There are no real shortcuts to getting “buff,” but these tips will help you use your time more effectively. If you are among the majority of people who feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day, it’s time to work smart in addition to working hard. This list focuses on the most impactful, time-efficient tactics to keep your body in check while still allowing you to maintain a social life.
1. The Sunday Ritual
Meal preparation is one of the most often neglected areas of a complete bodybuilding program. The famous quote from Alan Lakein certainly rings true regarding meal prep: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Without healthy, convenient meal options, it is only a matter of time before you are forced to skip a meal or settle for junk food to keep energy levels up. Neither option is ideal for achieving muscle growth, maintaining low body fat and improving health.
Rather than tediously preparing each meal, try batching your meal preparation into one event per week. This will save you hours of set up and cleaning time. I prefer the Sunday Ritual, which involves preparing a week’s supply of healthy food options once per week on Sunday night. Store the meals in separate airtight containers to maintain freshness.
2. OTG (On-the-Go) Options
On-the-go bars, shakes, and snacks that fit your nutrition goals can remove a substantial amount of stress for the busy gym-goer. Travelling and busy schedules make good nutrition incredibly difficult. Carrying an OTG meal option with you at all times is a great way to ensure you don’t get stuck eating junk. Here are a few great examples of lean, muscle building OTG options:
- Protein shake and almonds: One scoop of protein powder mixed with water and ¼ cup almonds contains approximately 400 calories, and is high in protein and healthy fats to keep you satisfied.
- Protein or food bars: Look for a protein bar or food bar that is low in sugar and processed carbohydrates. The fewer ingredients, the better!
- Ready-to-drink shakes (RTDs): Ready-to-drink shakes provide a convenient, tasty way to get nutrition with minimal effort.
- Meal replacement shakes: Meal replacement shakes, such as the ARO Lean shake mix, provide a balanced dose of fat, carbohydrates and protein with added vitamins and minerals.
3. Adjust Meal Frequency
If you’re pressed for time, it might not be a good idea to eat six meals per day. I know, I know… there are hundreds of articles that promote high meal frequencies to boost metabolism. On the other hand, is it worth it? Many athletes and physique competitors subsist on two or three meals per day with great results. Every body reacts differently to meal frequency changes, so try it for yourself: reduce the number of meals per day and monitor your appetite, energy levels, progress in the gym and improvements in body fat and muscle composition.
4. Warm-up Weak Points
If your schedule does not allow for two-hour gym sessions five days per week, then you’ve probably spent time thinking about the most important exercises and workouts that should be prioritized, and which ones can be skipped. This is why many people skip warm-ups, stretching and weak-point training. Unfortunately, this will eventually result in muscular imbalances and injuries. Instead of skipping the warm-up, try beginning every exercise session with a bodyweight circuit that targets your weakest areas. If you want to improve your calves and abdominals, spend five to ten minutes alternating jump rope turns (or calf raises) and sit-ups or crunches. This will simultaneously increase your core temperature (i.e. warm you up) and develop the areas that most often get neglected.
5. The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) states that roughly 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of the efforts. This concept is utilized in economics, mathematics and even physique development. You can utilize this concept in the gym to get the most bang for your buck out of each exercise you perform. Compound exercises (exercises that stimulate multiple large muscle groups) will produce more improvements in strength and muscle growth than isolation exercises (e.g. single arm bicep curl). Here are a few of the most effective, compound exercises:
- Lower Body Push: Barbell Squat, Leg Press
- Lower Body Pull: Deadlift, Lying Hamstring Curl
- Upper Body Push: Bench Press, Military Press
- Upper Body Pull: Pull-up, Barbell Bent Over Row
Scott Hogan, Certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach (A.C.E.), blogs about nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle factors that contribute to peak performance.