Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

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, were going to apply the ol80/20 rule, keeping the table set for when you DO have a bit more time for all that accessory work, and ride out the storm.

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 accomodation, and/or (2) mental stagnation.

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.

Shoot for approximately 25 total reps of each exercise at load.  That is, don’t count your warm up or “feel out” sets/reps. Keep the set-up as basic as possible.  A simple 2 exercise 5 x 5 works well here. For example:

A1) trap bar deadlift x 5
A2) weighted dips x 5
5 rounds

But you can (and I would advise mixing it up) use a 3 sets of 8 or 4 sets of 6 scheme now and again.

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
5 rounds

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 –

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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.


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