The seasons of life, my friend – they’ll sometimes punch you right in the mouth. There will be times when, against all your best efforts otherwise, you’ll be robbed of precious workout time.
It happens; I’ve been there. In fact, I’m weathering the trailing bands of one of those storms now.
So you find yourself short on time. Maybe it’s just today, maybe it’s gonna be 3 months of this. What to do?
First, let’s make sure you are, in fact, short on time. Take a moment to survey your daily routine to ensure you haven’t let any time-robbing bad habits (TV, for example. The wormhole of social media).
Assuming avoidable timesuck isn’t the case,
Being short on workout time is not the end of the world. As I mentioned, I’m going through one of those periods now, which is why this subject is fresh in my mind.
That said, the 3 options below will still offer you a hell of a workout. They are, in fact, my own “time-crunched fallbacks”.
Remember: a routine does not have to be complicated to be effective. More than anything, what makes a program successful is the effort and consistency YOU put into it.
Hell, you could, in fact, make an iron career out of rotating through these options. Don’t be fooled: they’ll get the job done quite nicely.
Will you reach your absolute genetic hypertrophy potential in this manner? No. But you’ll be appreciably more strong, swole and healthy than 95% of those around you. More importantly you’ll be a hell of a lot better YOU than the you who uses “I don’t have time” as an excuse for not slangin’ iron.
The Push/Pull/Drive method
1 – You’ve got no time to fuck around, so focus on heavy, compound exercises. Think squats, deadlifts, dips, overhead presses, rows and chins.
2 – Use a load that will only allow for about 4 to 7 reps.
3 – Superset your exercises in a push/pull/drive fashion. For instance:
Overhead press (push) / weighted chins (pull)
Squats (drive) / Russian leg curls (pull)
Floor press (push) / row (pull)
Another option: upper/lower splits
Deadlifts (pull) / dips (push)
Front squats (drive) / incline press (push)
Belt squats (drive) / bent over row (pull)
Leg press (drive)/Nautilus pullover (pull)
The combinations are endless. Mix it up to prevent (1) physical
4 – Pay attention to rest periods. I mean, the whole point of you doing this is that you don’t have much time.
5 – If you can only make it to the gym a couple times each week, train your whole body each time out. Otherwise, opt for a split. You’ll remain low in volume per body part, so recovery won’t be an issue.
Short for approximately 25 total reps of each exercise at load. That is, don’t count your
A1) trap bar deadlift x 5
A2) weighted dips x 5
But you can (and I would advise mixing it up) use
Pro tip: if you’re REALLY jammed on time, 3 sets of 8 will save you a few minutes in exercise shifts. And potentially save you a feel-out set.
30 minutes start to finish ought to do it. And that includes your “feel-out” / warm-up sets. DO NOT fuck around doing an inordinate amount warm up. Most WAY overdo this. Ramp as quickly as possible up to your target load in each exercise and get to work.
Got an extra 10 minutes or so? Add an additional exercise. This, for example, is one of my time-crunched go-tos:
A1) weighted dips x 5
A2) trap bar deadlifts x 5
A3) barbell curls x 5
Again, 3 x 8 and 4 x 6 works well here, too.
21’s (AKA, Dog Crap training)
1 – pick one exercise each from the push/pull/drive category
2 – choose a load for each exercise that will allow you to hit 6 or 7 reps. Approaching, but not going to failure. In other words, leaving one rep in the tank.
3 – perform cumulative “mini sets”, with about 10 secs rest between “sets”, until you hit at least 21 reps. For example: 6 reps (pause), 5 reps (pause), 3 reps (pause), 3 reps (pause), 3 reps (pause), 2 reps to failure. For 22 total reps.
4 – move to the next exercise, pronto
Every Minute on the Minute (EMOTM)
A million variations of the EMOTM workout, but this is the easiest. Easiest in set-up, that is. Done right, it’s a goddamn punch in the gut.
1 – pick an exercise from the push/pull/drive category
2 – load the bar to approximately 80% of your 1 rep max. Don’t get hung up on this percentage. It’s simply a thumb rule. Your load will be determined by many factors including (but not limited to): how you’re “wired”, training age, recovery state, etc.
3 – set a timer for 30 minutes
4 – hit 3 reps every minute on the minute. Doubles works fine here as well.
For an expanded conversation on exercise schema and methodology, see my post How to Get Big, Strong and Powerful, Fast
Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –