Exactly What To Do At the Gym If You Have Limited Time to Exercise

Affiliate Disclosure

Articles, Fitness


This guest post by Darin Steen (who I'll be interviewing for Podcast #83) teaches you exactly what to do at the gym if you have limited time to workout…

The phrase “I don’t have enough time” is a common excuse that many people use. Let’s stop lying to ourselves.  The average person watches over four hours and 15 min. of TV per day.  We have enough time.  But the question is where are your priorities?  With the promise of all the latest technology simplifying and perfecting our life, I just don’t see it.  With computers, high speed internet, e-mail, Blackberries, Palm Pilots, microwaves, meal replacements, and all the latest and greatest innovations, we seem to be more stressed; less fit, and have less time than ever.

The playing field is precisely even for everyone, we all have 1,440 minutes in a day.  Whether you are black, white, yellow, rich, poor, healthy or sick, it’s the same for every-one.  What is not the same is our perception of time, which everyone has a different view or focus on.  How much time you perceive that you have is dependent on what you focus on.

Let’s take two people, A and B.  A is stuck in a major traffic jam and is over 30 minutes   late for an incredibly important business meeting.  Ten minutes seems like 14 hours. B, who loves to gamble, has not gambled for a long time (because he’s been too busy) and is at the craps table with his friends. He hits a lucky streak.  Before you know it, 14 hours go by, but he’s having so much fun that it seemed like 30 minutes.  How is it that A and B’s perception of time was different?  We all have plenty of time to take care of ourselves, our family and friends, and our businesses.  Maybe if we can focus on things optimistically and have fun and be outrageous occasionally, we will find that time will stand still and we can get more accomplished.  Try this approach and see if you don’t get more done in your 1,440 minutes.

Time is the most precious resource that we have.  Most consistent gym members are wasting their valuable time.

The above mental strategies and the following exercise information have allowed me to become incredibly efficient with my time.  Out of necessity I have had to develop a unique style of training that has allowed me to streamline my personal fitness routine.  In four or five 50-minute workouts per week I have sculpted a physique that looks and feels much more athletic at the age of 40 than most 25-year-old athletes.  My day starts at 2:45 a.m. and I do one hour of work on two internet businesses that I have recently started. I exercise for one hour and train 10 or 11 clients in a row. Then I come home at 4:30 p.m. and enjoy 3-4 hours of quality family time with my wonderful wife Julie, and my two awesome daughters, Kiana (9) and Alexis (6).  To handle a schedule like this, most people would have to use some form of caffeine or stimulants to get them through the day, but for more than three years I have not used any caffeine or ephedrine-type products that give artificial energy. The energy and stamina that I now experience is real energy from living a healthy, holistic lifestyle and developing a positive, focused mindset.

Have a sense of urgency!!  Go to the gym with your specific workout written down.  Warm your body and your mind up for 5-10 minutes on low-intensity cardio.  Hit the weights hard for 55-60 minutes, implementing stretching and lengthening target muscles in between sets for the last 30 minutes of the workout.

The training system that has evolved through training myself for the last 21 years, and over 60 client hours a week for the last four years, is centered around getting the best workout of your life in the shortest amount of time. Have a specific plan of action, a routine.  Take pictures, body-comp and measurements for a starting point.  Stay consistent with the routine for a designated amount of time, then retest.  This is the only way you will ever be able to decide what works and what does not work.

1.  Entry Level – No weight training experience.
2.  Intermediate Level – Weight training for six months.
3.  Advanced Level – Weight training for 12 months or more.
4.  Body-building Level – Training for a competition, option A.
5.  Body-building Level—Training for a competition, option B

Choose the above category that applies to you and follow the corresponding routine below for 12 weeks. If you feel a split is getting stale, move up to the next group.

For time efficiency, instead of doing 2-5 sets of the same exercise and resting between each set, we do one set for each muscle group until we are through all the muscles in that workout, with only as much time between sets as it takes to get to the next station.

1. You have one workout that is full-body. Use basic compound movements and keep sequence of exercise such that you use different muscle groups than the last movement.

2. You have two workouts.  First workout is chest and back and second workout is legs and shoulders.

3. You have three workouts.  First workout is chest and biceps, second workout is back and triceps and third workout is legs and shoulders.

4. You have four workouts.  First workout is chest and shoulder lateral, second workout is back and traps, third workout is arms and fourth workout is legs and shoulder press.

5. You have five workouts.  First is chest, second is back, third is legs, fourth is
shoulders, fifth is arms.

In groups four and five, when you have fewer body-parts per workout, utilize abdominal exercises and stretching between sets.

Two days on weights (implementing higher carbohydrate intake), one day off weights (implementing lower carbohydrate intake using only salads, green beans, fibrous vegetables, apples, etc.)

Always stay with rotation and do the workout that is the freshest. Use circuit style workout (no rest between sets).

The sequence of exercises is such that we take advantage of the push/pull working      opposing muscles mindset.  Example: chest/back, biceps/triceps, quads/hams, chest press/shoulder lateral, etc.

The above splits were designed taking advantage of the latest breakthrough in fitness, the contract/relax phenomenon.  I have proven to myself and several clients that we can almost immediately see improvement in flexibility and range of motion, especially hamstrings,  when we aggressively contract a muscle (neurologically forcing the opposing muscle to relax) for 5-7 seconds then relax and increase range of motion.  This is exciting, taking in to account that extensive progress was noted in six weeks versus two and three years of no progress with traditional-type stretching.

For groups 1-3, do two or three sets, 12-15 reps per set. Groups four and five can do three or four sets per body part, 8-10 reps per set.  I believe that we tend to get ourselves into some negative habits when we count reps and sets.  True, we do need a general guide-line, but I would rather you try to find the last quality repetition with perfect form, then end the set with a slow, six-second negative.  Our motto in the gym is don’t count the reps, just find the perfect last three.  I tell my clients that anyone can do the first ¾ of the set, but it takes some guts, intensity and focus to get the last 1/4.  If you want your body to change, the last ¼ of the set is the only portion of the set that matters. Try to master the art of going to absolute failure with perfect form.

Forcing your body to gain muscle and lose fat is more about giving the muscles different stresses utilizing unique techniques from a variety of angles than it is about pushing heavier weight with the same movements.

For a majority of my exercises (3/4 of the time),  I use a “slow go” mentality on repetition tempo: a three-second eccentric (negative), with a two-second isometric squeeze in the contracted position, followed by a three-second concentric (positive).

The touch technique is one in which your trainer or partner physically touches you in the targeted muscle group, allowing you to feel and squeeze the muscle more.  While using this technique, try to relax all other muscle groups while focusing on contracting and squeezing near their fingers.  If you have no partner, use a mirror and visualize squeezing water out of a sponge during each contraction. This technique works very well for calves and biceps.

Use a minimum range of motion. Staying in top ½, bottom ½, or midrange of motion never lets the muscle relax

Do six quick pulses in a limited range of motion at the end of set.

Use a drop set after a 10 second rest on the last set.

Most of the unique techniques I have developed come from that “I can run through a brick wall mentality” athletic mindset.  The goal is to try and get some different feeling in the focus muscle at the end of each set.  If it feels good, do it!!  If it does not, trash it and try something else.

High reps, low reps. High carbs, low carbs. Fast pace, slow pace. Weight training three times a week, weight training six times a week. High intensity interval cardio, low intensity long duration, no cardio.  Are you confused?  Here is a hint:  The common thread with all the super-achievers in the drug-free for life body building world is not physical, it’s mental.

To sum it all up, passion, persistence and intense desire are the words that come to mind when trying to pick traits that are necessary to radically transform your body.  Stay open-minded long enough to gather different ideas from successful sources, and close-minded enough to focus like a laser for a 12 week stretch utilizing one specific strategy at a time.

You can radically change your waistline, your lifestyle, and your life with a well thought out approach as long as it encompasses training, nutrition, positive mindset strategies, goal setting, and social support.

This guest post was written by Darin Steen, who I'll be interviewing on “Fat Loss Lifestyles” for Podcast #83.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

5 thoughts on “Exactly What To Do At the Gym If You Have Limited Time to Exercise

  1. Travis Duvall says:

    Just curious, when you are saying muscle groups like “chest and back” you are suggesting a circuits of a chest workout (e.g. bench) followed by a back workout (e.g. barbell row), correct? Not a combined chest-back compound move, right?

  2. jill says:

    Thanks and great post.

    I always go to the gym with my plan written on paper. This way, I don’t waste my time and stay focused. Every Sunday I look at my calendar and schedule my weekly workouts so they are not missed.
    Thanks again

  3. Patrick says:

    Dude, Darin, I respect you do it and all, but waking up at 2:45 is NOT HEALTHY!!! How in the world do you recover?

    And isn’t doing circuit training in the gym with minimal rest kinda counter-intuitive? Isn’t it true that only with adequate amounts of oxygen can your muscles generate full force, thereby getting the most of the workout? Once that oxygen debt takes hold you just can’t push as hard and can’t get as much of an adaptation.

  4. Tina says:

    Wonderful info- with lots of encouragement. Just the kick in the glutes I needed to keep my next date at the gym.

    Keep strong,

    Tina Rees

  5. Heather says:

    Wow – great post! There is tons of good stuff there! Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

    And I agree…we need to be open-minded enough to get educated, and then at some point, we just have to DO IT! If it’s with laser focus, well, that’s even better!

    All the best,

    Heather Payne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *