There's no question that volume and frequency have a profound effect on your workout results. If your training lacks intensity or is too short in duration or frequency, it'll be hard to see any real progress. But spending hours at the gym every week isn't feasible for many people.
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However, by manipulating certain elements within your workout to minimize the time spent while maximizing the results, you can get in an effective workout — even if you don't have a lot of time.
The six moves in these workouts are well-known, require little equipment and are designed as mini challenges that will keep your workout intensity high.
Side Plank: From a side plank position (pressing through the forearm and side of the bottom foot), keep your head, upper back, butt and heels in a straight line. Keep your abs engaged and your hips from sagging or rotating toward the floor.
Squat: From a standing position with your feet just outside hip width apart, keep your abs engaged as if you were to pull your zipper up to your rib cage. Push your hips back and keep your knees from rotating toward each other as you sit into a squat. Keeping your back flat (do not round the upper back or overarch the lower back), imagine spreading the floor and pushing the floor away as you drive up to a standing position. Squeeze your glutes to stand tall.
Chin-Up: Grab a pull-up bar with your hands supinated, or underhand (your palms will be facing your body), and about shoulder width apart. Engage your abs so your low back does not arch as you begin the chin-up by tipping the shoulder blades back. As you start to pull, make sure to bring the shoulder blades down (putting them in your back pocket) as you begin to bend the arms. Focus on bringing your chest to the bar, not allowing your chin to pop out or shoulder blades to tip forward. Squeeze your lats to finish.
Inverted Row: Using a suspension trainer, such as a TRX or Jungle Gym (or fixed barbell in a squat rack), pull yourself up keeping your abs engaged as to not allow your low back to arch or your hips to pop forward. Focus on leading the pull by initiating with the upper back and moving your shoulder blades toward each other. Hold the top position with the shoulder blades pinched together, and keep the chest wide, not allowing the shoulder to tip or pop forward. Slowly lower yourself and repeat for reps, focusing on using the upper back as your main driver for the pull.
Step-Up: Place one foot on an elevated surface, such as a bench or box, so that the knee and hip are at 90 degrees. Keeping your abs engaged as if you were to pull your zipper up toward your rib cage, dig the heel into the box and act as if you were trying to pull the box behind you as you step up onto the box (you should be focusing on using your hamstring and glute to pull you up on the box). Squeeze your glute to stand tall and finish the rep. Slowly lower yourself back down pushing your hips back first. Keep the foot on the box and repeat for reps before switching to the other leg.
Push-Up: From a push-up position with your hands beneath the shoulders, keep your abs engaged as to not allow the hips to sag, low back to arch or upper back to round. Keep the elbows at 45 degrees to the body as you pull yourself down into the push-up, making sure your chest would be the first thing to hit the ground and not your chin or hips (you will not be touching the ground, but this is a good cue). Hold the bottom position for a second count, making sure your elbows do not pass behind the body as you keep a wide chest to prevent the shoulder blades from tipping forward. Explosively push yourself away from the ground as you return to the top position.
Using the exercises above, you can create three different quick-hit workouts that will help you build muscle and torch calories.
1. Circuit Workout
After a quick warm-up, perform the five exercises above (remember, chin-up and inverted row are interchangeable), moving from one exercise to the next as quickly as possible. Rest up to two minutes between rounds.
You can perform the circuit for a set number of rounds (three to five rounds) as quickly as possible or for a set period of time (10 to 20 minutes) for as many rounds as possible in that time. Record your work so you can try to beat that number in the future!
Use the reps as follows, and note that they are given in ranges, so be sure to record the number of reps you perform.
Side Plank: 20 to 30 per side
Squat: 8 to 12
Chin-Up (or Inverted Row): 6 to 10
Step-Up: 8 to 10 per side
Push-Up: 8 to 12
2. On the Minute (OTM) Workout
For this workout, you'll skip the side plank in the main routine: Instead, throw one to three sets of the side plank (20 to 30 per side) into your warm-up.
Perform eight squats and eight chin-ups (or inverted rows) every minute. This means that beginning with the first minute, you will do both the squats and rows and then rest for the remainder of the minute before going again. So if it takes you 40 seconds to complete both exercises, you have 20 seconds to rest before repeating again.
As the rounds proceed it will take longer to complete the exercises, which means less rest, and this is where the real challenge comes in. Above all else, keep proper form!
Perform six to 10 rounds (for six to 10 minutes), then if you still have some gas left in the tank, move to the second OTM pairing.
Perform six reps per side of the step-up and eight push-ups every minute for six to 10 rounds. (*If you want to perform multiple workouts per day, you can do OTM 1 in the morning and OTM 2 later in the day, or vice versa.)
3. Even-Odd Countdown (EOC) Workout
Like the OTM workouts, the Even-Odd Countdown (EOC) doesn't include the side plank in the main session. Again, complete one to three sets in your warm-up.
Pair the squat and chin-up (or inverted row): Do 10 squats, then 10 chin-ups (or rows), then eight squats, then eight chin-ups (or rows), and continue counting down by two until you finish with two reps of each. Then go back up to nine reps and count down with the odd numbers until you finish with one rep of each (9,7,5,3 and 1 rep). Record the time it takes you to complete EOC 1, and if you have more left in the tank, move to EOC 2.
Use the same format as EOC 1, but with step-ups (reps on each side) and push-ups. Don't forget to record the time it takes you to complete the EOC.
Try one of these workouts every other day. This may be a Circuit on Monday, OTM on Wednesday and EOC on Friday, for example. If using your body weight only is too easy, add resistance (dumbbell, barbell, etc.) to any of the exercises.
This type of training (using compound movements in a competitive manner) will leave your body adapting and progressing. The best part? These workouts shouldn't take longer than 25 or 30 minutes if you're doing all the steps.
Kyle Arsenault, CSCS, is a strength and conditioning coach, human-performance specialist and author. As the former head strength and conditioning coach with Momentum PT, Kyle now combines his extensive knowledge of efficient human movement, rehabilitation and strength and conditioning to create performance-enhancement programs for top fitness athletes as well as his online clients.
Kyle enjoys training, staying active and helping others achieve a life built upon a healthy, high-performing and good-looking body.