Reducing My Workout Time Made Me Stronger

Reducing My Workout Time Made Me Stronger
iStock/Jacob Ammentorb Lund

Confession: I used to work out almost 14 hours a week over a span of five or six days. That adds up to about 2 1/2 hours of exercise per day.

Although I’ve worked out since I was a teenager, I became seriously hooked on exercising when I joined a boxing gym in 2016. I quickly fell in love with the bootcamp style of the classes, and before I knew it, my endorphins and I couldn’t get enough. Soon, I started doing back-to-back classes — referred to as “doubles” in the gym — which increased my workout time from 60 to 150 minutes. I was doing these classes at least three times a week.

My fellow gym-goers regularly doled out compliments, telling me how incredibly fit I was, and how they themselves could “never do a double.” This fired me up even more for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I never considered myself an athlete before, so to be able to keep up with the top-tier athletes in my classes gave me an enormous thrill. Not to mention I liked my toned and trim body. Factor in my Type A personality, and I was pretty much addicted to pushing myself to new heights. I started squeezing in Pilates or yoga workouts at home before class. When I wasn’t at the gym, I was doing HIIT or barre videos on YouTube. Then I started training for my first 10K run — always striving, always pushing.

After two years, I was awarded with two medals from my boxing gym — Iron Lady of the Year and Female Recreational Class Member of the Year, one for each of my “double” classes. From all accounts, my hard work had paid off. Or had it?

Here’s the thing: for the last two years, I was exhausted. I was essentially overtraining, which resulted in me catching more common colds and flus than I had ever had in my life. I also found myself suffering from poor time management skills and bouts of burnout. Why? Because a big chunk of my life was devoted to working out.

When I uprooted my life a few months ago, including moving away from my beloved boxing gym, I thought, there’s got to better way to exercise. Not only a way in which keeps my body in top physical form but which also — and most importantly — doesn’t use up so much damn time.

I was right. Here’s how I reduced my work out time, and got even stronger than before.

I Made a Time Commitment

No matter what, I committed to working out 45-60 minutes per workout session, maximum, five to six days a week. According to studies, this is actually the optimal length of workout time because after 60 minutes your body will produce less testosterone (the hormone for muscle building) and more cortisol, which is a hormone that eats muscle tissue and increases body fat storage. In short, if you work out longer than an hour, you run the risk of having your hard work at the gym rapidly deplete.

I Have Rest Days

If this was six months ago, I would have said, heck no to rest days. Now? I look forward to them. Sometimes I’ll have an easy active rest day and do 30 minutes of yoga. Other days, I won’t do anything at all. Rest days are essential to a workout program because they allow your muscles, nerves, bones, and connective tissue time to rebuild and grow. I can definitely tell that since I’ve started resting more that not only are my muscles are growing, but that I also have way more energy to tackle my workout the next day. Plus, I love having a day to do anything I want other than exercise, including a whole lot of nothing.

I Prioritized What I Wanted to Work On

I looked at my previous workout program and noticed what I wanted to improve upon. I didn’t want to spend any more time doing exercises that were no longer — yes, pushing — me. Instead of cardio-centered routines, I switched my focus to increasing my strength and flexibility, as well as giving some extra TLC to my glutes and legs. From there, I created a program that zeroed in on these new goals foremost. This would mean that the exercises I was previously doing on a regular basis, like running and boxing, would be reduced from three times to once a week.

Since then, my strength has increased exponentially. I’m now working on mastering chin-ups — a feat that I wasn’t able to tackle before.

I Split ‘Em Up

With my fitness goals in mind, I split my time up while I’m a the gym. For example, I’ll do 30 minutes of strength training and 30 minutes of cardio. Or I’ll do 30 minutes of legs and glutes mat work, followed by 15 to 30 minutes of yoga. When I’m doing strength training, I make sure that I include full-body compound movements (like squat presses, bicep curl with a lunge, or burpees), which gives me a well-rounded workout session. Because, let’s be honest, focusing solely on isolation exercises are a huge time suck. Sometimes I’ll switch it up and do a class of TRX or power ropes for 45 minutes, which I find has reaped way more benefits than any of my 150-minute class(es) ever has.

The Takeaway

Like the former me, you might think working out longer will get you the body and fitness level you want, but, in truth, longer workouts are not better workouts. With a shorter and focused workout, you get more bang for your buck as well as more time to do the things you enjoy that don’t revolve around exercise.

When I look down at my iPhone and see that my workout’s wrapping up soon, I’ll admit there have been times when I thought, “I can go for another 30 minutes. Maybe another hour,” but then I’ve realized how much my shorter workouts have freed up my time. By working out less, I have more energy and even more strength than ever before. Now, exercise is finally fun again.

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Brianne Hogan is a Canadian writer, currently based in Prince Edward Island. A self-proclaimed "wellness freak," she has a... More about Brianne Hogan