9 Ways to Be More Productive at the Gym

Reduce distractions and make every minute count when you're working out.


By Anthony Fowler


Over my twelve years of pursuing fitness and building a better body, I have noticed some of the best habits to form to increase productivity. I came upon some of these through research that I have done in the past and others are mistakes that I have learned from. While some of these habits may be obvious or more of a reminder to some, I hope that most of you will find this list quite helpful. Productivity is important, after all, if you are paying for gym fees and clothes, you probably expect a return on your investment.

1. Wear Headphones

Chatter, it happens all the time. At work, home, and even in the bathroom! One place where you want to limit the chit chat is at the gym. You are there to get faster, stronger and in better shape, not to catch up on what happened on your favorite show last night.

Sometimes you can have every intention of staying focused, only to be stopped by someone you know who is dreading their next set or delaying their own workout. Wearing headphones sends a signal to everyone (including yourself) that you are busy. While you are at it, listen to some good music to help you get motivated. You’ll find that most people will not approach you to talk unless it is very important when you are wearing headphones. You may be labeled as “intense”, but that’s a good thing, right?

2. Plan Ahead

Your precious gym time should not be when you decide what body part to work on, and the locker room should not be the place where you discover that you forgot your sneakers. Know what you are going to do. Pack your clothes early if you change at the gym. Decide in advance which body parts you are going to workout and how. When you are in the gym you should be “all business.” Make a plan far in advance. I would recommend making a monthly schedule, that way you know days in advance what your are going to be doing in the gym.

3. Drink Water

Have you ever noticed how much more exhausted you feel when you are also thirsty? The gym is not some magical place where hydration does not matter and motivation is all you need to power through your workout. Water is not a crutch. Drink it! Staying hydrated is not just good for you but it can help you push through the next rep, set, or exercise.

4. Be Flexible

You may really, really, really like the bench press, but you don't have to be married to it. By that I mean there is nothing wrong with having options. Get used to the idea of having a backup plan. Know which exercises can replace others in your routine, and don't be afraid to switch up the order when needed. It is far better than always waiting in a queue for the bench or squat rack, and this is especially true if your gym is on the small side. Also try incorporating machines into your regimen. After all, it is a lot faster to move the position of a pin on the machine than it is to rack weight on a barbell. I’m a big fan of free weights and the use of stabilizer muscles. I am also a fan of shorter gym sessions, so I am not afraid to use machines when I can. I normally incorporate them as the third or fourth exercise behind a couple compound free weight exercises.

5. Push Yourself

Remember that last major milestone you had in your life? Did it come as a result of you taking things easy, or did you have to earn it? You have to push yourself in the gym if you want results. You have to try to lift more, add resistance, or run faster in order to get better. Success is not automatic. You have to be willing to push yourself.

6. Time Rest Periods

Have you ever sat down for a break and then started to really feel relaxed? I mean downright comfortable? That should not happen in the gym. Trust me, I have been there and realized all too late that I had exceeded the proposed rest time for my workout. You and I need to time our rest periods. Your body will not always be a fan of the exertion you are expecting from it, and as a result it will not inform you that you have been resting to long. If anything it will scream that you have not rested enough!

7. Fuel

Your body needs food. Duh, right!? This is obvious but remember that it can be helpful to eat something before a workout. Listen to your body and make sure that you are familiar with the right meal timing for you. Is it one or two hours? Is a shake better or do you prefer actual meals? Providing your body with fuel will help you get through the workout.

Just make sure you don’t eat so much that you are queasy. What follows will normally bring your workout to a screeching halt.

8. More the Merrier

Partner with a friend, join a class, challenge someone on Argus. Doing this provides multiple benefits including accountability, motivation, and of course fun! Having additional people accompany you on your quest for fitness will help you stick to it. We tend to perform better if someone is watching and sometimes even if we just think they are. Friends and classmates help us stay positive and push us when we think we can’t do anymore. Lastly if the partnership is positive and uplifting instead of competitive in a negative way, it can make the experience very enjoyable.

9. Avoid the Crowd

Play with your workout schedule, if you haven’t already, to see what is the best time to go to your gym. Going during the quiet hours will shave time off of your overall training period.

Think about it. No searching for a free locker, waiting for use of the squat rack, or hunting for plates because you have Mr. Olympia, Mrs. Figure Olympia, and Mr. CrossFit at your gym during the time you are there. It may make your time at the gym more relaxing as well, not that we are there for that.

Anthony Fowler is a certified Army Master Fitness Trainer who has been a fitness and nutrition enthusiast since he was 19. He has tried everything from Kefir to Tribulus in his quest to gain muscle mass and maintain a healthy lifestyle. He is a husband and father of three, and aspiring chef who enjoys lifting heavy weights, cooking healthy meals, and sharing his knowledge and experiences with anyone who will listen.

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