5 tips for making the most of your time in the gym

July 14, 2016
A Fit Mess

Hello there! It’s Thursday and I hope you are all feeling great. I just want to thank you for all the kind words I received after posting that I passed my personal training exam. It really meant a lot that you support me and it’s been neat to go through the process (in a way) together.


Anywho, I wanted to talk a bit about how I manage my time at the gym. People often ask me if I can actually get an effective workout in during my lunch break. Yes, totally! Now, granted I am lucky because my gym is right down the street from my office and I block the time on my calendar as if it’s a real appointment. But more importantly, I’ve learned how to be extremely productive at the gym so I don’t waste any time. Staying on task allows me to get in and get out quickly and effectively. For additional tips, check out my post on how to navigate a busy gym.

Here are my tips for making the most of your time at the gym:


1. Have a plan

How many times have you gone to the gym without knowing what you were going to do until you get there? While I can see the benefit of “feeling based training” (designing your workout based on how your body feels in the moment), if you’re like me you can easily get stuck doing the same thing this way. Not having a plan can also keep you from challenging yourself and making progress. Every Sunday I outline my workouts for the upcoming week. And I structure things in a way that gives me flexibility in case things come up and I can’t get a scheduled workout in (<–easy to do when you are working and have kids). For example, I always plan a strength workout for Monday. This way, if I need to miss it I still have plenty of time to make it up during the week.


2.  Keep a training journal

This is such a great way to outline your weekly plans and track your progress. I’m not the best at remembering what weights I used in my last session so having a notebook is super helpful. I also jot down a bit about how I felt physically and if I did anything extra (or, um, skipped). And I keep a list of workouts that I can do at home or when I have limited equipment so that if I’m unable to get to the gym I always have a workout handy. It really takes the guess work out of your exercise.


3.  Use a timer

Having a timer (or a stop watch) is helpful for sticking to your program and designated rest intervals. Your rest period has a significant impact on your end results (whether that’s to increase strength, burn fat, or improve endurance) so it’s important to follow the right plan. I love using the Gymboss app because I can just set it and forget it. I keeps me on point with my rest periods and is simple to use. It’s also great for Tabata and HIIT workouts where you need exact intervals.


4.  Incorporate super sets and high intensity interval training

This can be really valuable when you are at a busy gym. You can have an extremely effective workout by using multi-joint movements (like lunges and deadlifts) and super sets. These movements cause a high metabolic response in your body. Your muscles will work harder, your heart rate will go up, and your metabolism will be boosted. High intensity intervals stimulate fat loss and muscle growth in ways that slow and steady cardio cannot. For workout examples and sample programs, be sure to take a look at my Workouts page.


A Fit Mess


5.  Don’t skip the stretching!

When we’re short on time that’s usually the first thing we cut, right? It’s easy to forgo stretching at the end of our workout, but it’s super important to take the time to do. Spending 5 – 10 minutes to lengthen and relieve tight muscles will make a big difference on your ability to recover. It will also reduce your likelihood of injury, ensuring that you can continue to make it back to the gym. Remember, static stretching should always be done at the end of your workout.


I would love to hear how you manage your time at the gym! Sharing your tips below can be helpful to everyone. 


For further reading, take a look at these previous posts:

Making time to exercise

Should you join a gym?




6 simple ways to keep your gym bag fresh

June 28, 2016
A Fit Mess

Yes, today I’m tackling one of those dirty little secrets we all keep from each other: we don’t clean our gym bag as often as we should (or maybe at all). Properly caring for our workout bag tends to be something we forget about, but keeping your gym essentials in good order is really important. Taking just a few extra steps can ensure your contents are kept organized and clean. This will cut down on the spread of germs and can really extend the life of your gear.


Here are 6 simple ways to keep your gym bag fresh:


1. Organize your items.

A tidy bag is a clean bag. Keep items in separate pouches and containers to prevent germs from spreading and to provide easy access to your accessories. For example, I keep all of my personal care items (like deodorant and shampoo) in a small cosmetic bag. I also keep my designated shower flip-flops in a plastic baggie. And it helps to have your sneakers separated in some way from everything else since they pick up a ton of germs from the ground. There are a lot of gym bags out there that actually contain a separate spot for your sneakers — a great feature.


2.  Keep a dryer sheet (or two) in your bag.

This is a sneaky way to keep everything smelling fresh and to cut down on odors. I usually throw a couple of dryer sheets into my bag and switch them out every 2 weeks. I’ve also heard that spraying water mixed with a few drops of essential oil (like peppermint) on your bag does the trick, but the dryer sheets have always worked really well for me.


3.  Separate sweaty clothes.

Store your used gym clothes in a separate bag (try a plastic grocery bag) to keep them from spreading germs and bacteria throughout your bag. Ideally you should wash your clothes right away, but if you’re like me and you workout midday or don’t have immediate access to your washing machine, your clothes can sit in your bag all day. Storing them in a plastic bag can keep your wet clothing contained until you’re able to throw them in the wash.


4.  Let your bag breathe.

Keep your gym bag open or unzipped to let the fabric breathe. Sometimes scents can get trapped in your bag so it’s really important to take some time to air things out. This is especially helpful if you are storing your sweaty clothes inside your bag, too.


5.  Wash (and rotate) your bag regularly.

I try to wash mine once a month, but I probably should do it more frequently given how often I use it. Tip: have more than one gym bag on hand so you can rotate them out once in awhile. Plus, if you’re washing one then it helps to have a second bag ready to go.

There are a couple of ways to wash your gym bag. Try adding 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle (place this in the spot where you add fabric softener). Don’t add it directly to the detergent as they can counteract each other. Another option (my favorite method) is to toss 1/2 – 1 cup of baking soda into your machine at the start of your wash. You can add this at the same time as the detergent. Use hot water to kill the bacteria. Hang your bag out to dry or place it in the dryer until completely dried.


6.  Wipe/spray down your bag.

In between washings you should definitely wipe down the inside and outside of your bag and let it dry. It’s important to clean the outside of your bag since it’s usually placed on the floor and can pick up way more bacteria and germs than what’s inside your bag. You can use any type of disinfectant wipe you’d like (be sure to test on a small part of your bag to make sure it won’t affect the material). I really like using a combination of vinegar and water (1:1 ratio), but you could also try using a cleaner with tea tree oil.


Still want to talk gym? Check out my previous post about what I keep in my workout bag. I update it every so often.


Further reading:

How to get your gym clothes smelling fresh – this is a pretty helpful (and entertaining) article. Make sure you check out the cat video in #9. I am dying.

In case you want to gross yourself out, give this article about the germiest places at the gym a glance.


Would you add anything to this list? I’d like to hear from you!

Like what you’ve read? I would love it if you could share this post!


Should you do cardio before weights?

June 23, 2016
A Fit Mess

Hey there. Hope you all had a good day yesterday.


I thought I’d address a question related to cardiovascular and strength training that I’ve been asked a few times:


Should you do cardio before or after strength training/lifting?


This is a question that I have often considered myself and it’s not as straightforward as you might think. It really depends on several factors, including: what your strength and fitness goals are and what type of training you are doing.


Ideally, you should aim to do most of your strength training and cardio sessions on different days in order to give each workout as much effort as possible and to ensure that you have given your body adequate time to recover between sessions. However, if that’s not possible, then combining aerobic exercise and resistance work in the same workout, known as concurrent training, can be a very time-efficient way to train. And the sequence of your training does make a difference.


Most fitness experts agree that it’s better to do cardio after resistance training regardless of what your overall goal(s) may be.


Here’s why you should save cardio for the end of the session:


  1. If you start your workout in the weight room, you will focus more energy on the resistance portion. This translates into faster strength results. I wish I could I shout this from the rooftops: Ladies, strength training is the only way you will achieve a lean and toned look! Pick up a weight!
  2. Research shows that you will lose more fat and get stronger and faster if you do weight training first. The reason is that weight training will require the body to preferentially burn fat for fuel (rather than carbs).
  3. Performing weight training first has been shown to elevate metabolism more during the 24-hour recover period than if you start with cardio.
  4. Your glycogen stores (what your body uses for energy) aren’t depleted quite as much from strength training as they are with conditioning work. This means you will still have enough in your tank to complete some cardio at the end.


In summary, performing cardio at the end of your workout will result in a much higher percentage of fat being burned, an increase in your post-workout metabolism, and greater strength and performance gains. In other words: more bang for your buck.


What type of conditioning should you do after resistance training?


Hands down, short and fast interval training is the best way to burn fat and maintain lean muscle mass. For example, after your strength portion try running sprint intervals (30 seconds on / 30 seconds off) for 25-30 minutes. Crank up the speed on a treadmill and go as hard as possible (on) and then rest in between (off). Or go for windgates on the stationary bike. You could also try a rower and go all out for 20 seconds (row as fast as you can) and then easy for 40 seconds of active recovery. Your training should be no longer than 20 – 30 minutes in order to keep your cortisol levels in check and to prevent your body from tapping into your muscles for fuel.


All this being said, I personally think it’s important to consider what you are capable of doing and what is a realistic workout for you. For example, sometimes I’ll do my conditioning first because I just want to get it out of the way and I’ll be less likely to just skip it altogether. If your preference is to start with it first or mix it throughout the workout – have at it. It’s really about understanding what works for YOU and what you need to do in order to achieve your goals.




What are your favorite interval workouts? Link to comment is found at the top of the post.


Why women should love leg day

June 2, 2016
A Fit Mess

Leg strengthening exercises are something I often overlooked or skipped during my training. I felt like they were irrelevant for my goals and I didn’t understand how important they are to include in a workout plan. I’ve since learned that they are essential for everyone, in particular women, due to the hip/pelvic and low back pain we seem to develop from sitting, carrying children, and wearing heels. Whether you love or hate leg day, strengthening your lower body is vital and produces benefits that go beyond appearance.


So when you question why you need to strengthen your lower body or feel tempted to skip them all together, remember the following advantages:

  • Boosts metabolism. Your legs contain some of the largest muscles in your body, and therefore, require more effort to train. This means you’ll spend more energy performing lower body exercises which will lead to more calories burned, greater fat loss, and a higher metabolism. There is also some evidence that shows the hormonal response created from training your legs will also help you build more upper body strength.
  • Upper body and core strength. This is something I recently learned in my PT course. Multi joint movements, like squats and deadlifts, incorporate just about every muscle in your body. So in addition to your legs, your arms and abs will work to balance/stabilize and move the weight. And you’ll build strong knee, hip, and ankle joints which may reduce your risk of injury. This is really important for functional movement and our day-to-day activities.
  • Improve athletic performance. Strengthening your legs will improve your athletic ability. If you are a runner, weight bearing exercises for your lower body may improve your endurance and power. They’re also essential for counteracting all the physical stress we place on our bodies when we run. Additionally, you may notice increased performance in other areas, like being able to jump higher and move faster.


So what type of leg exercises should you be doing?

My favorites ones are multi joint movements since they recruit more muscles and essentially offer more “bang for your buck.” They are also a surefire way to get my heart rate soaring. Squats and dead lifts are great staples to include. Single-leg/unilateral movements like lunges and step-ups are also beneficial since they help balance out both sides of the body and really isolate the muscles.

If you’re new to training the lower body, I would recommend working with a professional to ensure you are doing the movements properly and to avoid injury. As always, please check with your doctor before beginning a new workout program.


Check out this YouTube video on how to correctly do a squat:

Make no mistake – leg day is HARD. I often feel like I am going to crawl home after training the lower body. But trust me…they are super important! Not only will these exercises help you tone and strengthen your legs, but they’ll improve metabolism, balance, and performance.


P.S. There’s still time to enter my giveaway for a FREE massage or facial!

Do you love or hate leg day?