Between work stress and personal responsibilities, the daily trip to the gym can drop quickly on the list of priorities, falling lower and lower beneath “prepare business proposal” or “make birthday cupcakes for school.” Unlike work and family, there aren’t immediate consequences to missed workouts and dwindling activity.

When it comes to showing up at the gym and merely going through the motions of a workout (with lackluster focus) — well, that’s just not a good use of your time, either. Here’s why: When you are mentally distracted and putting in minimal effort, the gym becomes a negative opportunity to concentrate more on outside stress. And if you’re not focused on what you’re doing, you risk injury or just lose another opportunity to challenge yourself and see results. Basically, you’re wasting your time.


If external distractions cloud your focus and prevent you from maximizing your time at the gym, to step back and assess. Evaluate your activity level or measure your performance during your workouts. Ask yourself, does your activity level and effort match with your fitness goals? Perhaps your fitness goal is long-term, like reach a PR lift or lose 10 pounds. Or your fitness goal may just be to raise your heart rate, boost your mood and let go of daily stress. But if your workouts aren’t syncing up with your goals, you may need to readjust your gym focus – or even ask a professional for guidance. And once you have that insights, follow these tips to maximize your time …

  1. Establish a mindset

Do you walk into the gym with negativity and stress following behind? That’s okay, but make sure you leave it at the door. Negative energy and overwhelming thoughts bring down your workout and produce effects that work against you, even if you’re completing each rep or pushing the pedal on the bike.

“To maximize your results, start with the mindset,” says Dr. Lenny Wiersma, a professor of sports psychology at California State University, Fullerton. Shift your focus from quantity to quality. For example, when compared to idly moving on an elliptical for 30 minutes, two four-minute tabata workouts can yield significantly better physical and psychological results (in only eight minutes). The key is maximum effort.

2. Disconnect from work

If you check work emails in between sets, you’re the norm. Our working culture teaches us that if we’re online at all times, we’re devoted and working even harder toward that raise or promotion.

According to Time Health, Larissa Barber, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University, has named this phenomenon “telepressure.” In fact, 52 percent of Americans check work email before and after work. This telepressure and lack of recovery adversely affects our health, from poor sleep to burnout.

Establish boundaries and take time to recharge, insists the American Psychology Association. If the gym is your place of recovery, make it a rule to keep your phone in your locker and switch your mind to off mode. A single work email can cause a surge of adrenaline and jolt of cortisol, which can throw off your workout. Instead of boosting endorphins, you’re left dwelling on work. Effective exercise rejuvenates and helps you become more productive at work. Consider the gym a no-work zone.

3. Participate in organized fitness

In a fitness class, you’re led by an energetic and inspiring instructor. A group class can help you focus on pushing yourself toward a great workout. For example, in a high-intensity indoor cycling class, you’re surrounded by other fit-minded individuals. Music motivates you and the instructor guides with challenging intervals and high-energy rides. It’s hard not to fully engage in this type of environment.

For yogis, yoga helps improve concentration and focus. However, many yogis find they’re doomed by distraction in class. Here are some tips for next time you hit the mat to achieve optimal mindfulness.

  • Concentrate on your breathing and calm your mind with each inhale and exhale
  • Acknowledge your thoughts and then let them pass by
  • Think about how sensations in the body are releasing tension or building strength
  • Gaze at a specific focal point to prevent your mind from wandering
  • Ground and root yourself to the floor, as if you were a tree, to find your center, stability and balance
  • Feel the energy channeling throughout your body and creating a powerful force

4. Keep your socializing in check

The buddy system is an excellent way to stay motivated and committed to exercise. The gym can be a better experience when you’re with someone you can share a protein shake with or take turns spotting on the bench press. Yet, while gym dates are great, it’s not great when your buddy detracts you from your gains. In other words, chatting at the gym can rob your workout. Instead of focusing on your lifts or breaking out into a hard sweat, you may get lost in conversation.

“Not being in the game when you are lifting heavy or performing Olympic lifts is the gym equivalent of texting and driving,” says Jeff Kuland, fitness professional, owner and author of Athletic Human.

Prior to your workout, create a plan of attack and time frame to stay on track. Share your workout targets for the day with your buddy. Then during your workout, be cognizant of steadily moving along by minimizing breaks and conversation tangents. If all else fails, you may need to ditch the buddy system or reduce workouts with friends down to one day per week.