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Time Crunched Workouts

We all tend to work too much, sleep too little, stress too much and don’t exercise enough! Well, maybe not all of us, but certainly this can start to look like the typical profile for most of your general fitness clients. It’s safe to assume most people don’t get home from work until 5:00pm or later in the evening. They haven’t seen their family or friends all day, they still need to eat dinner and they want to have some form of a life other than work.

You don't have to sacrifice your free time for exercise! If you push the pace, you can get in three workouts per week, each of which lasts from just 20 to 30 minutes, no more! If you doubt the efficacy of short workouts, I can already tell you probably don’t train hard enough. These “time crunched” workouts give a butt kicking and work the entire body. Rest periods will be kept to a minimum, so we can get an aerobic effect as well. You’ll be doing the same, if not more work in this 20 to 30 minute session than you would during your typical one hour workout.

Designing Your Workout

Here is how to design your full body program

Here is how your program will look

  1. Lower body movement (squat, dead lift, lunge variation)
  2. Upper body pull (bent over row variation, pull up variation)
  3. Upper body push (overhead press, incline press, push up variation)
  4. Extra movement for posterior chain (dumbbell swings, Romanian dead lift, back extension)
  5. Full body movement (dumbbell clean and press, dumbbell snatch)

I use this program when training athletes. The only difference is we don’t perform the five movements as a circuit when with clients.

Here are variations for the above program

  1. Placing the full body exercise first in the program as opposed to last.
  2. Perform only two to three exercises in a non stop circuit to give less rest time for each muscle group/movement. This is a great way to stimulate hypertrophy if you have focus areas. For example, perform a full body movement, immediately followed by upper body pull, immediately followed by upper body push. Rest one minute and repeat these three movements for a total of two to four circuits. Afterwards, you will perform your lower body and weak area movement back to back for two to four circuits. This is just one way to vary the full body circuit day. There are many others!

Once you’re warmed up, it’s time to get rolling.

Sample Workout


Two rounds, 10 to 20 reps per movement, both rounds performed non stop.

After your two rounds of the warm up are complete, you should be ready to begin. Remember, the above warm up is only a sample. You may need to individualize the warm up much more with specific movements for client.

The Workout

  1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge x 6-10 reps per leg
  2. Bodyweight Recline Rows or Pull Up Variation x 8-12 reps
  3. Incline Dumbbell Press x 6-10 reps
  4. 1 Arm Dumbbell Swings x 8-10 per arm
  5. 1 Arm Clean and Press x 6 per arm

Notice I give a rep range per movement. As you increase the weight each set and/or become more fatigued, the reps invariably drop for most people. Some may stay with the same weight for the entire workout or possibly even reduce the weight on each successive set. Everyone is different, so take that into account. What about rest periods? As mentioned earlier, the higher the fitness level, the lower the rest periods can be. What about sets? This will also depend on the fitness level of the trainee. You have a lot of variables to play with:

  1. Have a predetermined number of sets for that workout (i.e., three sets and aim to get them all done without going above your 30 minute time limit). Be flexible, though. If two circuits got the job done, then stop there and look to improve in a week or two.
  2. Have a predetermined time limit, such as 20 minutes, and get as many circuits in as possible with quality form in that time limit. Setting time limits always pushed the client, especially if this style of training is done in a group setting. Everyone in the group starts competing against each other to get more work done than the next person.

I used to think shorter workouts done in circuit fashion were for people who used light weights and little intensity. I was completely wrong! I use circuits such as the one outlined above with heavy weights mixed in with bodyweight training. It can be a brutal yet very effective workout. The body adapts to training stimuli, so we must always use variety through movement/exercise selection, rep tempo, heavy/light/moderate weights and many more variables. Just when your body thinks it has all the answers, start changing the questions!