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5 Techniques To Optimize Workouts When Short On Time

workout planning

Being short on time often results in suboptimal workout sessions that are more frustrating than they are effective.

However, life happens and it’s important to have some ways to ensure that even with your busy life and limited availability, you can still complete a workout that will actually benefit you.

In this article, I’ll touch on 5 of my personal techniques for optimizing your workouts, even if you don’t have much time to do so.

Select Your Focus Ahead Of Time

If you’re pressed for time when going to the gym, it makes sense that you should make all of your decisions about the workout before showing up to the gym.

Personally, when I have only a limited amount of time to spend at the gym, I always make sure to plan the entire workout ahead of time. Factors such as which body parts you want to work on and which exercises to use, are best decided before getting to the gym.

Further, you can also begin to decide on alternatives, should the equipment required for other exercises not be available.

In addition, I also suggest deciding on the primary intent of the workout. Are you looking to build muscle, increase strength or ignite fat burning? The answer to these questions will decide how many exercises you use and how you perform them.

For example, if your goal is increasing strength, your rest periods will be longer. This means you’ll need to decide on the top one, or top two, most important exercise(s) and then of course how many reps, sets and rest times.

If your goal is igniting fat burning, you may opt for 5-6 exercises done circuit-style. In contrast, if your goal is increasing muscle, you might select 3-4 exercises for multiple sets.

If you’re pressed for time, predetermining focus, body parts and exercises is essential for optimizing your time at the gym.

Try Going At Less Busy Times

It goes without saying that if you’re always pressed for time you should try hitting the gym during hours that aren’t busy. If you’re pressed for time only once in while, this may not apply but it still is a great option.

Everyone has been to a gym during the busiest times and quite frankly, it’s a terrible experience. People talking, everyone seems to magically jump on the machine you planned on using next. Overall, it’s just a bad situation to be in, especially if you’re strapped for time.

By selecting times when the gym is less busy, such as early morning, just after normal lunchtimes and even late at night, you’ll be able to avoid the crowds and ensure an appropriate workout.

Not to mention, going at off times means an increased likelihood that the equipment you need for your training session will be available with little to no wait time.

If you’re pressed for time most days, I suggest attempting to build a schedule that allows you to workout when others aren’t around.

Opt For The Most Beneficial Exercises

When you only have a limited amount of time to perform a workout, it’s essential that you optimize your time by picking exercises that are the best options available.

As an example, if my focus of the day is to work on chest, triceps and shoulders, I’d first start with a pressing compound movement such as incline bench press. By using this exercise, you’ll hit the chest, shoulders and triceps musculature all in one exercise.

This would be in contrast to picking 3 exercises such as dumbbell fly, triceps pushdown and dumbbell side raises. While these exercises certainly work the intended muscle groups,  you’ll need to complete multiple sets of multiple exercises, in order to do so, which is time-consuming.

By opting for compound movements and other exercise variations that optimize your time, you’ll stimulate target muscle groups adequately, even with a shortened amount of time available.

Consider Replacing Your Important Workouts 

While having a schedule of training is important, I actually recommend skipping and rescheduling some workouts if you feel that the amount of time available is not adequate.

For example, let’s say that your favorite workout is one with squats. Let’s also say that you had a big leg day planned out but you had to stay late at work. Now you only have 30 minutes before you have to get home for dinner.

In this case, you have two options. First, you can attempt the workout and significantly reduce the work you had planned, or you can just move that workout to another day.

I personally suggest making a short, high intensity workout and simply moving the pre-planned workout to another day. By doing so, you’ll be able to use a shorter, more appropriate workout for the timeframe available to you and then save the bigger workout for a later time.

If you have a big or important workout day planned, but end up becoming short on time, simply switch workouts and save the important one for another day.

Consider Opting For A Circuit

When pressed for time, my first response is to choose a few exercises and then complete them “circuit-style” for as many rounds as possible.

I do this for a few reasons. First of all, if I tried to complete full workouts in a shorter timeframe, some aspect of my training will suffer. Since I don’t want that to happen, I simply opt for a different workout with the understanding that it might not be a great one.

Second, by shortening rest times and completing multiple exercises, you’ll be able to take advantage of the shortened timeframe; plus, completing a circuit of 4-6 exercises will be far more beneficial than only completing a few sets for 1-2 exercises.

If you find yourself in need of a quick, yet effective workout, I suggest choosing a few exercises and completing them “circuit style.” In fact, here are a few short circuits you can use when pressed for time:

Workout 1:

  1. Body Weight Squats x 10
  2. Pull ups (or assisted) x 10
  3. Kettle Bell Swings x 10
  4. Kettle Bell / DB Squat Thrusters x 10
  5. Repeat as desired.

Workout 2:

  1. Run 0.25 Miles
  2. Medicine Ball Thrusters x 15
  3. Burpees x 10
  4. Plank x 30 seconds
  5. Run 0.25 Miles
  6. Repeat as desired

Workout 3:

  1. Bodyweight Squats: AMRAP in 1 Minute
  2. Pushups: AMRAP in 1 Minute
  3. Battle Ropes x 30 seconds
  4. Row: row 250 m for time
  5. Repeat as desired.

Note: AMRAP = As Many Reps As Possible

workout planning

5 Techniques To Optimize Workouts When Short On Time

Even if you don’t have much time available to you, you don’t have to sacrifice your workout quality. Surely reduced time won’t allow for as much variety as longer sessions might, but it’s still possible to get a great workout in, even if you only have 30 minutes to do so.

By using these techniques, you should be able to begin optimizing your training and understanding the necessities, even with a limited amount of time.

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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