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Maximize Your Exercise Time

Ideally, you should get at least a half hour of moderate exercise every day. If you're trying to lose weight—or keep it off—you'll need 60 to 90 minutes a day, according to the USDA's fitness guidelines.

Don’t have time to log in that much? Do what you can.

“Something is better than nothing,” says Jaime Brenkus, a personal trainer in Willoughby, Ohio, and author of Get Lean in 15. “If you have 30 minutes to be physically active, do 30 minutes. But if you don’t, 15 minutes is still OK. If you do even a little each day, you’ll be more consistent and will see results.”

To use your gym time efficiently so you’ll get more done, here’s what Brenkus suggests.

Lose the magazine

Don’t think you can read something and maintain a challenging pace while using a stationary bicycle, elliptical trainer, or treadmill. It’s too distracting, as is talking on a cell phone or using a hand-held electronic device.

To keep yourself entertained and enthused, wear headphones and listen to high-energy music while you work out, Brenkus suggests. Music won’t impede your progress. In fact, it’s motivating and a good way to avoid chitchat.

“When you’ve got your headphones on at the gym, you can get in there, get the job done, and get out,” says Brenkus.

Move from set to set

When using weight machines, go from one set to the next without resting.

“Your muscles don’t need a break,” says Brenkus. But if you think they do because they’re tired, go ahead and give them some downtime by alternating between upper- and lower-body exercises.

For example, go from a shoulder press to a squat, then to lat pulldowns followed by leg extensions, and so on, without stopping. Besides knocking off your strength-training program quickly, you’ll also get a mild cardiovascular benefit.

Meanwhile, make sure the weight you’re lifting is heavy enough to overload your muscles.

“If you can easily do 20 to 25 reps, the weight is too light,” says Brenkus. You’re on the right track if you do only eight to 12 reps and feel fatigued by the last rep.

Don’t depend on cardio alone

To get the most mileage out of your workout, be sure your fitness routine offers a mix of cardio and strength training. Strength training is vital because it builds muscle mass, which is metabolically active tissue that stokes metabolism.

“For every pound of muscle you put on, you’ll burn 30 to 50 additional calories at rest,” says Brenkus. That helps prevent any weight you lose from returning.

Don’t try to spot reduce

If you’ve got fat around your middle, don’t waste your time doing hundreds of sit-ups.

To whittle your middle or any trouble spot you’re concerned about, focus on general strength training and cardio exercises that work the large muscle groups: chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

“When you concentrate on working these muscles three or four times a week, you’ll burn the most calories to create a deficit,” says Brenkus. “That’s the only way to burn the fat that has settled in and around your waist or somewhere else.”