Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Training for the time constrained lifter

For lots of dudes that sling the iron there will be times throughout life where getting into the gym 3-5 times a week may not be a possibility.

Even worse, there may be times where you can't get in very often, and are limited by time.

Lots of guys fear that they will lose strength and size if they can only get into the gym twice a week.  But understanding your current level of development can help you design a program that will at least maintain what you have built, and that's better than regression.

For guys that have a lot of years under the bar, and a very solid base, often time they get stronger on less frequency.  It's pretty common for guys to actually limit their progress by training too often.  So it's not surprising to me when I hear of a guy that already has good strength numbers, to get stronger when he's forced to reduce his time in the gym for a while.

The other conundrum is when someone is forced to squeeze their training session down in regards to time spent in the gym.

For people that are running into these issues, here are some solutions I present.  

Beginner to Intermediate Level Twice a week - 

For the guy that is just finding his way, we're going to squat and press twice one week.  The next week there will be a deadlift and "back" day, before squatting and pressing again.

Day 1 -
Squat - warm up, then 5 sets of 8 in less than 20 minutes.
Bench Press - warm up, then 5 sets of 8 in less than 20 minutes.

Day 2 -
Squat - same as day 1
Incline Press - 350 method

Week 2 -

Day 1 (to start the following week)
Deadlift - 5 sets of 3 work up to a "crisp" triple
Chin Ups - As many as you can do in 20 minutes (try to beat this total each time this workout rolls around)

Day 2 - start cycle over

Notes - For most guys that are in the novice to intermediate stages, it won't take long for them to reach a weight they can settle on for 5 sets of 8 in the squat and bench.  I don't have a % for you here because the rate a beginner-novice gain strength at is fairly quickly, so setting an EDM can be tricky.  Just work up to something you can do a moderately easy set of 8 with, and keep the rest times to a minimum.

All in all, these sessions should be doable in under an hour if you're really getting after it and not fucking around trying to spot the hot chick doing lateral raises.  She doesn't need a spot.  So just do your work, and get out of there.

Advanced Level Twice a week - 

For the dude with a solid base of strength, he's probably smart enough to adjust his training to meet the "limited time/limited frequency" problem.  However, if I were in such position here is what I would do...

Day 1 - Squat
Squat - Base Building Model III

Day 2 - Bench
Bench Press - Base Building Model III
Kroc Rows - 1x30

Week 2 -

Day 1 - Deadlifts
Front Squats - as a warm up, 3 x 5 light and explosive
Deadlifts - Base Building Model III

Day 2 - Incline
Incline Press - 350 method
Pulldowns - 350 method

Week 3 - start cycle over

Filling in the gaps - 

Lifters of all levels will still need to "fill in the muscular gaps" as I like to say.  In other words, you'll still need to do some movements outside of the big stuff to be a little well rounded in your musculature, and help to avoid injury.

A very easy way to do this is to purchase some dumbbells and do some dumbbell work at home between the big stuff.  Along with that, some bodyweight movements will even things out.

Some movements you can do to put the icing on the cake...

Db side or bent laterals - 100 total reps
Db Curls - 100 total reps
Split Squats - 100 total reps
Db Leg Curls - 100 total reps
Db Skulls - 100 total reps

As you can see, there is a common theme here.  That is, lots of dumbbell work.

I kid.

Just pick one from the group and get the 100 reps in as fast as possible.  This shouldn't take more than a few minutes unless you decided to go crazy heavy on the dumbbells, and that's not the idea here.

Conclusion - 

These are pretty straight forward and simple solutions for someone that is pressed for time in the gym, and can't get in there more than twice a week.  Getting these sessions in will most likely keep you on track until your schedule clears so that more time or days of the week can be devoted to lifting.  But don't be surprised if you actually get stronger.  Lots of guys overestimate just how much time is needed to get stronger.  So long as you're working hard and eating well, progress should not be halted because of a time constraint.


  1. I have recently found my 2X, time constrained holy grail through the BBM. It may not work forever but I am progressing even though work is kicking my ass. So, thank you for that! It is this:

    Week 1, Day 1
    Bench Phase II
    Cable Rows 350

    Week 1, Day 2
    Squats Phase II
    Clean Pulls/Snatch Pulls/Deadlifts 5x3

    Week 2, Day 1
    Weighted Pull Ups 3x3, 3x5 (kind of mirroring a BBM Phase)
    Bench Phase I
    Cable Rows 350

    Week 2, Day 2 - Same as Week 1, Day 2. Maybe pick a different pull

    If I have extra time, I do dips, curls, or single leg assistance. If I have an extra day, I do snatch, clean and jerk, and front squats

  2. Great write up Paul. Sensible and today's lifter that is of up-most importance. Good training brother.

  3. With my 3rd kid on the way soon, (FINALLY HAVING A GIRL!!!). this comes at the perfect time for me. I can still get swollzzz, and also have time to change diapers and chase babies around. My wife and I thank you! :D

  4. Started this routine tonight: Squats, Bench, Cable Rows, Curls, and Hamstring work. Finished it all in 40 minutes flat.

  5. Hi.
    I see myself as a beginner to intermediate because I'm coming after a big no-lifting time frame, I'm light and I think my lifts are weak(me - 60kg; bench: 60 kg, press: 50kg, squat: 80kg, deadlift: 85kg).
    Right now I can only work out 2 days a week and my main goal is to gain mass. Strength I think is not my priority but I may be wrong...
    1. Is it ok to start with your skinny ADD split (elitefts) and haow long should I run with it?
    2. In that program, what does 5 sets of 10 to a top set of 10 means? Can you give a basic example with numbers? Is warmup included?
    3. For the othher exercises and the ones in this article, or in other articles, when you say 3 sets of 8 you mean 3 sets with the same weight for 8 reps each?

    Even a link with existing explanations would be good if there is one.
    Thank you for your time and for the info you provide. Hope you find the time for an answer.

  6. Now if the comment was approved will I also get an answer? :)