Without a doubt, one of the most common reasons people cite for their lack of exercise is not having enough time. Between work, school and family life, trying to fit an exercise routine into a busy schedule can seem like a tough task. Today, I’m going to show you how to fit an effective exercise program into a busy schedule in two simple steps:
Step 1) Stick to the basics
The human body is only capable of a finite number of movement patterns. Just about anything you do on a day to day basis can be broken down into a combination of the following patterns:
Everything you do with your body- Walking, running, jumping, kayaking, swimming, golfing, etc. can be broken down in a series and a combination of these patterns. An exercise routine built around these foundation movement patterns will target all major muscle groups and avoid an incredible amount of time wasted in the gym. Let’s take a deeper look into each of these patterns:
We squat all the time. We squat when we stand up out of our chairs and when we go up and down steps we’re actually doing a series of single-leg squats. The primary muscles involved with squatting include the quadriceps (the front of your thigh) and hip muscles such as the glutes. A great example of an exercise which targets this pattern is a goblet squat, as shown below:
Hinging at the hips is movement pattern that becomes very weak, uncoordinated and restricted as we age and find ourselves in a sedentary lifestyle. Instead of hinging at the hips to pick things up, our lack of mobility and strength causes us to try to lift things with our back and maintain poor posture, leading to one of the most common afflictions in western society: lower back pain. The muscles involved with hinging consist of the large hip muscles, primarily the glutes and hamstrings. Hinge exercises include any type of hip bridge or deadlift variation:
From lifting yourself up out of bed to throwing a chest pass in basketball, pushing movements can be found throughout our days outside of the gym. These tend to be the most commonly-performed patterns of movement, as just about anybody who has spent any time in a gym has done some form of push-up, chest press, bench press, military press, etc. The muscles involved here include the chest, triceps, and shoulders:
This is an all-too-often neglected aspect of fitness training. As I said above, there aren’t many people who haven’t done their fair share of pushing in their gym-going life. The opposite is true for pulling. The muscles of the upper back such as the lats, rhomboids and middle and lower traps often become weak and inactive for two reasons: We sit at a desk all day long, which creates a shortening of the muscles on the front side of your body and a weakening of the muscles on the back side, and then when we go to the gym we tend to make matters worse by doing a bunch of presses and not enough pulls. This also helps lead to lower back pain, shoulder impingement and other various issues that can be avoided. Any variation of rows, pulldowns, and pull-ups can be used to improve this pattern:
This concentrates on all things core-related. The musculature of your mid-section is meant to stabilize your spine and resist excessive flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. I’ve written extensively about those topics here, here, here and here. The key to having a healthy, pain-free back is training your core to be strong and durable through stabilization techniques as described in the links listed.
It really is this simple. If your workout has representation of each of the movement patterns listed above, you have yourself a very effective, full body workout. Now that you know what to do, let’s talk about timing.
Step 2) Don’t waste time
We now know that you do not need a long list of exercises to hit all of your major muscle groups. To expedite your workouts further, the next step is to cut down on rest. Through the process of super-setting or circuit training, you can cut your workout time down tremendously. A super-set is when you bounce back and forth between two exercises until you have completed the desired number of sets of each. Let’s take the bench press and the leg curl as an example. A typical workout might consist of doing one set of 10 reps on the bench, sitting and resting for say, 2 minutes, then doing a 2nd set of 10, resting, and a final 3rd set of ten before moving on to the leg curl. Instead, you should use replace those 2 minutes of rest with a set of leg curls. Go from bench press to leg curl, back to bench press until you’ve completed all 3 sets of each exercise. You can super-set any two exercises together, but it is recommended that you use non-competing muscle groups. This is important for 2 reasons. For one, by super-setting an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise, you ensure that you’ll get the greatest strength benefit possible from each, without allowing muscular fatigue to be your limiting factor. Another important, often over-looked benefit of this method is the cardiovascular effect. When you perform an upper body exercise, your heart works to pump blood towards the muscles which are working. When you turn around and immediately start working your lower body, your heart has to work even harder to push the blood from your upper to your lower body. This has tremendous benefits for your cardiovascular system. Circuit training is the exact same idea, except that you’re using more than 2 exercises.
A sample workout might look like this, using both of the steps listed above:
A1) Goblet Squat
B2) Dumbbell Row
C3) Side Plank
A1 and A2 are super-set together, as are B1 and B2, while the C group is a core circuit. Simple, effective, and incredibly time-efficient.