This is not about financial "bargains," although I'm sure you readers have some awesome suggestions for fitness activities and/or gear that could save us a lot of cash. A future post perhaps?
No, this time by "bargain," I mean: Ways To Get Better Fitness Results for The Same Effort. Or, how to get the Same Results Quicker, or With Somewhat Less Misery. Whatever.
We all look for those "bargains," right? Because unless you love every aspect of working out and have unlimited time, there's usually a trade-off. You don't typically get something for nothing.
In fact, there's kind of a math to it:
Actually, no need to panic, not that much math. In fact the formula is quite simple:
Results = (Time Spent Exercising) x (Intensity); where Intensity=Miserableness.
At least that's how that generally works for me. I get better results if I exercise longer or exercise harder; the more I loaf and slack and leave early, the less muscle I build, the less endurance I have, and the fewer calories I burn.
But then there are weird exceptions to the normal math! Sometimes (Miserable) + (Miserable) = 1.5(Miserable); not 2(Miserable), as you'd expect.
Exploiting these mathematical anomalies is often the key to a fitness bargain.
(Note: And speaking of equations that don't add up: check out how sometimes 0+0=2 at The Hungry Little Caterpillar. A great reminder for overly optimistic Weight Watchers).
What? You Call That a Bargain??!!
Ever go to a place like Costco and bring home four gallons of extra virgin olive oil for the price you'd normally pay for 1 gallon? You feel so clever and thrifty until you remember that you can't get through more than one gallon anyway before the stuff goes rancid. Whoops!
Likewise with with fitness bargains. Some tips that sound great in theory will suck when you actually try them out. They might get you in shape faster, but if they turn your workout from a pleasant or only mildly dreary experience into absolute torture, then these bargains aren't worth it.
This means that you need to hear about a lot of tricks and find out which ones work for you.
And since I only have a few that reliably work for me, and long-time readers have heard all these already... I'm hoping some of our clever and knowledgeable commenters will add theirs below!
Especially since I'm going to concentrate on tips that begin with the letter C, for absolutely no reason at all except that the first couple did and I thought I'd make it a thing.
Oh Boy, It's a "C" Thing.
And again, these are some of my favorites--can't wait to hear yours.
1. Combined Stretches
Does anyone else invent their own stretches that combine a couple of things at once? I know yoga people do combinations, but theirs are elegant and tend to take a long time. Mine are home-made and doofy-looking and quick.
Here's just one example: the stairway/doorway shoulder and calf stretch. Note: doesn't work if you live in one story house or don't have a doorway at the top or bottom of the stairs.
Position yourself on the top or bottom step of your stairway, facing upstairs. Put out your arms and grab the doorway on each side and lean forward, so you're stretching your shoulders. Meanwhile, scooch your feet back a little so that you can lower your heels off the step and stretch your calves at the same time. WARNING: if you're doing this at the top, don't go scooch back too far or you'll tumble backwards down the entire flight of stairs and break your neck and this time-saver will be no bargain at all!
2. Caffeine & Cool Tunes
I talk about these all the time so I won't belabor it. But the pounding beat of a favorite song and good solid caffeine buzz really does give me more energy and I can go longer and harder and get more done for the same amount of subjective effort.
3. Circuit Training "Lite"
The standard version, wherein you proceed through a strength training workout fast enough to keep your heart rate in the aerobic zone throughout, is a classic, time-honored Workout Bargain. You get your cardio and your strength training all at the same time!
Slight problem: I loathe circuit training.
It is too much Miserableness all at once; thus, for me, no bargain.
However, back when I was lucky enough to have a home gym in the basement, I discovered I could do a little informal combining and I came up with a routine that saved some time but that I didn't hate.
This is taken pretty much verbatim from an older post, but we all know that recycling is good for the environment, right?
Here's how you do Circuit Training Lite:
At some point in your cardio workout, get off your treadmill/bike/elliptical/whatever, but keep it running if it's motorized, and give yourself full credit for any time you're away from it. Since you're still going to be keeping your heart rate up, you get to count this time as though you were still doing cardio. Rush off and do a set of some strength-training exercise in a quick but not too half-assed manner, then hustle back to the machine again. Slog some more. Wait until you get totally bored with the cardio again, then jump off the machine and do a different strength training exercise.
It's two-for-one! (But, alas, this only works in a home gym or fairly deserted fitness facility. Abandoning your treadmill at a busy gym is NOT recommended).
4. Cutting Out Multiple Sets
One set of really heavy weights seems, for me, to do about 80-90% of the job that 3 sets does. So most of the time, I just do one. I save multiple sets for one exercise at a time, when I'm feeling especially motivated, but otherwise: screw it.
If you have a partner, particularly a male or stronger partner, it can be very tempting to delegate the "heavy" stuff that involves lifting or mowing or digging or schlepping to your mate. Or pay some cute yard dude to do it. But if you're lucky enough to have the time, how 'bout doing more of it yourself and giving yourself get exercise "credit" in a non-exercise context? If it's hard and physical, it counts!!!
Note: this is one of those tips I believe in but rarely do myself. I hate chores.
Like doing chores, walking or biking to work (or on errands) is an efficient way to get exercise while actually getting something accomplished. Duh, right? Yet so few people who could walk or bike to work actually do. What's up with that? Some places are obviously too impractical, but I'm often amazed at what a minuscule number of Americans even think about leaving their cars at home. Then after work they drive to the gym so they can walk on a treadmill for an hour.
7. Cardio Intervals
Another great bargain--you can do incredible things for your body in less than twenty minutes. Downside: it's hard and that blows. But as many of you know, it doesn't have to be totally gruesome. There's a better way!
Think these are lame? Help me out with some better suggestions!
If we get a few good ones in the comments, I'll update this post later in the week and include a link to your blog or website, if you've got one.
UPDATE--Great Reader Suggestions!
Wow, some really helpful suggestions in the comments! Here are some, condensed and combined, but I can see now I may not get to them all. Better, fuller explanations are available down in the comments.
Theresa suggests doing push ups against the countertop while waiting for the tea to boil.
Tokaiangel is all about Running Up the Stairs.
KatieP suggests contracting ALL your muscles while doing strength training exercises, and standing on wobbly things to make it even harder.
Always the practical ones, Mary Anne in Kentucky and the Bag Lady suggest choosing strenuous occupations of the sort where you get a workout whether you want one or not.
Combining Exercises is a great idea! Jenn suggests squats with military presses or lunges with bicep curls.
Our very own Merry sensibly advises that you enlist a friendly canine as a workout partner, and Terrie Farley Moran suggests that Grandchildren also work well.
Circuit training is popular among those more energetic than the Crab. The Lethological Gourmet even has an Olympic Boot Camp circuit workout for you to try. And Mrs. Jelly Belly has an enthusiastic (and amusing) circuit training recommendation if you can track down the DVD by "Sunshine"-- it sounds great.
Geosomin does lunges in the lab, and takes the stairs two at a time instead of waiting for elevators. And another fan of gratuitous stair climbing is nolafwug, who thinks multi-tasking is overrated.
Liz Rosenbaum suggests squats while brushing your teeth. Similarly Sagan does calf raises while brushing her teeth, and jumping jacks/pushups while waiting for food to cook. And NewMe does calf raises while cooking and doing dishes.
Monica fixes her bike and gets exercise at the same time.
Grounded Fitness was too high on crack to offer specific exercise suggestions, but those yoga/pilates people seem to have the combining thing down pretty well already.
Katieo is trying to run faster, which is much more efficient if you can stand all the huffing and puffing! Likewise Mizfit, who often claims to be a cardio slacker, is nothing of the sort, as she combines regular cardio with HIIT.
Alexia shares a sincere appreciation of caffeine with the Crab.
POD suggests a pedometer and walking all over the place, as well as counter-top stretches.
Deb suggest something called a "Scuper-Scet" which sounds
Dragonmamma makes a great point about isolation exercises being inferior to exercises that work multiple muscles at once.
And the always creative Workout Mommy suggests "Child curls." (Just like bicep curls, but with a baby!).
Be sure to check the comments for more great fitness bargains as they come in!