Want to know how to get strong, fit and healthy with minimal time investment? Here is how I try to do it with my own training.
I’m not a professional athlete of any kind. I work a regular 9-to-5 job, mostly seated. I do strength training for fun. But I’m also ambitious. I found a training template that is well-rounded, time-efficient and compatible with my schedule.
[Reading time: 5 min]
I wanna make this abundantly clear first: This works for me. It might also work for you. Or it won’t. Don’t read this as a prescription, but rather use it as inspiration.
There are certain principles included in this template that might be useful to everybody, such as
- Active rest with mobility drills
- Supersetting push/pull, upper/lower
- Alternating light and heavy workouts
- Focusing on a few movements at a time
Weekly Strength Training
I do a 5 minute flow every morning. I wrote about this extensively here. I basically string together joint circles and mobility drills for at least 5 minutes. When I feel like it, I might do up to 20 minutes. But I mostly spend about 7-10 minutes, on average.
I do my flow immediately after my first visit to the bathroom and feel awesome afterwards.
My training week is structured as follows:
- I train 4 times a week.
- Each training consists of a warm-up, 2 strength blocks and some kind of finisher.
- I train all 4 movement groups (upper/lower, push/pull) during the strength blocks.
- 2 times a week, I use “heavier” variations of the movements. The other 2 times, it’s the “lighter” variations.
I usually spend about 10 minutes on my general warm-up. I take a light kettlebell (16-20kg / 35-44lbs) and go through the following movements:
- Turkish get-up
- Goblet squat bottom hold with prying
- Cossack squats
- Deep lunge with press
I described this kind of Loaded Yoga with more detail in this article. After my warm-up, I feel fresh and limber. My mobility in all joints gets a +10 upgrade. And, although all these moves are “light”, my heart rate and body temperature are nicely elevated.
Each strength block is about 15 minutes long. One block is a super-set of upper push and lower pull, the other is super-set of upper pull and lower push movement.
2 days per week, I’m at the gym, where I have access to barbells, rings, a pull-up bar and some other smaller equipment (foam roller, bands, etc.). On the other 2 days, I’ll either train at home (where I have a few kettlebells, parallettes and a door-frame pull-up bar) or at my local park (Hamburg Stadtpark), where I have access to various pull-up bars and monkey bars.
I always do a mobility drill after each super-set. I try to use my resting time productively.
I don’t get why people choose to sit around at the gym, watching a timer until their next set. I sit all day. I make it a point to not sit at all during my training time.
After the mobility drill, I stand and try to breath diaphragmatically (i.e. into my stomach) until I feel ready for the next set.
My gym days currently look like this:
- Conventional barbell deadlift (heavy)
- Regular push-ups (light)
- Barbell front squats (heavy)
- Ring rows (light)
Looks boring, but I enjoy this. I can focus on going heavy with the deadlifts and squats and still give my upper-body joints and tendons their healthy dose of high-reps.
I tested out different squat and deadlift variations and found that conventional deadlifts and front squats feel best.
Heavy means I can perform 2-5 reps with stellar form. Light exercises are done for 15-30 reps.
I found that I can do one session per week really heavy, so that I can only do 2-3 reps per set. The other gym session is medium heavy, which allows me to do 5-6 reps.
For the barbell moves, I do specific warm-ups. I do 2 sets at about 50% and 80% of my 5 rep max. This basically gets my nervous system fired up for the heavy work sets. I mostly eyeball this based on how the weight “feels”. I don’t like to fuss about numbers when I train.
When I walk into the gym, I don’t know if I have a heavy or a medium day. My warm-up sets tell me. On some days, the barbell is flying up during the warm-up (YES. Jackpot. I can go heavy!). On other days, the second warm-up set almost feels like a work set. This means I have to tame my inner Wolverine and go relatively easy.
I usually do 3-6 sets of the heavy moves and 3 sets of the light moves. By doing fewer light sets, I can fully concentrate on the last few heavy sets and rest more.
My home/park days are as follows:
- Front-lever progression (heavy)
- airborne lunges (light/medium)
- Freestanding handstand push-up progression (medium/heavy)
- 1-legged deadlift (light)
This is mostly bodyweight stuff. These are also the days where I allow myself some variety. So I might change it up and do some one-arm push-ups instead of the HSPU work. Or I practice muscle-ups paired with plain old bodyweight squats. Play time.
But my main agenda is nailing the freestanding HSPU and a good solid 5 second front-lever.
My hip flexors are still recovering from an injury, so I go easy on the single leg stuff (strangely, heavy front squats don’t bother me much).
The 1-legged deadlift is done with light kettlebells at home or bodyweight only (slow and controlled is the key here) at the park. Sometimes I swap these for kettlebell swings at home.
This is my time to “get in shape”. I do some form of HIIT (high intensity interval training) at the end of each training. This can be one of the following:
- Kettlebell swings
- Rowing machine (at the gym)
- Jumping rope
- Loaded carries
- Ab work (hanging leg raises, ab-wheel, side planks)
This will be 10 intense minutes. I admit that I like feeling toasted after a workout. I also like that this helps keep/improve my body composition with minimal time investment.
This article describes my perfect week. I don’t often have a perfect week.
My gym days are pretty much non-negotiable. It’s as if my calendar is blocked on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
The other 2 days are sprinkled into the week according to my social commitments. I have other hobbies besides strength training and I enjoy socializing. Sometimes I get the best of both worlds and I go climbing or participate in a pick-up game with friends and colleagues.
Sometimes I feel like just playing around at the monkey bars, do some sprints and go home. When I get home from work later than usual and I’m exhausted, I do my kettlebell warm-up and then do a quick session of 100 kettlebell swings (4 sets of 25, 30 seconds rest).
Some weeks, I’m sore because I had an intense session at the gym, so I just play around with some mobility drills or other fancy movements.
The point is: I always try to get my 4 days of training in. But my life doesn’t depend on it and I don’t feel bad if I don’t follow the “plan”. I have my non-negotiable, more rigidly planned gym days and 2 complementary days where I kinda wing it.
I think this mixture of structure and variety is actually a good thing. I have a plan for the stuff I need to do and the freedom to do the stuff I want to do. I also hate being injured more than anything else and this built-in variety (hopefully) prevents any overuse injuries.