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Workout Schedules

Let’s talk… workout schedules! One of the biggest excuses for people not having time to exercise, is “not enough time,”[1] but effective time management, scheduling, and exercise selection can make sure you exercise every day! Let’s look at the two biggest fitness goals: build (muscle or strength) and fat loss.

Quick question: when does muscle building happen: in the gym, or during rest? During rest of course! If you read my post on anabolics, you know that your workout is only a small fraction of the equation. Muscle building happens during recovery during 48 hours following your workouts, which means most people only need to perform resistance training 4 days a week to build muscle. Whether you choose a push/pull, upper/lower, or full body split, is up to you, but you can easily fit any of these workouts into one hour, four days a week. The other three days? Conditioning, mobility, or even active recovery are all you need, and can easily be done at home.

But what about fat loss? Training every day is best for fat loss, as a consistent calorie deficit is needed, but what if you can’t make it to the gym every day? Luckily, most our energy is burned during Non-exercise times[2], and a calorie deficit is created by our diet, but exercise helps stimulate the mobilization of fat reserves with cortisol[3]. Additionally, our bodies are highly adaptable and are designed to preserve energy. This means I don’t want you in the gym every day! There are plenty of ways to get your heart rate up, from sustained low-impact cardio (like a walk around the block for an hour), to HIIT and even a resistance workout with strict rest periods and supersets to keep your heart rate up[4]. While you are looking to lose fat, you still want to retain muscle as much as possible! A good HIIT workout can be done in 15 minutes, walking can be done at home, and resistance training can be done at a fast pace to stay under 45 minutes! Not everyone needs to train like a powerlifter or juiced up bodybuilder, spending 90 minutes on one lift or body part.

So now you can see what a weekly breakdown looks like, how can you make this work in your day to day? Here are ten tips for programming your workouts and making them work in your busy schedule:

Tip 1: Super sets

There are many ways to double up on exercises to save you time. Whether it’s stretching your legs during upper body work, doing abs between arm sets, or doing biceps and triceps at the same time, you can combine exercises to save time. Looking for fat loss? Do circuits! Knock out a set of all of your exercises, then repeat.

Tip 2: Strict Rest Periods

How long are you resting between sets? Depending on your goal, typical rest time will vary between none and 3 minutes. Are you texting, chatting, or getting distracted? Try setting a timer, or just a stopwatch to make sure you aren’t wasting time between sets! You’ll be amazed how that 90 minutes at the gym gets cut down to 45.

Tip 3: Remove distractions

Are you always glued to your phone because of work? Do you have a social media addiction? Put that phone away! Turn on some music and do your workout! A fifteen minute uninterrupted HIIT session will be way more effective than stopping between rounds to answer work emails, check Instagram or talk to your friends.

Tip 4: Concentrate on one thing at a time

One of the most effective training methods is to concentrate on one goal at a time, instead of trying to be better at everything. You know who is good at everything? No one! There is no professional athlete that can win a decathlon, powerlifting competition and bodybuilding show all in one day, so stop training like that! Pick a specific goal, and work on it for eight to twelve weeks at a time. Put those exercises first in order, maybe spend twice as many sets or exercises, and keep them separate from the rest of your workout. Super set, or do the rest of your maintenance work as a circuit. Instead of trying to spend 6 hours a day on flexibility, strength, size, speed, endurance, conditioning and fat loss, just spend one hour a day on one of those, and change when you’ve hit a plateau!

Tip 5: Combine self-improvement skills

Are you trying to learn more about fitness? Listen to a fitness podcast during your warm up, cool down, or walk around the block! Do you still want to watch an hour of TV a day? Do a bodyweight workout at home while you’re watching!

Tip 6: Split your workout throughout the day

Don’t have 15 minutes straight you can sweat? How about 5 minutes, 3 times a day? Your workout doesn’t have to be done all at once. A set of maximum push-ups, pull-ups and squats, three times a day, is better than nothing!

Tip 7: Have a plan and write it down

How much time do you spend in the gym deciding what to do next? What weight did you do on this exercise last week? If you have a written plan that tells you what to do, no decision fatigue necessary! Write your own, follow a template, or hire a coach to help you. With this plan, keep a log. If you log your sets, reps, weights and times every week, you won’t spend time guessing what to do this week. Just walk in to the gym, do what the paper says, and execute! However…

Tip 8: Learn to be flexible

If you work out in a commercial gym, you’ll be sharing space, and your exact plan won’t always work! Flexibility comes from experience, but also from understanding what your goal is. Are you trying to improve your powerlifting bench? Then yes, waiting on that bench press is worth it today. Are you just trying to do an upper body push exercise as part of a fat burning circuit? Then maybe push-ups can substitute and there’s no need to wait! Understanding the purpose of each exercise will let you know what other similar exercises you can substitute, and when you have to stick to your plan. No wasting time waiting for equipment if you don’t have to!

Tip 9: Workout at home

One of the biggest complaints isn’t the time spent in the gym- it’s commuting and dealing with other people. While not everyone has space and money for a home gym, there are a ton of options for workouts that can be done at home with just bands, a single kettlebell, or bodyweight. Just like being flexible above, having at-home alternatives for most of your workouts can allow you to cut down on all of that commute time and headache of being with other people.

Tip 10: Don’t be afraid of rest days!

You stayed late at work, got caught in traffic, and have too much work to do to get ready for tomorrow. It’s just not happening today. You know what, that’s OK! Like I said before, rest days are where our changes really happen, so maybe you have to hit the weights on Wednesday instead of Tuesday this week. You won’t kill gains, or destroy your recovery if you do this every now and then! Just don’t turn your 7 day a week cardio plan into a 2 day a week occasional plan.

Now, take a look at your schedule again, and figure out when you can exercise. It will take some planning, but you can make it happen. No more excuses, because everyone can find 15 minutes a day to get moving and work towards one specific goal. If you need help with programming them, check out my workouts!


[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11101470