I'm guessing you're one of those people who walks into the gym with a goal and a planned training session, and you put in the time and effort to make things happen.
And there's no better feeling than seeing progress and getting closer to your goals.
Unfortunately, on occasion, life happens:
- Your boss decides you're not dedicated enough, and warns you to rack up more hours, or else.
- Your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse decides they need more TLC and you need to be "around more."
- Or you flat out get really friggin' busy and simply don't have as much time to train as you'd like!
Luckily for you, I've got a few tricks up my sleeve to make sure you can catch a great workout regardless of your setting or circumstances.
Equipped for Efficiency
Let's start with those few gym tools you are going to need. I've chosen them for their McGyver-like efficiency, meaning they each do many different things.
- 2 kettlebells
- 2 dumbbells
- TRX suspension trainer
- A little bit of open space
With these basic pieces of equipment, you now have access to bodyweight exercises, tons of unstable surface training options via the TRX. You can start loading any movement pattern once you have a kettlebell or dumbbell in hand.
Even if you only use these pieces sparingly, I can guarantee they'll be used for the rest of your life. Pick them up now and thank me later.
I'm going to show you how to get a kick-ass workout using just these elements, even when you find yourself in a training environment that is less than ideal, like when you're traveling.
Before we dive into these four workouts, let me introduce (or possibly reacquaint you with) with two of my favorite bang-for-your-buck exercises: the Turkish get-up and the "thruster."
The Turkish Get-Up
The Turkish get-up dates back 200 years. Turkish wrestlers used it to improve performance and hone their preparedness for battle. Their goal was simple: To lay down next to a 100-pound kettlebell, hoist it overhead, and assume a standing position under complete control.
Broken down, this exercise doesn't look like much. All you do is lay on your back with a dumbbell or kettlebell over your head and then stand up with it, right?
Well, yes ... and no.
The Turkish Get-up
This may be the single most impactful exercise you can perform. What else trains:
- Shoulder and scapular stability
- Extension at the thoracic spine
- Stability at the core and lumbar spine
- Hip mobility, stability, and hip extension strength
- A bunch of other geeky anatomy stuff that may only interest me!
If you perform the Turkish get-up with precision, you'll get an exercise that trains the body in a fluid, athletic manner, and hits virtually every muscle group from your neck down to your ankles. Your core will be shredded for days - it never gets a break throughout the course of the exercise!
When I was going through the Russian Kettlebell Certification, we spent hours dialing in our technique on this one very "simple" exercise.
Many people have a tendency to rush or blow through the exercise. Don't! I tell my clients to imagine they're doing a photo shoot. They should hold each position for a 1-2 count before moving on to the next segment.
If you're already familiar with the exercise, here are the individual steps you'll perform, along with some coaching cues to get you fluidly from start to finish.
- Starting position. Keep the "straight leg" long, weight on the heel of the down leg, shoulder packed back and down.
- To the elbow. I like to cue "punch and crunch," or keep the down leg LONG.
- To the hand. Keep the chest out!
- High post. Squeeze that butt cheek!
- Sweep the leg. Make sure to hold that high post!
- Half-kneeling. Knee/hip/shoulder/hand should be in a straight line.
- Stand up. This is the easiest part. Enjoy!
- Drop lunge. Keep the weight on your front heel and control the movement.
- Swivel and hinge. Swivel the back leg and then "push" into the high hip.
- Sweep the leg #2. Again, keep those hips up!
- To the hand. Keep the chest up and out!
- To the elbow. Slow down and keep controlling it!
As you can see, this is an incredibly complex exercise. When I'm coaching someone, they never hold a weight initially. Master the sequence and movements with bodyweight before adding any external load.
Dumbbell or Kettlebell Thrusters
For the longest time, I didn't even know what a "thruster" was. I'm kind of old school. I like basic names that describe what the exercise is.
So when I actually found out that a "thruster" was just a front squat to a push press, I felt pretty dumb.
The great thing about this exercise is that it can be done with a variety of implements. Therefore, it can help you achieve a bunch of various goals.
Olympic lifters use "thrusters" with barbells to improve their totals. Except in their world, this is usually in the form of a front squat, and then a push press or jerk!
With a kettlebell or dumbbell, however, this is a fantastic total-body exercise that can be used to build strength, burn fat, or a healthy combination of both. To perform a thruster, simply grab two dumbbells (or kettlebells), rack them on your shoulder, squat, and as you approach the top position, press them overhead.
Like all exercises, however, chances are you can clean up your technique a bit. Here are some coaching cues to make sure you're doing thrusters in the safest and most effective manner possible:
- When squatting, keep your elbows up. This will help keep your upper and lower properly positioned.
- Initiate the squat by sitting back, and push your knees out hard. When the exercise is done correctly, your knees should be over your toes, not inside of them.
- When returning to the top position, drop your elbow slightly to align yourself properly for the pressing portion of the lift.
- When pressing overhead, think about actively bracing your core (like someone is going to punch you in the stomach), and squeeze your glutes. This will keep you strong and stable through your midsection, protecting your lower back.
Now that you're familiar with these two exercises, here are a bunch of workouts you can try next time you're limited on time, space or a little bit of both!
The World's Most Efficient Workout
EQUIPMENT NEEDS: One or two KBs or DBs
SPACE NEEDS: A 10' x 10' space
I didn't spend all that time outlining those first two exercises for nothing! Needless to say, this one has it all - total body strength, stability, and a serious fat-loss component when done quickly. The best part about this workout? Two exercises get the job done!
Go immediately from the Turkish get-ups to the thrusters and then take a 1-2 minute break.
Repeat this as many times as you like, under one condition: If you start a set, you need to finish that set! Three quality reps of a Turkish get-up can take at least 1 minute per side. And you have to do BOTH SIDES. Then finish with your thrusters!
Trust me, this is one of those workouts that looks oh-so-easy on paper, but once you're midway through a set, you'll be cursing my family name and wishing you never read this article.
If you want to make this even tougher, consider doing all your thrusters with one kettlebell or dumbbell versus two. The offset loading will add another element of core stability and control to the program.
The Leg Sizzler
EQUIPMENT NEEDS: None
SPACE NEEDS: Minimal
Popularized back in the day by Juan Carlos Santana (not the guitarist, not the Indians catcher), the leg sizzler, or leg matrix, is undoubtedly one of the most brutal ways to train legs. With only bodyweight as your resistance, this will not only give you a killer metabolic training session, but also help lean those legs out to boot. Here's the series:
Time how long it takes you to finish the sequence, and rest exactly that long before performing another set. Most clients will start at 2-or-3 rounds, but let common sense and discomfort guide you!
If you have dodgy knees or are uncomfortable doing explosive work, I've modified this circuit in countless ways to make it more realistic (and less painful). Here's another way to skin this cat:
The Kettlebell Goblet
EQUIPMENT NEEDS: One KB or DB
SPACE NEEDS: Minimal
This is another fast-paced option that can get you lathered up in a record-setting pace! The premise here is simple - you're going to goblet squat, and you're going to swing. A lot. Perform 10 reps of the goblet squat. Grab the 'bell by the horns, sit back, push the knees out, and stay long through the spine. Now perform 10 swings. Keep the back flat, push the hips back to get a nice stretch in the hamstrings, and finish by squeezing your butt cheeks hard at the top. Now, you're going to repeat this sequence going down "the ladder."
Again, simple - but definitely not easy.
The Upper-Body and Core Crusher
EQUIPMENT NEEDS: A TRX suspension trainer
SPACE NEEDS: Minimal
Last but not least, some of you are going to want an option that focuses on upper body. To wit: This workout combines some of the old-school German Volume Training principles with the added bonus of built-in core and trunk stability. Perform 10 reps of a TRX suspension push-up. Everything should move as a unit. Flex your quads/straighten your knees, squeeze your glutes, brace your core, and keep your chest up and out throughout. Next, adjust the straps and perform 10 sets of TRX inverted rows. Same rules apply: Your body should be like a stiff board, moving as a seamless, integrated unit. Focus on squeezing/pinching your shoulder blades together on each rep. The goal is to perform 10 sets of 10 reps. Take approximately 60 seconds in between each portion of the superset.
There's no better feeling than crushing a great workout in your home gym. But sometimes, things just don't fall into place. And at that point in time, you have two options:
- Do nothing
- Do something!
Give some of the programs I've outlined above a shot. Got a better one? I'd love to read your options in the comments section below!