Time, like money, is something we could all use a little more of—OK, a lot more—but there are only 24 hours in a day. So, how do you make room for a great workout in an already jam-packed schedule? The good news is that you don't have to sacrifice your workout quality. You just have to train harder and smarter for a shorter period of time!
I'm going to show you how to make a condensed, 30-minute workout just as powerful as any lengthier session. Sure, it would be great to spend 60-90 minutes training every day, but who has that kind of time?
These short training sessions deliver strength, hypertrophy, and high-rep pump work in one tidy package. You'll be able to get in the gym, get great results, and get back to ticking off the rest of your to-do list.
Three in One
The premise behind these workouts is simple: You do three exercises in each workout, and each exercise fulfills a different training goal. With the first exercise, your goal is building strength, so you perform heavy sets of just 5 reps. With the second exercise, your pursuit is muscle growth, so you perform 8-10 reps. And with the third, you're chasing the muscle pump, which is marked by not only a higher rep target (12), but also a dropset to get the muscle burning.
Those rep targets aren't arbitrary, either. This 5-8-12 structure allows you to build muscle by tapping into all three mechanisms linked to muscle growth.
The first two exercises involve multiple joints and are completed with alternate rep targets to build both muscle and strength. Low-rep (6 and fewer) to moderate-rep (8-12) sets can induce muscle growth via both mechanical tension and muscular damage, which are both mechanisms of hypertrophy. While building strength per se isn't the goal in these workouts, you will get bigger (and definitely stronger) by including some lower-rep sets. Tackle those heaviest weights first, before fatigue has set in.
The last of the three exercises is where you'll train for the pump. Pump-training is often done with a higher-rep protocol, relying on a single-joint movement that also includes an advanced training technique. This is superior for driving fluids and nutrients into the muscle because it increases the so-called metabolic stress as the muscle swells, hitting another mechanism of growth.
5-8-12 Basics: Before You Begin
- The back workout (as shown) includes three multijoint movements, the biceps and triceps workouts have just one each, and the hamstrings and calf workout has no multijoint moves. There simply aren't a lot of multijoint exercises for the last three body parts.
- Don't be afraid to change up the exercise selections in each routine. A good workout undergoes diminishing returns after about six weeks, so make that your target date for a routine makeover.
- If you continue to follow this 5-8-12 format, exchange strong mass-building and strength-building moves (think multijoint, but from a multitude of angles) at the beginning, and single-joint movements with which you can use dropsets or another pump-inducing technique at the end.
- Don't underestimate the importance of changing angles: Do declines instead of inclines, or take an exercise you did for sets of 5 reps to the second position and perform it for sets of 8-10. Changing the stimulus means new growth and attacking weak points!
The 5-8-12 Workouts
Follow this protocol for each of the seven body-part workouts below.
- Workouts don't include warm-up sets. Do as many as you need, but never take warm-ups to muscle failure. Warm-up sets are not included in the set total.
- On your working sets, choose a weight that allows you to reach muscle failure by the target rep. Adjust as necessary on follow-up sets.
- On all sets of the third (last) movement, do a dropset on each of the four sets. Once you reach muscle failure—about the 12th rep—immediately reduce the poundage by roughly 25 percent and continue on to a second point of muscle failure.
- On some exercises, it may be difficult to continue using the same weight for all 4 sets. Adjust the weight accordingly on successive sets so you reach the target rep.