Tip: Parkinson's Law and Effective Workouts

Know this law. Get better results from your training. Check it out.

Impose Time Limits on Your Workouts

There's an interesting and paradoxical phenomenon known as "Parkinson's Law," which states that tasks tend to expand to the time you allot for them. For example, if you think you need 90 minutes to train, then you'll take 90 minutes, even if you could get the same workout in 60... maybe an even better workout.

More often than you'd think, if you "need" to complete a workout in less time than usual, you can pull it off. Doing the same workout in less time is a form of progression (increased workout density).

Of course, there are limits to this strategy, but most lifters can complete their workouts in significantly less time than they think. Here are some suggestions for faster workouts, and most of them involve optimizing your warm-up:

  • Establish time limits for each exercise. Maybe it normally takes you an hour to complete your deadlifts (warm-up and work sets). Next session, shoot for 50 minutes. This is accomplished by reducing rests intervals between sets, but it might also involve taking fewer "jumps" during your warm-ups.

    As a personal example, until recently my warm-up ladder for deadlifts was 135, 185, 225, 275, 315, etc. Currently, my first three jumps are 135, 225, 315. Needless to say, this knocks off two warm-up sets, which speeds up the workout.

  • Many lifters seem to think that their last warm-up set must be performed with the same number of reps as their work sets. For example, if your work sets call for 275 for 4x8, you do your last warm up set with 225 for 8.

    A better approach is to pyramid your warm-ups like this: 135x10, 185x8, 225x4. The last warm up set is really just a "prep" set so that you're not shocked by jumping from 185 to 275. Save your time and energy for when you need it most.

  • Use fatigue-specific rest intervals between warm-up sets. If you pull over 500 pounds, you don't need to rest for three minutes after your first set with 135. Generally, rest intervals should gradually lengthen with each successive warm-up set.
  • Place "problem" exercises last in the workout, rather than first. If it takes you forever to warm up your squats due to creaky knees, do your assistance exercises (leg curls, etc.) first. This way, you'll be more warmed up by the time you get to squats and save yourself some time.
  • Make a game out of seeing how quickly you can complete an exercise, or the whole workout. Look at it as a personal challenge rather than a problem. Be safe of course, as this particular tactic is more appropriate for high-rep sets done on a machine than heavy, low-rep sets done with free-weight movements.
Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook