Let’s assume that you work crazy hours.
Let’s assume that your job is sedentary.
Let’s assume that you spend most of your day hunched over your desk, and you rarely get up from your seat.
Let’s assume that, as much as you’d love to spend hours in the gym everyday, you simply can’t afford the time. You want to be in shape, but you need a more efficient way of doing things.
If I’m guessing correctly, most of you reading this should fall into the above categories.
The good news is that getting and staying fit with a crazy schedule is not only possible, but it’s also the norm. The trick is to utilize your time wisely and make the most of every minute you have in the gym.
If you haven’t already, I’d recommend adding the following to your toolbox:
Compound movements are multi-joint exercises that make use of multiple muscles. Think squats, deadlifts, pullups, and pushup variations. This is in contrast to isolation exercises, which, as its name implies, isolates one muscle at a time.
If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, compound movements are the way to go. Think about it: would you rather spend ten minutes doing bicep curls, which work just the biceps, or would you rather do pullups, which blast your biceps and your entire back? The answer, especially when you’re pressed for time, should be obvious.
Compound movements are good; compound movements supersetted together are even better.
A superset is simply a training scheme in which you alternate one set of an exercise with a set of another exercise. Generally, it’s recommended that you implement non-competing movements with supersets so that one exercise is not negatively affected by the other.
Deadlifts, for example, would pair well with something like pushups – a hip-dominant movement and a horizontal pushing movement.
Another pairing I particularly like is incline bench press coupled with inverted rows.
As you can see, you can superset a lower body movement with an upper body movement, or you can superset push/pull movements.
The very nature of supersets allows you to save precious minutes in the gym. Let’s use the following to demonstrate:
A. Deadlifts – 3 x 5, 180s rest
B. Pushups – 3 x 8, 60s rest
For the sake of making a point, we’ll assume that the deadlifts take 15 seconds to complete, as do the pushups, and we’ll omit the transition time from A to B. If we were to perform them as straight sets, the time it would take to complete the above would be:
3(15s) + 3(180s) + 3(15s) + 3(60) = 45s + 540s + 45s + 180s = 810s = 13 minutes and 30 seconds
Not bad, right?
Well, what about if we were to superset the above movements?
A1. Deadlifts – 3 x 5, 60s rest
A2. Pushups – 3 x 8, 120s rest
I’ve decreased the rest time for deadlifts because technically you’d still be resting your posterior chain even while you’re doing the pushups, thus giving you the full three minutes’ rest.
3(15s) + 3(60s) + 3(15s) + 3(120s) = 45s + 180s + 45s + 360s = 630s = 10 minutes 30 seconds
With supersets, you’ve just saved yourself three minutes. That in itself may not seem like much, but if you superset your whole workout, the time can add up pretty quickly, and you can get yourself out the gym doors up to 20 minutes earlier.
Taking it one step further, circuits entail a series of movements strung together. Typically, a circuit will consist of more than two exercises and can theoretically have an infinite number of movements.
I like circuits because they’re a form of metabolic conditioning, and it helps to torch your entire body even with limited time.
Most circuits are performed by moving from one movement to the next with minimal rest. Again, using what we learned above, compound movements work great for these, and just like with supersets, I would recommend non-competing movements when programming.
As far as reps, that’s really up to you. If you’re looking for something more metabolic, I would recommend higher reps, and conversely, lower reps will work better for more of a strength workout.
I’ve found that a descending ladder works great with most people because 1) circuits by definition are hard, but 2) circuits with decreasing reps are easier to swallow.
All this information is fine and well, but where should you start?
To help you get moving, I’ve taken the above elements and combined them to create a number of sample workouts for you to take on the run. I encourage you to modify exercises as you see fit and, of course, a proper warm-up and cool-down is always recommended.
Workout 1: Bodyweight Only
A1. Pushups – 4 x 8
A2. Chinups – 4 x max-1
B1. Bodyweight Bulgarian Split Squat – 3 x 15 each side
B2. Inverted Rows – 3 x 10
C1. Reverse Crunches – 2 x 12-15
C2. RKC Plank – 2 x 30 second hold
Workout 2: Full Body (Strength)
A1. Barbell Front Squats 3 x 5
A2. DB Floor Press 3 x 8
A3. Pallof Press 3 x 8 each side
B1. Single-leg DB Romanian deadlift 3 x 8 each side
B2. Lat Pulldowns 3 x 8
B3. Barbell Rollouts 3 x 10-15
Workout 3: Full Body (Conditioning)
A1. Barbell Deadlift
A3. DB Reverse Lunges
A4. Bentover DB Rows
A5. Bodyweight Split Squat Jumps
A6. DB Push Press
This is a circuit that consists of moving from one exercise to the next with little to no rest until you get to the last movement. When you finish a set, rest for as long as you need to in order to feel ready to go again. The sets and reps will be as follows:
Set 1: 10 reps each
Set 2: 8 reps each
Set 3: 6 reps each
Set 4: 4 reps each
Set 5: 2 reps each
For the unilateral movements (reverse lunges and split squat jumps), the reps are for each side. So you’ll do 10 reverse lunges per side and 10 split squat jumps per side.
If you’re an advanced lifter and you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can change the reps to 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
I’d recommend using your 15-rep max weight for each movement as a starting point.