What Is The Best Workout When You Are Short On Time?

What is the best workout when you are short on time? Get a quickie right here to boost your training efficiency. The following routines and tips are exactly what you need. These include GPP, HIIT, EDT and more. Check it out!

TOPIC: What Is The Best Workout When You Are Short On Time?

The Question:

You're headed to the gym for a standard session of training, but then you suddenly get a call and hear that you have to make an important meeting. You decide that 20-30 minutes in the gym isn't enough time, so you turn around. The next day when headed to the gym you find out that you have to pick up the kids from practice in an hour. It's important to get this workout in, but you're just not sure if you'll have enough time to get a good session in. What should you do?

What is the best workout when you are short on time? Be specific.

How effective can this quick workout be?

When short on time is it easier to do an aerobic or strength training workout?

Bonus Question: Have you ever been short on time for training? How often does it happen, and how do you deal with it?

Show off your knowledge to the world!

The Winners:

      1st place - 75 in store credit.
      2nd place - 50 in store credit.

To use your credit, e-mail Will @ will@bodybuilding.com for more info.

1st Place - Xtrainer
View This Author's BodySpace Here.

It's a simple reality of the active lifestyle - sometimes you just won't be able to squeeze in a full-length workout. While your workout may have to be short on time, it doesn't have to be short on effectiveness.

What Is The Best Workout When You Are Short On Time? Be Specific.

Even "the best" workout is only a "good" workout if it meets your goals. My favorite short workouts can be divided into a few basic categories.

-> Strength:

    Yes, it is possible to perform a decent strength workout in half an hour. Should you make a habit of it? No! But in a pinch, refuse to allow yourself to believe, "Well, I can't accomplish anything in a half hour so why bother working out at all?" Some quality strength training is much better than none at all.

    When it comes to brief strength workouts, I suggest focusing on a single (Read: ONE) compound movement. Good choices include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and Olympic lifts. These lifts use lots of muscle and are extremely tiring.

+ Click To Enlarge.
I Suggest Focusing On A Single Compound Movement.

    Since you don't have much time, you're going to be lifting with great intensity. You should be using weights that allow you to complete only about five repetitions per set. Keep the volume low. Your focus should be on lifting heavy weights with good form.

    Here are a few examples of quick strength workouts. Always use proper form with these lifts, and consult a medical or fitness professional before engaging in physical activity.

    Squat I:

      While this squat workout certainly has its strength benefits, it is also well-suited for those seeking to put on some mass. It is based on one of the most tried and proven mass building programs of all time. More on "20 Rep Squats" can be found here.


[ Click here to learn more. ]
20-Rep Squats.
High rep squats work wonders for building muscular bulk and strength, not just for the legs, but for the entire body. The program is ridiculously simple ...
David Whitley

      • 1:00 Cardio warm-up, followed by some stretches. (IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER TO WARM UP EVEN IF YOU ARE SHORT ON TIME! If you get injured, you can expect to miss a few workouts. An ounce of prevention is greater than a pound of cure.)
      • 10xBar
      • 5x50% 10-RM
      • 3x75% 10-RM
      • 20x100% 10-15-RM
      • That's not a misprint, although it might not be completely plausible for all people. The general premise behind 20-rep squats is to take your 10-15 repetition max, and squat it 20 times. This means you'll have to take a lot of deep breaths as you stand and rest in preparation for the next rep.

      • A couple minutes of low intensity cardio - This will help to flush the lactic acid from your muscles.
      • print Click Here For A Printable Log Of Squat I Workout.

    Squat II:

      This is a more power-focused squat workout. Your working sets will only be three reps each. You can do up to 10 sets if you like in the time you have available, but 3-5 sets should be plenty if you're truly lifting heavy.

      Don't be afraid to take a good long rest in between sets, either. The squat is an extremely demanding lift, and you will probably need a few minutes to recover.


      When you're pressed for time, there's nothing in the world like a deadlift session to make you feel like you've made the most of every minute. This workout is based on sheer simplicity: You pick up a heavy object up off the ground with your whole body, then repeat.

      • 1:00 Cardio warm-up, followed by some stretches.
      • 10xBar
      • 10x20% 1-RM
      • 5x50% 1-RM
      • 2x75% 1-RM
      • After the warm-up sets, lift 80-90% or so of your one rep max for singles. It is important to reset after every rep when training with heavy deadlifts, for the sake of proper form (and your back!). Crank out as many reps as you can in the allotted time, but don't rush through your rest periods.
      • A couple minutes of low intensity cardio.
      • print Click Here For A Printable Log Of Deadlift Workout.

    Bench Press:

      While not the full-body killer that a squat or deadlift is, the bench press is nonetheless a great movement. This quick workout is based on the popular 5x5 routine used by both bodybuilders and strength athletes alike. Bodybuilding.com has several articles about the 5x5 for more information.

-> General Physical Preparedness-"GPP":

    GPP (by whatever name) bridges the gap between cardiovascular and strength training. It combines elements of both into an exhausting workout that provides some of the strength and power benefits of conventional strength training, as well as aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.

    It is a style of training that many are unfamiliar with, but will come to love after they give it a try. The key word is after: GPP workouts give new meaning to the term "intensity," and you won't be loving them much while you're fighting to keep your lunch down. You can learn more about GPP here.


[ Click here to learn more. ]
Sledgehammer GPP!
What I am really going to talk about is a different type of General Physical Preparedness (GPP) exercise-Sledge hammering!
Intensity Magazine

    There are an infinite variety of GPP workouts. You are limited only by your imagination. The main criteria for good GPP workouts is that they involve your whole body and are free from excessive "slowdowns" (Leisurely resetting between lifts, walking across the gym between exercises, etc.). However, they often fall into one of a few categories:

    A GPP Workout For TIME:

      The goal of some GPP workouts is to complete as many repetitions or circuits as you can within a given amount of time. Here's a full-body GPP workout for time:

      Note that this is not just a haphazard conglomerate of exercises. The snatches are meant to be done heavy, and should be the most challenging part of the circuit. The pull-ups will start out easy, but will grow difficult after the first few rounds.

      The push-ups and bodyweight squats give you a chance to catch your breath before undertaking the more challenging parts of the circuit once again. At the same time, however, they'll start to burn near the end of the allotted time. Don't forget, it's perfectly okay if you have to stop and rest a few times. Just as long as you're pushing yourself, you'll be making progress.

      One of the neat things about GPP is the variety of different progressions you can make as the original circuit becomes too easy for you. You could try to complete the circuit faster, performing more circuits the given amount of time.

      Or you could increase the time and continue at the same pace. Or you could use heavier weights, or wear a weight vest, or increase pace and wear a weight vest or ... you get the point?

    A GPP Workout For REPS:

      Other GPP workouts have no particular time frame. Instead, it's up to you to push yourself to complete the prescribed number of reps. Here's a simple yet effective GPP workout for reps:

      The first 10 reps or so will come easy. The next few reps will start to tax your shoulders and triceps, and your legs will begin to fatigue shortly thereafter. By rep 25 or so, you'll be sucking wind like you ran a marathon. Keep breathing. You're only half-way!

      As with the timed GPP workout, rest if you must. Just keep fighting through to the end as fast as you can, even if you get to the point where you can only crank out 3-or-4 reps at a time.

    A GPP Workout Based On SPRINTS:

      You can create a plethora of GPP workouts based on sprints. A frequent practice is to mix in bodyweight resistance exercises with sprints. Here's a sprint-based GPP workout sample:

      Note that the crunches in this workout, like the bodyweight squats in the first GPP workout I presented, offer you a chance to catch your breath before moving on to another sprint.

-> Conditioning:

    Although most of us would probably like to lift weights all the time, cardiovascular conditioning workouts are essential for athletic performance and general health. It is well known that cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and lungs [among many other benefits], builds stamina (Waehner) and much more. So do your cardio.

    These sample workouts will follow a different template than the previous workouts; whether it be overall time, time at a given intensity, or time at rest. You can apply any form or cardio you want to these templates - whether it be running, biking, swimming or a machine you like, such as a rower.

    The Tabata Protocol:

      The Tabata protocol allows for a quick but extremely intense cardiovascular and anaerobic workout. Workouts like this are so intense that they leave your metabolism elevated for a long period of time afterward, which means you burn calories while at rest. The Tabata protocol basically works like this:

      That's it. Now, some people will finish there. Others will perform a few different series of Tabatas, perhaps doing a different exercise each time (running, then rowing, for example). Still others change the work/rest ratio somewhat, or alter the overall time. For more on Tabatas, see this article.

Mahler's Aggressive Strength
[ Click here to learn more. ]
Mahler's Aggressive Strength Q&A.
Find out what bodyweight drills to do when you are away from the gym, how to spice up your cardio, how to increase your bench press and all about Charles Staley.
Mike Mahler

    HIIT Training:

      High intensity interval training is similar to Tabatas in many ways. There will be periods of high and low intensity, and the overall duration is shorter than conventional cardiovascular training. HIIT training also has many of the same advantages as Tabata training, including a metabolic boost that continues even after you have finished exercising. Here's a simple HIIT scheme:

      There are a million and one other ways to arrange this. For example, this is a 1-1 work-rest ratio. You may prefer a 1-2, or a 2-1, or something in between. The choice is yours. More information on HIIT can be found here.


[ Click here to learn more. ]
High Intensity Interval Training!
With High Intensity Interval Training you can burn more fat while spending less time in the gym. I will explain how you can get the best results from this.
Justin Palermo

    Low Intensity Cardio:

      Sometimes your body just needs a break. Low intensity cardio allows your body to recover, while still providing the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Low intensity cardio is a great way to loosen up a stiff and sore body. This is any easy one: 10-30 minutes of your choice of cardio at a relaxing pace.

      For a relatively fit person, this might mean a light run or jog. For others, it will be a walk or bike ride. Low intensity cardio is not meant to be the staple of your fitness regimen, but it is an invaluable tool for the maintenance of a healthy body.

How Effective Can This Quick Workout Be?

    This question is dangerously worded. A better question: How effective can you make a quick workout? The effectiveness of these quick workouts, or any workout for that matter, is a determined by what you put into them.

    Now, obviously, if you're standing there doing nothing but bicep curls and pouring your heart into every rep, you're still not going to get anywhere. But when things like full-body lifting, explosive circuits and high intensity cardio are prescribed, it is up to the trainee to put in the sweat, and he or she will see results.

    I firmly believe that workouts like those suggested above are better than 90% of the workouts most people do in the gym, which consist of haphazard isolation lifts and mind-numbingly dull cardio routines.

    Still, if you want to get into elite shape, save the short workouts for when you really need them, and use full length workouts when you can. There is so much information out there for one to either design a program or follow a "cookie-cutter" program, so I won't get into that here. Suffice it to say that your focus should be on following a solid, full-length workout program and using short workouts when you must.

Aerobic Or Strength
When Short On Time Is It Easier To Do An Aerobic Or Strength Training Workout?

As I have written above, either type of workout (or a mixture of both, in the case of GPP) can be performed with relative ease even in a short amount of time. Which workout you choose depends entirely on your goals.

Bonus Question
Have You Ever Been Short On Time For Training? How Often Does It Happen, And How Do You Deal With It?

I have occasionally been short on time for training, although I try to plan my workouts in advance to make sure I will have plenty of time. But, a few times a month or so, something unexpected will come up and I'll have to perform a workout with restricted time.

I use the same methods I suggested in this article, with my particular favorites being full body lifts like squats and deadlifts and Tabata sprints.


  1. Intensity Magazine, "Sledgehammer GPP." BodyBuilding.com. 23 Sep 2007
  2. Knowles, David. "The Skinny on Aerobic Training." BodyBuilding.com. 23 Sep 2007
  3. Mahler, Mike. "Aggressive Strength Q & A." BodyBuilding.com 23 Sep 2007
  4. Palermo, Justin. "POW: High Intensity Interval Training." BodyBuilding.com. 23 Sep 2007
  5. Waenher , Paige. "Why You Need Cardio Exercise." About.com 17Mar 2007
  6. Whitley, David. "20 Rep Squats: The Brutal Path to Massive Gains!" BodyBuilding.com. 23 Sep 2007

2nd Place - shffl
View This Author's BodySpace Here.

People ranging from those who have a time consuming job or students who are taking many classes have a hard time finding time to lift consistently most of the time. As a result, they were not able to achieve the goals they have in mind. However, it is definitely possible to get bigger and stronger when time is limited with proper training, diet, and dedication.

What Is The Best Workout When You Are Short On Time? Be Specific.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to a good workout to use. To pick a workout program that is the most optimal, one has to list out their goals first. The two common ones are:

  1. Hypertrophy.
  2. Fat Loss.

Another important thing that most people have to be aware of is that since the amount of time you're going to be working out in is short, it is not a good time to be doing isolation exercises. Barbell curls and triceps kickbacks? It's time to throw those out the window.

+ Click To Enlarge.
It Is Not A Good Time To Be Doing Isolation Exercises.

What you need are exercises that are the best bang for the buck: compound exercises. Since time is limited, you need to perform exercises that target the most muscle groups in the least amount of time. On top of that, you may want to train your entire body per session.

A total body workout can do more for the muscle in a short amount of time when trained three times per week than a body part split training where it is only exposed to a short amount of time once per week.

Also, this is the best time to incorporate exercise pairing. Meaning you do one set of an exercise, rest, do another set of a different exercise, rest and repeat. This allows you to work on a different muscle group while one is recovering. The best pairing would be:

  1. Antagonistic pairing
  2. Push/pull
  3. Upper/lower

So the key points here are:

  1. Use compound over isolation exercises.
  2. Train the entire body in each session.
  3. Pair exercises accordingly.

Reminder: Since time is crucial, this is no time to be talking on the phone or chatting with your buddies when you're working out. The goal is for you to get in, train and get out as quick as possible with no distraction!

Sample workouts:

-> Hypertrophy:

    Day 1: Heavy (6-8 sets of 3-5 reps)

    Day 2: Rest or Cardio

    Day 3: Medium (4-6 sets of 8-12 reps)

    Day 4: Rest or Cardio

    Day 5: Light (2-3 sets of 15-20 reps)

    Day 6: Rest

    Day 7: Rest

      Note: Of course, you don't have to stick to the heavy/medium/light splits if you don't want to, but I just find it extremely useful when it comes to building up muscle mass since you will able to target all the muscle fibers.

      Since the goal is to gain mass here, too much cardio isn't necessary. Just 10-15 minutes of HIIT cardio can be enough if done once or twice a week.


      Try to switch up the exercises every three to four weeks. For heavy days, aim for a heavier weight each week. As for medium and light days, try to switch the sets/reps scheme. For example, one week can be 4x8 while the next week can be 3x10.

      Remember, keep the sets high when reps are low and vice versa.

    Where's The Ab Workout?

      If I'm short on time, then there's no way I'm going to waste my time training my abs directly; neither should you. However, this doesn't mean that I'm not training my abs at all! Exercises such as squat, chin-up, and deadlift are already training the abs indirectly. So don't worry about not having enough stimulation for the abs.

-> Fat Loss:

    There are multiple ways to approach this, but what I found to be the most useful: the Tabata method. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it is training method developed by a Japanese researcher to increase endurance in athletes, and coincidentally, lose fat.

    The approach is simple:

    1. Pick an exercise (Recommended: complex movement*)
    2. Perform 8 sets of 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest in between sets
    3. print Click Here For A Printable Log Of Fat Loss Workout.

    The goal is to do as many reps as possible in those 20 seconds. This isn't easy but for those who successfully did it will reap its amazing reward. In addition, the entire workout will only take four minutes!

    Pick a day (or two if you are daring) per week to perform them and a day or two of HIIT cardio. That's all you need! Along with a good diet, the fat will melt easily!

    *Complex movements are multiple exercises done in a progressive manner. For example: a front squat into a military press. The goal is to pick a complex movement that works almost the entire body.

How Effective Can This Quick Workout Be?

The effectiveness of this workout depends on the amount of dedication, especially the Tabata method. With proper dedication, anyone can achieve their goals.

The quick workout for those who aim to gain mass can be effective. It is basically three days total body training, targeting all the available muscle fibers, both fast and slow, through the heavy, medium and light day and best of all, each workout does not require more than 30 minutes of your time.

The Tabata method has been proven to be effective for those who successfully completed it. Although it's grueling and seems almost impossible, there is no doubt in its effectiveness for fat loss.

Aerobic Or Strength
When Short On Time Is It Easier To Do An Aerobic Or Strength Training Workout?

The truth is ... they are both easy! It ultimately depends on the goal of the trainee. If the goal is to gain mass or strength, then it is easier with strength training. If it is for fat loss or endurance, then aerobic training can be easier to do.

So without a doubt, both strength training and aerobic training is easy to do when short on time; it just depends on what an individual is trying to achieve to decide which form of training is easier to do.

Bonus Question
Have You Ever Been Short On Time For Training? How Often Does It Happen, And How Do You Deal With It?

As a college student, I have a lot of incidences when I have only a short amount of time to workout due to midterms and final exams. Being a science major, I have a lot of classes in which I have to spend a large amount of time studying. Bodybuilding has become a huge part of my life so there was no way I could've given it up despite having only a short amount of time.

I discovered that not all workouts have to be long when I stumbled across: the method of lifting low reps and high sets, exercise pairing and the importance of compound exercises. By following those three methods, I have made one of the best gains I ever had and also broke a plateau that I was stuck in bench press. I believe those three methods are essential to the development of a good workout program that does not take up a lot of time.


[ Click here to learn more. ]
Bust Out Of Your Plateau Now!
Some folks don't even realize they're in a rut, as they religiously plod along, training day after day, convinced that everything is fine ... Well everything is not fine!
Tim Wescott

3rd Place - liqvvid
View This Author's BodySpace Here.

Your headed to the gym for a standard session of training, but then you suddenly get a call and hear that you have to make an important meeting. You decide that 20-30 minutes in the gym isn't enough time, so you turn around. The next day when headed to the gym you find out that you have to pick up the kids from practice in an hour. It's important to get this workout in, but your just not sure if you'll have enough time to get a good session in. What should you do?

What Is The Best Workout When You Are Short On Time? Be Specific.

The best and most time efficient workout when you are short on time would have to be Escalating Density Training or EDT for short. EDT is a training philosophy created by Charles Staley. His book Muscle Logic is the very detailed version of EDT.

+ Click To Enlarge.
Bodybuilding.com Writer, Charles Staley.

The way EDT works is ingenious; you take your 10 rep max of 2-or-3 exercises and use half of your 10 rep max. This may seem confusing to many of you, but it deals with the pounds of force and how long your rest periods are. Here is a direct example from Charles Staley's Book Muscle Logic:


    If you are doing a 135 pound squat for 10 reps of 3 sets the amount of force would look like this

    • Rep 1: 154 lbs of force
    • Rep 2: 152 lbs of force
    • Rep 3: 150 lbs of force
    • Rep 4: 148 lbs of force
    • Rep 5: 146 lbs of force
    • Rep 6: 144 lbs of force
    • Rep 7: 142 lbs of force
    • Rep 8: 140 lbs of force
    • Rep 9: 138 lbs of force
    • Rep 10: 136 lbs of force

    Average force per rep: 145lbs

    Compared to doing a 135 pound squat for 3 reps of 10 sets it would look like this

    • Rep 1: 154 lbs of force
    • Rep 2: 152 lbs of force
    • Rep 3: 150 lbs of force

    Average force per rep: 152lbs

    *The reason for this is because higher forces lead to greater muscular tensions and that leads to overall strength or lean mass gains.


    Now since we have the whole rep principle understood the other most important part is the intensity. For EDT after you choose the 2-or-3 exercises you want and figured the correct weights it is time to set the time limit. You are going to do as many sets as you can in a 10-or-15 minutes time frame with minimal rest. Obviously the more sets you in the time frame the less reps and more rest you will need. Remember especially to keep a log to keep track of your progressions when you use EDT.

    Here are few sample workouts that are great to use to for EDT:

-> Sample Workout 1: Chest & Back:

-> Sample Workout 2: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, & Lower Back:

    Total Number Of Exercises:4
    Total Duration to Complete: 20-30 minutes

  • Front Squats Superset with Romanian Deadlifts for 10-15 minutes no more then 5 reps (10 rep max) each set
  • Leg Extensions (holding on top for 3 seconds) Superset with Seated Leg Curls for 10-15 minutes no more then 8 reps (16 rep max) each set
  • print Click Here For A Printable Log Of Sample Workout 2.

    Since the lower body has much bigger muscles you will burn a great deal of calories on this quick but effective leg workout. Also I put lower back in with legs because you will target your lower back with with these sort of leg exercises.

-> Sample Workout 3: Deltoids, Biceps, & Triceps:

How Effective Can This Workout Be?

EDT is time efficient and you get the most work done possible if you do it exactly as written. Another great reason why this quick workout is so effective is because it's a real muscle shocker, and your body will not be used to this at all. I recommend buying a stopwatch because you might be so concentrated on your workout you might go over the time limit.


[ Click here to learn more. ]
Modified EDT Program For Serious Strength Increases!
The program worked well and I had clients putting on size and increasing strength like never before.
Mike Mahler

Last is you will burn so many calories (even in a little time frame) because of the work-to-rest ratio of EDT, and also it will skyrocket your endurance especially after the first few times. So maybe your friend's workout is a half hour longer than yours since he is in no rush, but you get just as much done as him in a shorter time period burning just as many calories.


    Say Rich is doing a Bench Press and they do 10 reps and then they rest a good minute to two minutes and begin the next set. Say Tim someone else in the gym is doing EDT and he does 5 reps on another Bench Press and Supersets it with 5 reps on the T-Bar Row. Maybe he will rest 10 seconds or so but he goes right back into the first exercise. Tim's work-to-rest ratio is much better then Rich's.

Aerobic Or Strength
When Short On Time Is It Easier To Do An Aerobic Or Strength Training Workout?

The benefits of strength training are far greater than training aerobically because you can improve your aerobic fitness especially with EDT, and it does not work the other way around. So if you strength train 3-or-4 times a week you will become much more fit then if you were to do an hour of cardio each day.

People tend to forget that after you are done with a cardio session your hear rate goes back down and your back to your basal metabolic rate. As with weight training your metabolism is raised for the next 24 hours in order to repair the broken down muscle fibers.

Muscle Fibers: How Do They Differ?
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Muscle Fibers: How Do They Differ?
Our body is composed of many different groups of muscles and each person has a unique composition of muscle tissue in their body.
Shannon Clark

Bonus Question
Have You Ever Been Short On Time For Training? How Often Does It Happen, And How Do You Deal With It?

I am a full time student and if I am not at school I am at the gym training clients. So yes, this happens more times than none. I might have 45 minutes in between leaving school and going to work. So there is nothing better than getting a quick EDT workout in before I train someone. Since I know exactly what time I will get done, I will have enough time to clean up and get dressed.

I don't do EDT every time I train because most days I will find some time to put away for training, but I don't mind using EDT at all because it's a completely different way to train and that's what you need to do, keep your body guessing.


  1. Muscle Logic: Escalating Density Training by Charles Staley