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No Time to Work Out? Strength Training for the Busy Person.

Updated: May 25

strength training busy person

No time to work out? Perhaps you are on the road, or simply struggling to find the time in a busy schedule, or just need to start strength training? Do you have 30 or 40 minutes? Arguably finding time to exercise is the first hurdle that many of us have to get over when we first try to get into a new routine. And for some of us that is sufficient excuse not to exercise. After all, exercise can be hard - especially when we think of the gym, lifting weights or bodyweight exercise.

In this article we will focus on strength training for relative newcomers, and how to get a full workout completed in minimum time. This protocol is taken from a study by M. Iversen, Martin Norum, Brad J. Schoenfeld & Marius S. Fimland; shared at the bottom of page. For experienced athletes or gym goers, this article might not necessarily be applicable to your specific and more demanding needs.

Please note, these resources are shared for information purposes only. We advise that if you are considering changing your diet, exercise or lifestyle practices, discuss plans with your primary medical practitioner before making any changes. Always workout within your limits, consider using a personal trainer to get techniques right.


Key Principles for a Time Saving Workout

  • Focus on multi-joint exercises rather than movements that target a single muscle group. These should have both eccentric and concentric (lifting and lowering, contracting and relaxing) muscle actions.

  • Perform a workout that includes at least: 1 leg pressing exercise e.g. squats. 1 upper-body pulling exercise e.g. pull-up or equivalent. 1 upper-body pushing exercise e.g. bench press, push up or equivalent.

  • Exercises can be performed with machines and/or free weights based on training goals, availability and personal preferences. Resistance bands can also be used. Calisthenics might be preferred by some, the same principles apply.

  • Bilateral exercises, those that train both sides of the body at the same time, e.g. squat or barbell curl, save time compared to unilateral exercises, say, a single leg or bicep curl. These also allow more weight to be used.

  • Weekly training volume is more important than training frequency. Aim for a minimum of 4 weekly sets per muscle group using 6–15 repetitions. A 15 to 40 repetition range, using lighter weight, can also be employed.

  • Working out 2 to 3 times per week is effective for most people but if you can only do a single workout, then do that. Always allow your body to recover fully before the next workout.

  • Advanced training techniques, such as supersets, drop sets and rest-pause training roughly halve the training time required compared to traditional training, while maintaining training volume. Shorter rest periods between sets favour strength training.

  • Warms ups should be focused on exercise-specific warm-ups. Stretching need only be completed if the goal of training is to increase flexibility.


Do What You Enjoy

The guidance above is based on time efficiency, this is by no means the only way to work out. I have found the principles to be very useful for my needs, to complete a workout in the evening after a day of work.

I have access to a calisthenics workout area, a fitness corner, in my local park. I can get some nature time while I work out. My bodyweight workout, along these time saving principles, includes:

  • 1 leg pressing exercise e.g. squats. There are traditional (static) squats and variations. I sometimes enjoy squats with additional movement - try a baithak.

  • 1 upper-body pulling exercise e.g. pull-up or equivalent. If you cannot do a pull-up, start with a hang and work your way up.

  • 1 upper-body pushing exercise e.g. push up or equivalent. Push-ups can be done anywhere, there are dozens of variations from absolute beginner to advanced.

  • I also add a rotational movement, using a resistance band to do wood choppers. This extra exercise adds a few more minutes to the total time.

Between my warm-up and each group of exercises (a 'superset' combining squat, pull, push and twist) I run around the area surrounding the fitness corner - about 200 metres - to keep my heart rate up. This creates a total workout of about 40 minutes, mainly in heart rate Zone 2 - if you are counting your cardio workouts. With warm-up and cool-down, an hour in total, but it can be shorter if necessary.

Of course, if you prefer and enjoy the gym, with weights and machines, by all means do that!

calisthenics push ups
Do the exercise that you enjoy & will stick with.

Never push your body beyond its capability, exercise caution and practice good technique before moving up to the next level. Especially if you are in your 40s, 50s or beyond when injuries have more serious consequences. Support your exercise regimen with good eating practices, sufficient quality sleep and making sure that you have fun (and a plan) while doing it. These are the pillars of health.

The key issue that many people have is finding time for exercise, to balance their work, family and life commitments. In the course of our work oftentimes clients start with exercise but the conversation turns to work-life balance and addressing it.

Self-care is not selfish!


exercise strength work out busy people

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Related Studies

The study and protocol outlined above:

Iversen VM, Norum M, Schoenfeld BJ, Fimland MS. No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Med. 2021 Oct;51(10):2079-2095. doi: 10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1. Epub 2021 Jun 14. PMID: 34125411; PMCID: PMC8449772.


Behm DG, Granacher U, Warneke K, Aragão-Santos JC, Da Silva-Grigoletto ME, Konrad A. Minimalist Training: Is Lower Dosage or Intensity Resistance Training Effective to Improve Physical Fitness? A Narrative Review. Sports Med. 2024 Feb;54(2):289-302. doi: 10.1007/s40279-023-01949-3. Epub 2023 Nov 4. PMID: 37924459; PMCID: PMC10933173.

Paluch AE, Boyer WR, Franklin BA, Laddu D, Lobelo F, Lee DC, McDermott MM, Swift DL, Webel AR, Lane A; on behalf the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Epidemiology and Prevention; and Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease. Resistance Exercise Training in Individuals With and Without Cardiovascular Disease: 2023 Update: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2024 Jan 16;149(3):e217-e231. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001189. Epub 2023 Dec 7. PMID: 38059362.

Kotarsky CJ, Christensen BK, Miller JS, Hackney KJ. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness. J Strength Cond Res. 2018 Mar;32(3):651-659. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002345. PMID: 29466268.

Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Dec;31(12):3508-3523. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200. PMID: 28834797.



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