Often people will say things like:
"I don't want to spend hours on end in the gym."
"I can only put aside a short amount of time for the gym." (perhaps a lunch break for example)
"When I get in the gym, I don't know how to best spend my time."
"I only have a short time to exercise so I end up just doing the same things that I already know."
"I only had 30 minutes so I just went for a run."
Or perhaps a combination of these things.
So what if you have these, or a combination of these problems? Well, I'm here to help you.
Below is a list of just some of the ways that you can structure a quick gym session in order to make the most of your time and get a short, yet effective workout.
First Things First...
Write it down BEFORE you get to the gym! You already have a limited amount of time so don't waste gym time walking around, thinking what you'd like to do. Take time to structure a session before hand, enter with a plan and follow it.
Now try these:
Timed Circuit Training
The most straight forward and traditional method of all. Simply set your self a few exercises (probably 5-8) and perform them for an allocated length of time. Use an interval timer to do time the exercise time and also your pre-allotted rest time. Don't cheat yourself and take extra rest; when the buzzer goes, you go.
One of the great things about this is you know exactly how long you'll need to exercise for; ideal when you're on a tight schedule. Two things to be aware of when planning your circuit 1) Logistics: Make sure the equipment and area you need to use at the gym is positioned near each other or able to be moved near each other. 2) Popularity: Don't design a circuit that has you using a mixture of equipment that's likely to be used as you move from one area to the next. Better still, use some bodyweight exercises then you'll always be able to include them and shuffle the order on the go should someone jump on to your equipment and muck up the circuit.
An easy example would be: 30 secs work, 30 secs rest x 5 laps (25 mins total)
A1) Press Ups
A2) Kettlebell swings
A3) Kettlebell Goblet Squats
A4) TRX Rows
A5) Jumping Lunges / Switch Lunges
Progressions: Reduce rest time, add more exercises, add more laps.
Combine Cardio and Resistance Work
This is one of my favourite ways to get your heart rate elevated and use your gym time wisely. Pick a cardio exercise and a resistance exercise that, given the layout of your gym, can be done with relative ease (either near to the cardio equipment to ensure you can keep an eye on it while you do the resistance work, or on a piece of cardio equipment (like a treadmill) which there are plenty of in your gym so you're happy to walk away from to perform the resistance exercise.
A session structure might look like this:
A1) 1 min high incline treadmill jog
A2) Pull ups to failure
B2) 200m Row
B2) 15 x Kettlebell Swings
C1) 30 Sec Bike Sprint
C2) 10 x Dumbell Curl and Push Press
Or Perhaps you'd prefer to stick with one piece of cardio equipment that you're more familiar with so something like:
A1) 5 x Burpees
A2) 5 x Medicine Ball Slams
A3) 5 x Double Kettlebell Clean and Press
A4) 30 Second Hill Run
Or, from a psychological point you might like to shorten your cardio effort as you go. Therefore knowing that after the first set, the cardio part gets shorter and shorter.
10 dumbbell thrusters, row 500m, 10 dumbbell thrusters, row 400m, 10 dumbbell thrusters, row 300m, 10 dumbbell thrusters, row 200m, 10 dumbbell thrusters, row 100m.
Beware: This might take a little bit of playing around with to get the correct difficulty level to match your abilities. Try not to completely fatigue similar muscle groups in both the cardio and the resistance work. For example: Don't pair high repetitions of walking lunges with hill running.
Ascending Ladders or Pyramids
Using "Ascending Ladders" is a challenging way to gradually improve your fitness as your progressively increase the volume of work that you're able to perform.
If you're doing it for the first time, pick 4 or 5 exercises (again, pick things that can be done relatively closely to one another) and do 2 repetitions of each exercise for the first lap, then on the second lap (without any rest) perform 4 repetitions of each, then on lap 3 do 6 reps, lap 4 do 8 reps of each and on your 5th and final lap you perform 10 reps of each. Try to do the entire 5 laps as quickly as possible without resting. It starts easy but creeps up on you.
An example could be:
A1) Kettlebell Swings
A2) Press Ups
A3) Jump Squats
A4) Plank with a hip drop (each side)
Progressions: Increase the number of exercises, go higher ie: up to 6 laps (12 reps) or 7 laps (14 reps) etc, use larger increments such as 3,6,9,12,15 reps for example.
Alternatively, perform a Pyramid and do 2,4,6,8,10 reps, then immediately 10,8,6,4,2 reps. Sometimes however the final lap of 2 reps might feel like an anti-climax so I you're feeling particularly motivated you might try another lap of 10 reps just as a final blow out... maybe!
On the Minute / Every Minute On The Minute (EMOM)
This is another great way to ensure that your session doesn't over-run. Simply set your interval timer to sound each minute. When the timer goes perform your pre-decided exercise for the number of pre-decided repetitions.
Remember: You will need rest times so make sure that the exercise doesn't use up the entire minute. Ideally work somewhere between 30-50 seconds.
An example workout could be:
A1) 15 x kettlebell swings
A2) 10 x Incline Dumbell Chest Press
A3) 15 x Lat Pull Downs
A4) 45 secs Bike sprint
x 5 rounds = 20 minutes exactly.
Progressions: Add more repetitions/ cut your rest time, Include more cardio vascular work, add more exercises, include something heavy like 3 x heavy deadlifts/push presses/ farmers walks etc.
You Go - I Go
I like this as a format for partner workouts as it keeps you working at a decent tempo and you push one another to keep working. You also get varied amounts of rest so you don't adapt to the timing protocols which you can do sometimes when you use the same interval variations week after week.
With a partner, select your exercises and select a high volume of repetitions. Then go about completing the target reps by taking it in turn.
A workout might be:
50 x Burpees (1 each, until you complete 50. 25 each total)
3000m row (sat on two rowing machines, row 100m, then the partner rows 100m while you rest, repeat until you have each rowed 1,500m)
220 kettlebell swings (partner A does 20 swings, partner B does 20 swings, then A, then B and so on... 6 sets each).
40 Barbell Push Presses (1 rep each, pass the bar back and forth between each other without putting it down)
Safety First: Don't be a hero! If, part way through you notice between you that one person is struggling and they are at risk of losing good form, then you may agree mid-workout that one of you will do more eg: 2-3 reps to the other persons 1.
Note: You can do this wih two people of unequal strength/fitness if you're smart about it by selecting exercises that you can set up two of and using different weights such as 2 different kettlebells or barbells side by side. This means that men and women may also use this structure to train with one another.
This is just simply an interval variation that was designed orginially in conjunction with the Chinese Olympic cycling team. The design is 20 secs work, 10 secs rest x 8.
You can, if you wish, use it with one traditional cardio vascular exercise (such as cycling or running), a single resistance resistance exercise such as a lat pull down 8 times, a single bodyweight exercise such as burpees or a mixture of up to 8 exercises.
An example workout using the tabata protocol (20 secs work, 10 secs rest x 8)
A) Tabata Press Ups
B) Tabata Leg Press
C) Tabata Lat Pull Down
D) Tabata Walking Lunges
E) Tabata Kettlebell Swings
F) Tabata Plank
Progressions: It's actually harder to use fewer exercises; ideally just one.
Beware: Try not to use anything too technical or towards your maximum load unless you're very experienced. If it's your first time try it with a simple exercise such as press ups, lunges or a plank.
Not all "quick sessions" need to be focused on getting you soaked in sweat and that alone. There are some that can be much more strength focused.
I first heard this concept from Joe De Franco. It's a very straight forward way to utilise just one bit of gym equipment, in a relatively short time in order to focus on strength training.
How does it work? Take a single complex exercise that you're able to perform with a heavy load (ideally a barbell squat variation, deadlifts, bench press, cleans, snatch, push press or jerk). Warm up thoroughly then load the bar with your 5 rep max. Perform just a single repetition. Then start your stop watch. Allow yourself 20 seconds rest and perform another single rep. As you begin to fatigue allow a slightly longer rest period of between 20-40 secs.
Continue this until you have performed 15-20 repetitions.
The idea being that rather than performing 4x5 reps where some of the repetitions aren't as good as the others you'll perform 15-20 single reps so that you can focus on each one in order to make them as good as possible. It should also get your heart rate up by the end. 20 quality, heavy reps and a little bit of cardio work.
Look out: Don't be surprised that as you perform (roughly) reps 1-5 the reps feel very manageable. 6-9 (roughly) they then feel gradually more difficult. Then around 10-13 suddenly some reps may feel easy as your CNS really begins to fire. Then 13 onwards (roughly) the reps gradually begin to get tougher. Keep this in mind when you're gradually increasing your rest periods.
Barbell Complex or Kettlebell Complex
A babrbell complex or a kettlebell complex is a number of exercises performed with the same barbell or kettlebell continuously moving from one exercise to the next without resting the weight down.
Beware: Some exercises are easier than other so the weight might not be suitable for all exercises. One way around this is to vary the repetitions ie: more reps on the stronger movements such as the kettlebell comlex below.
Barbell complex example:
A1) 6 x bent over rows
A2) 6 x hang cleans
A3) 6 x front squats
A4) 6 x push press
A1) 12 x kettlebell swings
A2) 10 x kettlebell goblet squats
A3) 8 x kettlebell push press
A4) 5 x kettlebell snatches
Low Rep Circuits
Put together a circuit using larger, heavier movements for fewer repetitions. An example circuit could be:
A1) 3-5 Deadlifts
A2) 3-5 Bench Press
A3) 3-5 Back Squats
A4) 3-5 weighted Pull Ups
Allow 15-30 secs between sets. Complete 5 full rounds.
Safety First: Be honest with yourself; or better still, work with someone that knows the correct techniques involved in the exercises you're performing. If you form begins to suffer drastically then stop.
Don't attempt this style of workout if you're not experienced in the gym.
Structure is key: Beware not to overload one body part. Make sure you vary the body parts being used in when deciding the order of exercises.
There's loads you can do in the gym if you're restricted for time. There's nothing wrong as such with "just going for a run" but... this shouldn't be your only idea when time is short. not now you have all of these ideas to try anyway...