Training for Busy People

Most successful people describe themselves as “busy”. Whether you’re running your own business or working lots of hours — it’s tough to find extra time to train.

If you find yourself unable to prioritize your workouts, but still want to get lean, strong and powerful — you may need to take a minimalist approach to training.

Minimalist training doesn’t mean mimimal results. It just means that you’ll focus on the basics, but hit them hard. You won’t waste time on isolation exercises, rather you’ll maximize muscle fatigue in a shorted time frame because you’ll focus on exercises that recruit more muscles with maximum time spent under tension.

Work on Your Weaknesses

The first thing you’ll want to do is to figure out what your main goal is.

Is your goal increased strength? If you’re unable to do more than one strict pullup without assistance, or farmer’s carry your own bodyweight — strength may be your number one goal.

Training For Busy People
The Farmer’s Carry – a perfect exercise for functional strength

But also consider your level of mobility…for many men especially, this becomes paramount with the aging process. Can you move through the full range of your joints pain-free? Are you relatively flexible? Or do you need to sleep with 2 or even 3 pillows in order to get a good night’s sleep?

Finally, there is body composition. This goal can be worked in conjunction with strength and mobility as it has more to do with your food intake and nutrition that with exercise, but it still may be worth prioritizing.

Regardless of your training priority, you can take a minimalist approach to getting to your goals.

Strength and Size in Less Time

For strength and size goals, you’ll want to choose a few compound, multi-joint exercises that give you the most bang for your buck. When choosing your lifts, think of a push, a pull, a hip hinge and a squat. If you combine all four, you’ll have a pretty complete program.

Forget isolation exercises or unique exercise variations — you’ll want the basics if you’re pressed for time.

Personally, I’ve gotten pretty good results by only doing heavy deadlifts and heavy shoulder presses for a period of 6 weeks, while doing little else. While this is only two techniques, the deadlift gives me a hip hinge (and to some extent a lower body pull as the hamstrings pull and contract), and a good upper body push.

Here are some excellent choices for a minimalist strength program:

  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Front Squat
  • Push Press
  • (Weighted) Dips
  • (Weighted) Pullups
  • Clean and Press

4 Exercises – 2 Workouts

Here’s an example of a 4-exercise routine you can program twice a week, alternating the two routines:

Routine One:

  • Deadlift 3 x 5
  • (Weighted) Dips 3 x 5
  • Clean and Press 3 x 5
  • (Weighted) Pullups 3 x 5

Routine Two:

  • Clean and Press 3 x 5
  • (Weighted) Pullups 3 x 5
  • Deadlift 3 x 5
  • (Weighted) Dips 3 x 5

Note that there is nothing fancy about this program. It’s four simple techniques, and the only thing that changes from the two routines is the order in which they are performed.

Only do weighted pullups and dips if you are able. Otherwise, stick to just your own bodyweight, or scale them as required.

Mixing up the order between the two routines keeps you fresh and challenges your body in different ways. Many people feel fatigued as they near the end of their training time, and the last exercises often suffer from a lack of effort.

This program gives you just enough variety (via the order) to stimulate the muscles into new growth and blasting through plateaus, while maintaining the overall structure in order to eliminate unneccessary complexity.

Start with doing one or two sets of each, and as you progress, work up to 3 or even 4 sets. If you feel like you can do more reps than what is prescribed, add a bit more weight next time. Finally, ensure you rest between each technique; rushing through your workout won’t lead to proper mechanics in terms of form, and you’ll need the recovery if you want to improve.

If even this routine seems overwhelming, try splitting your training into micro sessions.

Upper Body Ladder Workout

Do you have 10 minutes and don’t have access to a barbell?

Work on your pullups and pushups! Try the following ladder:

  • 1 Pullup and 2 Pushups
  • 2 Pullups and 4 Pushups
  • 3 Pullups and 6 Pushups
  • 4 Pullups and 8 Pushups
  • 5 Pullups and 10 Pushups

Keep going until you can’t do the required number or reps, then rest for a minute or two, then revert back down to the bottom of the ladder, doing 1 pullup and 2 pushups again.

For example, if you fail on your set of 5 pullups and 10 pushups, go back to 1 and 2 again, then 2 and 4, 3 and 6, 4 and 8, etc.

Each time you fail, rest and go back to the beginning and only go up as high as you can. When you can’t do more than 2 pullups in a row, your workout is done.

Alternatively, you can set a time limit and go until the time is up (i.e. 10 or 12 minutes).

Your actual workout might then look like this:

  • 1 Pullup and 2 Pushups
  • 2 Pullups and 4 Pushups
  • 3 Pullups and 6 Pushups
  • 4 Pullups and 8 Pushups
  • Fail on the next set, REST — then:
  • 1 Pullup and 2 Pushups
  • 2 Pullups and 4 Pushups
  • 3 Pullups and 6 Pushups
  • Fail on the next set, REST — then:
  • 1 Pullup and 2 Pushups
  • 2 Pullups and 4 Pushups
  • Fail on the next set, REST — then:
  • 1 Pullup and 2 Pushups
  • Fail on the next set. Workout complete.

Ladders such as this are brilliantly simple in their construction and are well suited to using your own bodyweight. Find a pullup bar, whether it’s in your home, garage, in a gym, or outdoors in a playground or calisthenics park.

Never Tire of the Basics

As a trainer who has helped hundreds of busy people get into shape and improve their strength and movement patterns, I can say that many tend to look for the latest fads and novelties. But the basics should never get stale and certainly should never be neglected.

Be tenacious. Stick to your program until you see real progress before mixing things up. These principles have worked well for me at 60 years of age, and I’m a busy person like anyone else, running my own gym, coaching people online, and doing volunteer work. I’m confident they’ll work for you as well.

October 15, 2019 No Comments
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