self, and in turn, you’ll be a better friend, spouse, boss, employee, parent, etc., to others.
It’s crucial that boundaries are clear and compassionate. As Brene Brown says, in her book, Daring to Lead, “clear is kind.”
An example of a fitness boundary is telling a partner who is interfering with your fitness something like this…
“I understand that you like me to come home after work and cook dinner together. I love spending time with you too. However, it’s not okay to make me feel guilty for exercising and taking care of my health.”
A follow-up discussion of a solution is often helpful when the boundary set is with a loved one…
“I’d like to work out 3 nights per week. How about I meal prep dinner two of those nights, and bring us home takeout the other?”
Boundaries are not always easy to set, but they can be the key to your fitness success!
7. BE STRONG FIRST
If you’re short on time, prioritize strength training workouts in your weekly routine. Strength training gives you a higher fitness return than cardio does.
Here are just a few of the benefits of strength training:
- Protects Bone Health
- Lowers Belly Fat
- Helps Maintain Your Weight
- Reduces Anxiety
- Improves Cardiovascular Health
- Prevents Muscle Loss As You Age
- Boosts Metabolism
- Improves Cognitive Function
If you only have 1-3 hours per week to workout, two or three resistance training workouts per week will do more for your health than traditional cardio alone.
To maximize your health and fitness, skip the treadmill or spin class and pick up a dumbbell or kettlebell. If you have more than 3 hours per week for exercise, go ahead and add in some cardio for additional benefits if you like – or just swing kettlebells, my favorite form of cardio!
8. CHUNKING & MINI-WORKOUTS FITNESS HACK
It’s a common misconception that your workouts must be in a single one-hour session to get results. In fact, a 2018 study showed that working out in short, sharp bursts has the same, if not more, benefits than exercising over a longer period of time.
So the next you think, “I don’t have time,” do a quick warm-up, pick up a weight, and bang out 2-3 sets of one or two exercises. My favorite quick-hit workouts are “Kettlebell Quickies” and “Muay Thai Burners.” I added them to two Video Showcases here.
Having a little home gym set up with a kettlebell or a couple of dumbbells is perfect for this fitness hack. When it comes to exercise, something is better than nothing.
9. SKILLS BUILD BETTER BODIES
Over the years, I have found that clients who focus on skill-building and performance goals reach their goals more often than clients who focus primarily on “look better” goals. I’ve written about the topic of fitness mindset hack of focusing on performance goals before.
It takes time to lose weight and re-shape bodies. However, week to week, we can see small improvements in our performance – improvements like the weight on the bar or holding a plank longer than before.
By shifting our attention to improving technique, lifting heavier, or running faster, we focus on positive actions. Plus, we get a confidence boost each time we see our skills progress.
10. COMPOUND YOUR EXERCISES TO MAXIMIZE YOUR TIME
Want to maximize your time on every lift? Choose compound exercises for the majority of your lifts. Compound exercises are exercises performed with free weight or body weight that use multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Not only do compound exercises save you time, but they utilize more energy per lift, maximizing your overall calorie burn, quality of movement, flexibility, and muscle gain.
Not all compound exercises are created equal. A biceps curl to triceps kickback* could be considered a compound exercise, but I wouldn’t recommend it. While all compound exercises have some benefits, there are ones that, when performed correctly, are the best compound exercises for overall strength, movement equality, most fitness goals.
(* I’d show you a video of the kickback to curl, but I don’t believe in sharing crappy exercises.)
COMPOUND EXERCISES FOR SMARTER WORKOUTS
- Kettlebell Swing
- Barbell Hip Thruster
- Overhead Strict Press
- Bench Press
- Push Up
- Pull Up or Chin Up
- 3-Point Row or Barbell Row
- Farmer’s Walks
- Hanging Leg Raise
Compound exercises that use free weights can be performed with many different tools. Except for the kettlebell swing, you can use barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, or even resistance bands for these weighted powerhouse exercises!
Each weight type will have different benefits and also add variety to a workout. However, not all variety is essential to a program.
11. IS YOUR VARIETY GRAB BAG FULL OF JUNK?
Dearest variety junkies out there, lets’ chat… Is it really that you crave variety, or do you just find some exercises boring?
To workout smarter, simple, time-tested exercises trump variety. A little purposeful exercise variety is like a good spice in your workout recipe. It adds flavor without overpowering the whole dish and taking away from the other main ingredients’ natural flavors.
Look, I crave a little workout variety too, I get it. Yet, I’d sooner drop a 45lb plate on my foot than do the same gym-bro hypertrophy workout year after year, and I also know that regularly performing the fundamental human movements gets the best results.
So, I set aside my modern addiction to shiny new things and prioritize commitment to the gold-standard movements over random workout variety.
THE FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN MOVEMENTS:
If you want a simple workout that does the job, check out the DMPM, a super simple kettlebell workout. I’ve been using the concept of simple “flow” workouts like the DMPM with my online personal training clients with great results, i.e., improved workout completion and overall results.
If you read the programs I design for my clients, you might think they look really different, and they are, in some ways. My programs are different based on goals, equipment, skill level, limitation, and even personality.
However, all the strength and fitness programs I write prioritize compound exercises with the fundamental human movements mentioned above. Each week I lay out the workouts and exercises to maximize recovery and allow time for skill development. I also ensure that a client stays with a particular lift for 4-8 weeks to ensure they progress in their form and properly advance in their program.
There is nothing wrong with trying something new. I love learning new skills. Still, in my opinion, if you don’t plan purposeful variety, you risk getting the Frito Lay Big Grab Variety Pack of fitness, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t exactly breed fitness excellence.
The offset double kettlebell offset squat is an advanced compound lift that is both a hinge, squat, carry, and anti-rotational movement.
12. PURPOSEFUL VARIETY & PROGRESSIONS
How should you program purposeful variety into workouts?
First, I look to vary exercise selection every 4-8 weeks while keeping the main movement pattern in focus. For example, if a client has completed a cycle of barbell front squats, I might switch them to an offset kettlebell squat or a landmine squat.
The client will still benefit from a squat in their program while adding some variety “spice” to their program and gain some other lift-specific benefits.
I’m also a big fan of unilateral (single-side) or offset (different sized weights on each side) lifts. These not only give the client a “variety fix,” but they also can correct muscle imbalances and train anti-rotation.
Cardio days or conditioning finishers, like my KB Quickies, can offer workout variety. Some of my clients also enjoy circuit training, like the shadowboxing and bodyweight Muay Thai Burner workouts I design. However, if you only have a couple of hours to dedicate to weekly workouts, please refer back to Fitness Hack #7– Be Strong First.
Choosing strength training does more for most fitness goals than cardio alone.
Still can’t give up your addiction to fitness variety snack packs? Well, if the only way you will complete any exercise is by doing adrenaline-pumping cardio classes or a bunch of randomly arranged exercises thrown together, then yes…
Done is better than perfect, and something is better than nothing.
x Coach Roxy 💚 💙 💜
Harvard T.H Chan School Public Health. (December 22, 2014) Weight training appears key to controlling belly fat. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/weight-training-appears-key-to-controlling-belly-fat/
Campbell, L., Wallman, K., & Green, D. (2010, Mar 1). The effects of intermittent exercise on physiological outcomes in an obese population: Continuous versus interval walking. J Sports Sci Med, 9, 24-30. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737972/
Saint-Maurice, P.F, Troiano, R.P, Matthews, C.E, & Kraus, W.E. (2018, Mar 22). Moderate‐to‐Vigorous physical activity and all‐cause mortality: Do bouts matter?. Journal of the American Heart Association, 7, 6. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.117.007678
McCall, P. (2016, January 26). Benefits of Compound. Exercises. American Council on Exercise. Retrieved from https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5811/5-benefits-of-compound-exercises/
Bates, S. (2018, Oct 25). A decade of data reveals that heavy multitaskers have reduced memory, Stanford psychologist says. Standford News. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2018/10/25/decade-data-reveals-heavy-multitaskers-reduced-memory-psychologist-says/