So you’re busy. You’re rushed, hassled, stressed, pressured, and harangued.
Maybe you’ve got a mountain of school work, deadlines at work or kids that take up your time every second they’re conscious. When you’re in this survival mode, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. You don’t feel like it and you certainly don’t have time to spend 90 minutes in the gym.
We’ve all been there.
Training, health, and fitness are a huge component of my life, yet even I have times where I can’t dedicate too many hours of my week to exercise.
If I’m honest, when I’m really stressed I don’t even feel like training that much. But I know that if I do get some exercise in that I’ll feel so much better for it, even if it’s not a full blown assault on the gym!
There’s something about moving and exerting yourself that resets your stress perception and makes those anxieties that have followed you all day like a very persistent cloud, seem less daunting.
Exercise can be moving meditation.
When you’ve got two heavy kettlebells challenging your relationship with gravity or you’re feeling every beat of your heart as your legs propel you on a run you can’t think about work, school, kids, whatever.
You’re on your own with the struggles of the moment, not the demons you are creating out of modern stresses.
It’s primal. Hard-wired into us. It’s a stress our bodies and minds know how to deal with- we were built to move; to run, jump, lift, fight, hunt.
Tapping into that short circuits the stress buttons that modern life seems to have the knack of pressing all day long. In short, it can bring clarity to a situation.
So, if you are pressed for time here are my top tips for getting in a time-saving and stress-busting training session.
Bring the gym to you.
I played my guitar at least three times as often when it was hung by my desk than when it was propped up on the other side of the room.
At most it was 1% easier to pick up and play when it was next to my desk rather than on the other side of the room, but that 1% was massive in my consistency to practice.
Exercise works exactly the same.
So many people don’t end up going to the gym because it’s slightly out of their way.
The slightest hardship can cause their motivation to drive a few minutes to waver and fail. Those failures have a way of mounting up on each other and before they know it, it’s Friday, chip supper is perched on their lap and they’ve not exercised all week
(You’ve probably been there…)
So make it easier for yourself! Invest in a set of dumbbells, a kettlebell or macebell for your home. Whatever you find the most enjoyable to have a 15 minute blitz with, that’s what you should get.
But, don’t fall into the trap of putting it in the spare room and forgetting about it.
Put it somewhere you can see it!
Where it’ll make it that 1% easier to pick up and play with.
If your interior design penchant won’t let you leave a kettlebell sitting next to the TV you can now get kettlebells that are literal works of art- look up the Onnit Primal bells (www.onnit.com) or their Legend bells, they’re perfectly functional bells that are sculpted in the form of great apes, werewolves and zombies.
They’re great pieces of pop-culture memorabilia that marry together form and function.
Making life easier for yourself is going to set you back roughly £25 for a 12kg bell.
That’s £25 for a lifetime of ass-kicking, stress-busting workouts in those moments where before you would have given up. I call that one of the best investments you will ever make.
Combine Muscle Groups and Training Goals.
You’ve got 30 minutes. How the hell are you going to train to increase your strength, work on building up your biceps for your Marbella holiday, improve your mobility, boost your aerobic capacity and burn some fat?
The very thought of it is stressful! It just can’t be done! You might as well just do nothing!
To the take-away-mobile!
So many people sabotage themselves this way by making the one thing that they can do to easily release some pressure into another stressful puzzle.
What they’re often failing to see is that their training goals have overlaps with one another. So just train in a way that what you do fits into that overlap.
That area in the middle, where you’re building strength, improving flexibility and stimulating your muscles with enough volume to grow is where you want to be.
The exercises that live there are called compound exercises.
You’ve heard of them before; they’re your squats, deadlifts, presses, carries and pulls.
The key to using them time efficiently is to remove all of the crutches that the gym usually offers you to do these exercises, i.e benches to sit or lie down on and machines to take muscles and stabilisation out of the question that you may end up queuing for.
No, if you’re pressed for time you need to streamline. That means using minimal equipment and letting your body deal with the stabilisation aspects of training so that as many muscles are used at once.
For example, you usually train your back with a pulley row. Not if you’re in a rush. Now you’re going to use a standing bent over row with a free weight (dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell. Dealer’s choice).
Whereas before you were hitting your back and biceps on the pulley row, now your lower back is involved bracing your spine, your abs are working hard to stop you falling over and you’re loading your glutes and hamstrings as you hinge at the hip, stretching them under load and improving their flexibility.
You’re getting a lot done at once.
But we can still ramp it up a notch.
You’ve already got the weights in your hands, so why set them down and waste time?
Stand up, clean them to your shoulders and start repping them overhead. About this point you might start to feel your heart rate climbing and we are getting an aerobic training effect as well as a strength training one.
If we leave it there it’s called a superset. Two exercises performed back-to-back without rest. But if you really want to get your heart rate pounding and save as much time as possible we can ramp it up.
Enter the complex (which isn’t actually that complex!).
Instead of dropping the weight after the overhead presses, you catch the weight in the front rack (holding it on the front of your shoulders) and start doing front squats. Then from there you lower the weight to hip level and rep out some deadlifts.
Four moves, back-to-back with no rest and you’ve hit almost every muscle in your body, through a full range of motion to improve your flexibility, your heart rate is racing and your lungs are gassed. All of that lasted no more than a minute. If that’s not time efficient, I don’t know what is.
Rest for a minute, then repeat.
If we assume you take ten minutes to warm-up and you’d like ten minutes to hit a few curls for the girls (or bi’s for the guys!) and cool down then you’ve got ten minutes to do complexes in.
if you do one minute of work to one minute of rest that’s roughly two hundred reps of full body conditioning you can get done.
If all you did for a month was workouts like this and increased the intensity either by reducing rest-times or adding a little more weight each week, you’d be fitter than you’ve been in a long time, maybe even ever.
Make the Warm-Up the Workout.
This one is so simple I feel stupid even writing it.
But, when you really are drained to the very core of your soul and you can’t muster any energy, this is a perfect tonic. In times of real crisis this can keep your foot in the door just enough that you don’t fall off the wagon and provide the relief that just moving about can do.
Just do the warm-up.
But it has to be an intelligent warm-up. Not three rounds of struggling to get the vending machine to work, 1 set of chatting to the receptionist and a few half-hearted minutes on a treadmill.
No, a proper warm-up relieves muscles that are tight, activates those that are asleep and gets your heart rate moving just enough to warm you up. It’s a bit like taking a car for a drive round the block when it’s been sat too long so it doesn’t seize up.
So, do some soft tissue work and stretch out what’s aching from sitting down, hunched over a computer or knotted up with stress.
(pro tip- this will almost always be your hips, shoulders and upper back)
Next, we need to turn on the muscles that are disengaged (commonly your core, upper back and glutes). We don’t do this with heavy weight, but with something light performed in a very deliberate way.
Those giant elastic bands you’ve seen lying about at the gym are great for this, as is the cable tower the guy in the vest top is probably doing his 24th set of flies for his inner, upper pectoral on…
If you do these exercises back to back in a circuit fashion for 3-5 circuits, you’ll also achieve goal number three of warming your body up.
It’s that simple.
These won’t get you any fitter, but they will halt the deterioration until you can get past the really stressful patch of your life and back to your goals.
How’s that for you? 3 ways to still get some work in, even when everything is transpiring against you!
If that’s not enough for you, I’ve done a follow up to this article giving you some sample thirty minute workouts- for free, before you ask. You can find it here-
As usual, if you have anymore questions, drop me an email- email@example.com and I’ll get an answer back to you.
There’s also more articles and all round useful stuff on my site- www.runjumplift.co.uk and on my social media. Instagram @run_jump_lift and Facebook @runjumplift1.
Until next time!
Dan Mennell is a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach working in Staffordshire and Shropshire.
He writes regular fitness articles and creates other informative free-content.
If you're interested in learning more, subscribe to the mailing list below-