The undisputed most common reason we have inconsistent or even nonexistent training routines is lack of time. American adults rarely have the time to set aside 90 minutes a day for 4-5 days per week. One major issue is that we’ve have been given the impression that this kind of program is necessary to make any kind of strength/mass gain/fat loss progress. There are several ways that we can condense a very effective program down as far as frequency(days per week) and duration(time per session) of training.
Regardless of your goal, the very first aspect to look at to break down training time is exercise selection. We want to always pick the exercises with the largest impact, or the most compound exercises. Compound exercises incorporate multiple joint movements and therefore multiple muscle groups. Another aspect to efficiency is the potential to overload an exercise. Overload in exercise refers to a progressive increase volume and/or intensity. For example, if we are looking for a lower body exercise, we can compare back squats, and leg extensions. If you start back squatting as a beginner, it is not unrealistic to be using 100 pounds more after a year of consistent training. On leg extension, you may use 20-30 pounds more after a year of training. Therefore, along with being a compound exercise, squats will provide more benefit due to the capacity to overload.
Now that we understand how to select the best exercises, we can look at the best ways to organize them into an efficient training program. The first method I suggest is to break up your workouts into movements as opposed to muscles or muscle groups. Most compound exercises can fall into 4 main movements; Lower body Knee dominant, Lower Body Hip dominant, upper body pushing, upper body pulling. Incorporating at least one of these movements in the form of a compound movement is a great start to writing your program. To better understand these movements here is a breakdown with some examples of each.
Lower body knee dominant Main movement involves flexing and extending at the knee. Main muscles involved are the quads and glutes. Examples; All squat variations, lunge variations, split squats, GHD leg curl, step ups.
Lower body hip dominant. Flexing and extending at the hip joint. The main muscles worked are the glutes and upper hamstrings. Examples; Deadlift, Hip thrust, Romanian deadlift, kettlebell swing, good morning, back extension.
Upper body push: pushing the weight away from the body. Main muscles worked are pectorals, deltoids, triceps, and upper back. Examples: Bench press variations, overhead press, dips, push ups.
Upper body pull: pulling load towards the body: Main muscles worked are the lats, rhomboids, rear delts, traps, and biceps. Examples are pull ups, all row variations, lat pulldown.
Picking from these 4 categories can create the main framework for your program. There are multiple effective ways to organize them. The first step is to decide on a reasonable frequency for your training, meaning how many days per week you will train. For a time efficient program, 3 days per week is very common. Next is to decide on a reasonable duration for the workout. Now you can plug in movements into your training days. There are many options on how to organize. Here are a few examples to organize them into days.
Example 1: Full Body Workouts
Full body workouts have several benefits compared to isolations workouts. In stimulating the entire muscular system, you create a higher metabolic effect which can lead to burning more calories while also lifting heavy.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday:
1A) Hip Dominant
1B) Upper Body Push
2A) Knee Dominant
2B) Upper Body Pull
1A and 1B would be performed as a superset as well as 2A and 2B. The template would remain the same all three days, but you would want to differ the variations. For example, for your lower body knee dominant exercise, on Monday you may do heavy barbell backs squats, so on Wednesday you would want to do a less loaded exercise such as a Dumbbell walking lunges. This also allows you to incorporate single legged as well as bilateral exercises into each category. We can also look at upper body pressing as an example. If on Monday you perform bench press with barbell, on Wednesday you may do overhead press. Bench press variations can be considered a “horizontal” press while overhead press is a “vertical” press. Here is a basic full week example of this full body template
1A) Barbell Deadlift
1B) Dumbell bench press x4
2A) Front Squat
2B) Pull Ups x4
1A) Overhead Press
1B) Kettlebell swing
2A) DB reverse lunge
2B) Single arm db/kb row
1A) Good Mornings
1B) Push up variations
2A) Goblet squat
2B) Lat pulldown
Dependent on your time allotted for workouts, some extra accessory exercises such as lateral raises, curls, triceps extension, etc. can be added. However, if all 4 of the categories are adequately incorporated the accessories are not 100% mandatory to achieve results. Some extra, time efficient cardio/conditioning can be added in as well.
Another Great split would be an upper-lower split. This would be a great way to add some extra volume into certain muscle groups while still maintaining efficiency. On a 3 day training week, you would alternate having a 2-1 lower-upper body week with a 2-1 upper-lower week. Here’s how the template would look.
This cycle could be repeated week after week. I would alternate the main heavy lifts between 2 categories. For example, on a week with 2 lower body lifts I would do a heavy knee dominant main lift on Monday, and on Friday, I would do a heavy hip dominant main lift. Here is a basic 2 week example.
The first main lift of these workouts should be done alone with full recovery, but any of the follow up exercises can be down in a super set or circuit fashion for a metabolic effect as well as time efficiency .
A third programming style is one that I use quite often. This style combines one of the main upper body categories with one of the lower body main categories. A good pairing is Hip dominant lower body with upper body pushing, and knee dominant lower body with upper body pulling. With this format, you can still get the full body metabolic effect while getting some extra volume in each muscle group. This program, on a 3 day split would use the same alternating method as the previous program. Here’s an example of 2 weeks on this program.
With this program as well, extra accessories can be added in, time permitting. The exercise given are a very basic example. The specific exercises do not need to be over analyzed as there are endless options. The main objective is to incorporate all of the main movement categories
To recap, there are w tweaks to your program that can instantly increase the efficiency based on time. The first is to prioritize compound exercises, and the second is to plug in movements as opposed to muscles or body parts. Try these and see how your training consistency instantly improves.