Efficient Training — A Sneak Peek into My Upcoming EBook

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/topless-man-in-black-shorts-5327537/

When it comes to training, everyone has a unique set of limitations. Those limitations may be a result of an injury or medical condition, or they may be due to the equipment or space one has available to them for working out. Everyone has something that interferes with their fitness training, but the most common constraint is time. Some people are lucky enough to be able to incorporate fitness into their professional lives, but most people have to set aside time in their daily routine to work out. It is a common misconception that you have to dedicate at least an hour to your daily fitness regimen. This misconception stems from the belief that you cannot get a good workout in less than an hour, or you cannot get proper time under tension if you are rushing through your training (although research dictates that time-under-tension does not matter as long as you take your sets close to failure). While a full hour-long (or more) training session is always nice, many people do not have that luxury. In some cases, they might be temporarily constrained for time due to a busy seasonal work schedule, while others may have more permanent limitations.

Many coaches have their respective solutions to address efficiency with their fitness routine. Fitness influencers on social media may proclaim that all you need to do is use supersets with your already pre-established program or follow an expedited workout that does not provide much room for self-regulation or progressive overload. Their recommendations will look like a regular workout crammed into a superset without consideration of quality reps at such a high speed. Other proposed time-efficient workouts will not provide enough stimulus for the muscles to be worth the effort.

Time-efficient training is about more than just doing a workout faster. Depending on the situation, the whole training session or program needs reworking. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, a standard training session that is condensed to a certain time limit may disrupt the ability to track progress. Trying to squeeze in a training session that would normally take an hour and a half into an hour or less is a recipe for subpar performance at best. Secondly, physically going to the gym eats up a lot of time as opposed to simply working out in one’s own home. A great way to address time constraints when approaching a fitness regimen is substituting going to the gym with an at-home workout. In this case, the training session needs to be heavily modified so as to benefit overall progress with limited (or no) equipment.

There are multiple factors contributing to the nuances of how to approach time-efficient training.

The first of the factors is, and it is unfortunate, that your training will not be as optimal as you would like. While high-quality training in a short amount of time is plausible, it will never be as ideal as if you are granted the luxury of time. If you or your client is a serious strength athlete, expedited training might not be a great option unless they have no other choice. It is worth noting that since growth occurs during rest, faster training may be more beneficial because it will allow for more time to rest in between sessions. More rest means better recovery, and better recovery will lead to more notable results. Regardless of whether or not that notion is accurate (there is currently very little research to address this hypothesis), if you can accept that rushed training is probably suboptimal, you can still make impressive progress while keeping training sessions under an hour.

The second factor is that all the equipment needed may not be available at a given time. This might require accommodations to keep the training session short. In fact, in some cases, it might require an entire rework to be effective in both stimulus and time efficiency.

Between sets, recovery is a factor that may affect training. In many hurried training sessions, rest periods will be cut down to increase time efficiency. While this shortens the workout, less rest may have a negative impact on overall performance and progress. Less recovery may be a deal-breaker for some trainees because they need that recovery time between training sets. Athletes such as powerlifters, strongmen, and Olympic powerlifters need their extended rest time between working sets to perform maximal or high-intensity submaximal lifts. This issue is especially true in their strength gaining mesocycles or competition mesocycles. In these cases, hurried training may not be ideal for them. While it is not impossible to still make it work, I would personally recommend against it.

  1. Adjusting a single training session to time constraints

Perhaps you or your trainee has an important event coming up or is going to a conference and just cannot skip a training session. How do you explain to them how to create a short training session? I will approach this in two scenarios. In scenario one, the trainee will have the same equipment they have when in their program (they have a membership at a chain or franchise of public gyms and can workout at any location nationwide). In scenario two, the trainee only has access to the hotel training equipment (which usually comes down to dumbbells up to 50lbs, a cable machine, and some treadmills), or no equipment at all.

In scenario one, I would recommend the trainee focuses on the compound lifts presented in their program and skip the accessories, depending on available time. This idea comes from coach and YouTuber, Steve Shaw. He presented this idea because it will allow for better progression tracking, and compound movements stimulate more overall muscle than isolation or accessory lifts. Upon further thought, I found that focusing on the compound movements in their pre-established program allows for additional volume to those training compound lifts. Typically, if your program has, say two compound movements and three accessory movements, the compound movements will take a bit less time than the accessories. So by removing the accessories, the trainee might buy some time to add a set or two of those exercises while still keeping the workout shorter than it would be for a full training session. This may help with overall progress, and make up for skipping those accessories.

In scenario two, the trainee does not have the same equipment. So, to approach this, I would recommend the inclusion of myo-reps. Myo-reps, a concept developed by Borge A. Fagerli in 2006, is a form of rest/pause sets that has an initial set of 20 reps to failure, followed by five mini-sets of about five reps separated by ten to thirty seconds of rest. This method is to leverage effective reps while reducing time. He has a free Ebook if you want more information on this training method. I am a huge advocate for myo-reps and implement them in all of my programs for clients with time constraints. I am not sponsored by the man who developed them.

I like to recommend myo-reps for dumbbells because they are usually heavy enough to cause near failure around ten to twenty-five reps. Myo-reps are ideal for calisthenics because they are based on volume, not resistance. It is important to note that this is not the only way to train efficiently with calisthenics or dumbbells, and I will approach that topic later. For now, what I would recommend a trainee do if they choose this method, is to have their coach, or do it themselves, try to pick exercises that correspond to your program. If you have a bench day, then do a dumbbell bench day. This concept applies to squats or deadlifts as well. I will outline this idea with other methods later, but if you do implement myo-reps, the trainee will do one myo-rep set. Myo-rep sets are like doing six sets, so doing two myo-rep sets may be overkill for many exercises unless the trainees are very advanced.

Other methods to speed up a training session with suboptimal equipment include typical rest-pause training, circuit training, drop set, supersets, and/or tri-sets. Rest-Pause training is when the trainee needs to complete a certain amount of reps while taking as many ten to fifteen-second pauses needed to reach that number. Other forms of this include myo-reps and cluster sets. Circuit training is when a trainee performs one set of every exercise in a training session back to back before resting. This can also be referred to as giant sets which are popular with coach and YouTuber, Brian Alsuhe. It would be amiss to not mention that while circuit training can provide a very effective training session, fatigue is a bigger concern in this method than the others that will be discussed. Drop Sets are simpler; the idea with drop sets is to perform a set, lower the weight and repeat until failure or you cannot decrease any more. Supersets are when a single set consists of two different exercises, so you’re doing two exercises simultaneously. One exercise is done, immediately followed by another one with no rest in between. There are two main forms of supersets: agonist-agonist and agonist-antagonist. Agonist-agonist calls for the two exercises to focus on the same muscle group while agonist-antagonist focuses on opposing muscle groups. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Agonist-agonist can accumulate volume on one body part very quickly but since rest is reduced, it can quickly start to perfect your performance. Agonist-antagonist or alternating supersets will use opposing muscle groups or non-related muscle groups, in this scenario, the trainee will have more time to recover allowing for a better training session overall. Unfortunately, training volume will not be as high as they may need unless they are spending extra time in the gym. Tri-sets are supersets but with three exercises. No real need to explain those.

While this is incredibly useful, it may be more valuable to have example training sessions. One potential training session might look like this:

For calisthenics Upper body day:

  • One set of Myo-Reps Push-Ups — Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5
  • One set of Myo-Reps Pike Push-Ups — Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5
  • One set of Myo-Reps Pull-Ups — Reps: Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5
  • One set of Myo-Reps Inverted Rows — Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5

For Dumbbell Upper body day:

  • One set of Myo-Reps Dumbbell Bench Press — Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5
  • One set of Myo-Reps Dumbbell Overhead Press — Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5
  • One set of Myo-Reps Dumbbell Bent Over Rows — Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5
  • One set of Myo-Reps Pull-Ups (Because pull-ups are great) — Reps: 25+5+5+5+5+5

Be on the look out for my Ebook, coming soon!

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Quentin Washington

Quentin Washington

I am an exercise physiologist and online fitness/nutrition coach. If you like what I write here, check out my website: https://greathammerfitness.webflow.io/