In a perfect world, we would all be wonderful, disciplined people with lots of time to devote to training. Everybody would have a training plan perfectly tailored to their needs and would follow it religiously. But life usually gets in the way and that’s fine. Here are my favorite, super quick and effective workouts for when I don’t have time for perfect.
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In a recent article, I laid out what my current training looks like. At the end I admitted that I described the perfect week which doesn’t come along all that often.
Surely most of you reading this are in a similar position. We can all fight this imperfection and tell ourselves that one day, we’re going to figure this out and finally follow a training program to a T forever.
Alternatively, we can be honest with ourselves and accept that that day won’t come any time soon. When training is not your profession and your life does not depend on your physical performance (or appearance), you need to learn to embrace compromises.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want you to make significant progress with your training. I still think some kind of training template is beneficial to almost everybody.
And a template is exactly what you need. Sure, there are tons of quality programs and plans out there. They will get you results. But “missing” workouts of a prescribed plan can be detrimental to your psychology.
Look at your training as a journey (I know, sounds cheesy, but hear me out). Let’s say you’re stranded on an island and you need to get to a certain spot on the island to call for help (the SOS spot).
A prescribed training plan is an exact set of directions to get you from A to B. If you follow the directions exactly as written down, you’ll get to the SOS spot. Assume you got hunted by a tiger and had to take a detour. You’re fucked now.
A training template is as if you had a compass and a map. Equipped with compass and map, you’re free to run away from the tiger, rescue the beautiful girl and try out that exotic fruit you spotted on the way to the SOS spot. You won’t be as fast as you would have been if you’d have managed to follow the exact directions. But you can handle unplanned detours much better while still arriving at your destination.
Bottom line: Templates might not be perfect, but they have superior error tolerance. It gets the job done and you can still enjoy life. And you’re not lost when you can’t get your regular training session in on a given day.
But how do you set up such a template? How are you planning to handle these detours?
You make space for the unplanned.
The main question is: What if this was easy?
What if I could spend minimal time on my training and still get the results I hoped for? Can it be too easy?
Here’s a suggestion: Make time for two focused training sessions and one super quick workout per week. That’s it.
Each session consists of
- a warm-up
- one strength block
- a finisher or assistance work
That right there is 45 minutes per session, so 90 minutes per week.
What are you serious? How am I gonna get shit done in the gym?
Don’t worry, this will be plenty and we’re not quite done yet.
Throw in one super quick workout per week and you’ve got yourself a decent training week. Skip the rest of my ramblings and check out the workouts below for examples.
But if you’re interested in how I set up my training week even more minimalistic, check out this little template:
- Heavy deadlift 5-3-2
- Handstand push-up practice
- 20 front + back squats
- Front lever practice
For the deadlifts, I put on more plates with each set. So the first set is 5 reps with 60% of my 1RM (one rep max), 3 with 80% and 2 with 90% (based on how the weight feels).
For the squats, I choose a weight that I can front squat (bar rests on chest) for 6-8 reps. I quickly unrack the barbell when I can no longer do another front squat and do the remaining reps (of the 20 in total) with the barbell on my upper back (back squat). I feel like dying for 5 minutes afterwards.
For bodyweight skills, practice means lots of sets (5-10) with few reps (2-3) and plenty of rest in between. Here, I sprinkle in more mobility drills as active rest.
For warm-ups, I recommend Loaded Yoga. For finishers, stuff like ab-work, loaded carries (pick up a heavy weight and walk around with it), jump rope intervals, burpees, etc. come to mind.
Pro tip: If you work out at a gym for your focused training sessions, pick the two least busiest times possible. For me, that’s Monday and Friday night or Sunday noon.
15-20 minutes of high intensity. Here are my favorites (choose one per week):
Sprints + Chin-ups & Dips
- Sprint 40-60 meters/yards (preferably uphill or in sand)
- Walk back (that’s your rest)
- Do a super-set of chin-ups and dips (as many as you can with good form)
- Take a few deep breaths and repeat.
4-6 times and you should be toast. This gets in upper body strength work, explosiveness, cardio and leg power.
The Famous 10 Minute Workout
It’s not famous yet, but it can be if you believe in it 😉
This is for when your other 2 focused training sessions were really intense and you need a little movement therapy to recover. Click here for details.
Loaded Yoga Twice
I promoted Loaded Yoga as a warm-up method. You can also use it as a workout. Just do more of it. If you already use it as your regular warm-up, even better. You’re already doing it twice per week, meaning you already know all the moves by heart. No thinking required.
Even if you prefer other methods to warm up, the same principle applies. Do just your warm-up, or an extended version of it. Do the whole thing twice, or do double the reps or just hold each position a little longer.
Turkish Get-up and Swings
- Do one turkish get-up (TGU) on each side.
- Then do a set of heavy kettlebell swings (i.e. you can only do 5-10 good, powerful reps). If you don’t have a KB heavy enough for heavy swings, do light swings (so 20-30 crisp swings).
- Repeat for 15 minutes.
This is a mixture of some Loaded Yoga and power work (or cardio). When you get tired, be wise and pick an appropriate weight. Especially for the TGUs, quality of movement is what counts, not the number on the KB.
15 Minute Non-Stop Bodyweight
- Pick a few exercises (5 tops) that you can do instantly without any kind of setup whatsoever
- Set a timer for 15 minutes
- Go do those exercises
The order of execution, number of reps or sets or the color of your sweatpants doesn’t matter. Just do the exercises in any way you like.
Pace yourself so you don’t have to rest. Rest minimally and only if needed.
Do 100 KB swings. Get this training session done as quickly as possible. A few options I tried:
- :15/:15 intervals: Swing the KB for 15 seconds, rest for 15 seconds. You should be able to do 10 swings per work set (so 10 rounds).
- 4×25: 4 set of 25 swings. Start with 30 seconds of rest between sets. Use shorter resting times when you do the workout again.
- 10+15+25+50: Do 4 sets of swings with these repetition numbers. Rest about 30 seconds between sets. The last one is brutal 😉
Rows and Crawls
- Pick a rowing movement (e.g. barbell row, bodyweight row with a bar or rings or TRX, dumbbell row. Not the rowing cardio machine).
- Do an 80% effort set of rows. (Say you can do 10 bodyweight rows. Stop at 8.)
- Crawl for about 25 meters yards.
- Repeat for a total of 5 times.
This workout can do wonders for your posture. As I mentioned before, high-rep training is especially beneficial when it comes to the upper back muscles.
Crawling seems like the perfect partner for rowing. Done correctly, it taps into core stability, motor control and shoulder stability.
50 Push-ups and 100 Squats
Very simple: do 50 push-ups and 100 squats. Surprised?
I challenge you to do this under 5 minutes.
I could go on forever with this. These are not the most sophisticated, scientifically tested workouts that ever existed.
The point that I want to get across: You’re allowed to do workouts like these. You have my official permission to use the most simple, dumbed down version of a workout that you can come up with.
A problem I see emerging with many training enthusiasts is this: We’re over-optimizing our workouts. It has to be the best and most sophisticated training plan there is. We don’t want to waste time and it has to sound sciency.
But we forget one mayor factor: Human psychology.
The best workout is the one you actually do.
It is so important to pick a template that you cannot fail. I found that 2+1 (2 focused training sessions, one bonus workout per week) is the foolproof way for me.
Give these workouts a try. What are your favorite quick workouts?