It's great to post things on social media about having no excuses and never missing a day in the gym, but sooner or later, whether you like it or not, life will usually find you.
I don't mean this to be a bad thing, either. Maybe you have a new kid, a demanding project, or a professional opportunity that you can't—and shouldn't—take lightly. These things sometimes have to take precedence over the gym, and to pretend they don't would be silly.
But the question remains: What do you do on those days? To start, don't set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Training two days a week, while much better than nothing, probably isn't going to get you into the proverbial "best shape of your life." There's just no way around that. However, it's definitely enough to maintain strength and keep anyone from asking "What happened to you?"
Here are two complete plans, for two situations. Keep them filed away, and when you need them, make good use of them!
The Weekender and the Twice-a-Weeker
When it comes down to training twice a week you have plenty of split options, depending on your situation and how those days are spaced. Here are the two I prefer:
- If your training days are back-to-back or close to it, like weekends, I recommend an upper/lower split so that the two days don't interfere much with each other.
- If you can separate your sessions by at least a couple of days, (such as Wednesday and Saturday, or something similar) I prefer two full-body training sessions: one full-body push, the other full-body pull.
Either option is fine, and it comes down to your situation and personal preference. Both are also compatible with the home gym setup I laid out in my article "Get Maximum Results from Minimal Equipment."
Just remember that, since you only have two days to train, you want to focus on getting the most bang for your buck. Unfortunately, that means there won't be a whole lot of isolation work in there. Therefore, you'll want to start with a foundation built of heavy, compound lifts:
- Squat variations
- Explosive pulls, like snatch high pulls and barbell cleans
- Bench presses and overhead-press variations
- Pull-ups and rows
Supersets and paired sets are also your friends here. I can hear some of you already thinking, "That's no different than any training program", and you'd be right.
The difference is that with a normal program of 4-5 days per week, there is more room to dabble. With only two days you don't have that luxury, so these lifts will have much more focus placed on them. That's not to say you can't do some curls—you will—but acknowledge on the front end that you're not going to be getting a full arm session in.
The Weekender: Two Consecutive Training Days
Day 1 Notes:
For the leg extensions, use a leg extension/curl tool off of the end of a bench. Alternately, you can perform goblet squats.
For the leg curls, use a leg extension/curl tool off of the end of a bench. Alternately, you can perform the natural glute ham raises with your feet anchored.
The Twice-a-Weeker: Nonconsecutive Training Days
What Makes These Programs Work
If you look at the structure of both sessions, you'll find that they follow a tried and true sequence. As long as you follow this general structure, there's an infinite number of workouts you could construct on your own. The workouts I've given you are just the start.
First: Explosive Power Work
In the programs above, these include snatch and clean variations, push-presses, and explosive pull-ups. Done for low reps, these moves develop power and lifting speed, and also preferentially recruit fast twitch muscle fibers, priming your system for what's to follow.
Second: Compound Heavy Lifts
These are your benches, deadlifts, squats, and pull-ups. In the twice-a-week programs, I recommend you stay in the heavy-but-not-crushing rep range of around 8 reps. This is just heavy enough to maintain strength and get a little hypertrophy stimulus. This is the main course of the workout. Don't skip it!
Third: Secondary Movements for Volume
Here are your rows, dumbbell moves, and lunges. By focusing on supersets and paired sets, you'll be able to maintain muscle and push your heart rate. If you have a truly limited amount of time, this and detail work are where you start cutting.
Fourth: Detail Work
Arms and abs aren't the main course in minimalist training, they're the dessert. Enjoy them, but don't let them get in the way of the entree.
Pro Tip: Fit Other Stuff in When you Can
Even if you can only make time for a serious training session a couple of times per week, you can amplify your training by weaving in a little bit of extra work wherever possible.
Sitting at home with your family at the end of a long day of work? Great. Try knocking out a set of pushups, sit-ups, planks, or pull-ups during commercial breaks when you're watching TV. It's amazing how quickly sets of 20-50 pushups add up over the course of the night. Your pecs, tris, and delts will thank you, too.
You Have Options!
Depending on your needs and equipment, there are endless variations to this. The point is that, while probably not ideal, training twice a week can still be effective. If you can commit to this, throw in some conditioning work once or twice a week, and keep your diet somewhat in line, you won't lose any ground. In fact, you may find you like how much energy and excitement you bring to your two workouts.