If you're anything like the average person in 2022, it's likely that you're strapped for flexible time. It's flexible time because there are always things we could sacrifice on the alter of the barbell to chase the gains of our dreams. Often times though, we are choosing our precious family time, visits with friends, or even other jobs or businesses that we do for fun or to make a positive impact on our communities. We could sacrifice those things, and it may even be necessary to at times. But in general, those things deserve the time they get and likely more, leaving us with scarce time with which to do the extra things we want to do.
That said, here are a few ways that you can make your exercise a priority. Keep in mind, the main goals at this time (even though getting huge is what I really want) are to stay strong, limber, and energized. Keep that in mind as we move through this, if your goal is to become a great power lifter, this advice isn't going to work. These tips are going to help the average hobbyist get in better volume in less time in order to get stronger, bigger, and more limber over time.
1. Get up a lot earlier and go to bed a little bit earlier. TLDR: Sleep 10 PM - 5 AM
If we are honest with ourselves, it is likely that nothing productive is happening after nine o clock at night (though perhaps something reproductive is happening, but I doubt it). Now if you're a busy parent, after 9 PM may be the only time you get with your spouse, and if that is the case, you should make that hour from 9-10 dedicated to being together, talking through your days, your goals, the highs and lows, and checking in to see how you can support one another and hopefully also have some laughs. Going to bed at 10:00 PM is the key, it gives you enough time to connect with your spouse, friends, family, while still getting to bed at a reasonable time.
Then the hard part comes. You need to be up by 4:50 AM. That's right. If you can manage it, it will change your life. That gives you just under 7 hours of sleep, which for most people is enough, though not everyone, so be aware and honest about your own requirements. If your sleep quality is poor, you have a waking baby, or other things keeping you up through the night, I don't recommend this approach. Rest is crucial, I'm not advising you to denigrate it, merely be honest with how much you actually need. If you get decent sleep, then 7 hours should be enough.
Now, if you have a flexible job, you can use this time to start work early so you can lift in the afternoon. If you have to go into work at a set time like myself, you may have to become a morning lifter*. This presents its own challenges, but man does it feel good when you do it.
*Please see the blog on fasted lifting if this is you.
2. Shorter Workouts. TLDR: Antagonistic Super-sets, Flexibility, and Intensity
Another way to get your weekly volume in on a tight schedule is to simply make the workouts shorter or more flexible. Shorter seems obvious, so we'll get to that in a second, but what does flexible mean? By flexible, I mean performing exercises that are quick to enter and exit, are adaptable, and induce muscular failure more quickly. Compound movements come to mind, because they work more muscles at once, but they tend to have a lengthy entry time and exit time due to weight set up if you're using a barbell or even dumbbells (especially at a busy gym). Compound movements done with barbell or dumbbell also tend to require a bit more warm-up time to avoid injury and get up to working weight. The solution to this is machines.
If you have access to a smith machine or various other pressing machines, these are great options to make your workout faster because:
a. Adding or removing weight is quick
b. Warming up is easier with lower chance for injury
c. You can still hit compound movements
Another flexibility tip is to go out and buy a chest-expander. If you don't know what that is, Alpha Destiny does a great video on the chest-expander and I would recommend checking it out. In short, the chest-expander is an excellent option because it offers high intensity with minimal set up, it has minimal carryover fatigue so you can move onto other movements with it without a full 2-3 minutes' rest. You can also bring it anywhere and get an intense pump at a hotel room, family holidays, or road trip. For tips on how to use this piece of equipment effectively, head over to our Instagram page and check it out.
Other flexible exercises can look like ones that have small carryover into other movements, like the chest-expander, and can therefor be done in succession. That is where antagonistic super sets come in.
A great way to make your workout maximally effective is to pair a push and pull movement for a super set. An example of this would be, if you can manage it with a busy gym, to crush a set of chest press, rest 30 seconds, then jump onto a row machine of any variety, rest 30 seconds, then jump back. This not only saves time, it also forces an increased intensity that has shown to be a potentially potent factor in building muscle.
3. Increase Frequency and Decrease Volume. TLDR: Shorter workouts more regularly
The final tip for making gains without losing time, is to increase frequency and decrease volume per workout. More, smaller workouts have the potential to be better for muscular hypertrophy than fewer, longer high volume workouts. If you have a solid daily routine or predictable schedule, it is likely easier to get in a 30 minute lift 4 days a week, than it would be to do 2 or 3 hour long lifts. So how can you alter your workout routine to be in smaller more frequent sessions? Exercise selection can help when paired with the above tips.
There is research to show that exercise variety can benefit muscle development by putting them through a more varied range of motion, giving them a fuller and denser look. So, if you can maintain interest longer, enjoy your lifts more, and keep it fresh, you're going to be able to go harder. Increase the frequency of workouts and reduce the time by dropping 1 set on each exercise, and adding 2 new sets of a completely new exercise.
Rather than doing -
♢ 3 sets on squat
♢ 3 on ham string curl
♢ 3 sets on leg extensions
♢ 3 sets of calf raises
♢ For a total of 12 sets and a lot of time
♢ 2 sets squat
♢ 2 sets ham string curl
♢ 2 sets calves
♢ 2 sets of leg press
♢ For a total of 8 sets and less time
This new structure is going to save you between 15 and 30 minutes versus the first workout, and can be done twice a week, even if the second day of this routine is shortened to adapt to the time you have available.
Even if you kept the total number of sets the same, say 12, but you pared down the sets per exercise and added a new movement, you'll still save time. How? Because we often slow in our workout on our final set(s), drag our feet getting to it because we are tired, or perhaps because we're just plain bored with the movement.
The lack of focus and overall mental fatigue can slow you down, and overly repeated movements can be more taxing on your central nervous system. By dropping sets, and adding an entirely new exercise, we can overcome a lot of this mental strain and speed up our workouts overall while simultaneously making them more enjoyable and becoming stronger in a wider range of motions.
This is specific advice with the aim of helping people simply get up and grind when they feel like they simply don't have the time. It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be completely optimized. A lot of this advice would be terrible for powerlifting applications and others, so your routine needs to be centered around what it is you're really trying to achieve. If you simply want to get steadily stronger and bigger and more energized with the time you have, these tips can be useful to get you there.
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