‘How Do I Maximize My Limited Gym Time?’ — Ask Coach Rick Scarpulla
Because of work and family I'm getting to the gym at most 2 or 3 times a week. What is the most efficient way to train if I don’t have much time to get to the gym. -- Tyler, 29, El Paso
For most people, time is their most precious commodity. We all have life going on and people are always busy running here and there. I understand. The good news is you don’t have to spend hours in the gym grinding out reps. You can stay in decent shape going to the gym only 2-3 days a week. Three days a week actually used to be the standard. Lots of guys got big and strong doing only three days a week.
There are several options for the part-time trainer. The first (and I feel the best choice) is an upper and lower body split. On day one you do all upper body work. Day two is lower body. Core work can be done on either, or both, if time allows.
All of your exercise selections should be compound free weight movements such as squats, deadlifts, hacksquats or reverse hypers. For upper body exercises stick to the flat bench, military press, rows and dumbbell exercises. Stick with big movements and large muscle groups. Don’t lift like a chump or you will end up a chump. Think big and lift heavy. Leave your cute little gloves home. As for reps, I would keep your first movement low in reps and heavy in weight. After that, mix up sets, reps and weight. You need to do approximately 5 or 6 movements in total.
Since you're not going to the gym as frequently, don’t think you need to do twenty exercises every time you go. The whole objective of a routine like this is to work the whole body. Isolation and specialization work (like concentration curls and kickbacks) are not part of this so don’t make them part of your routine. You will be wasting your already limited time. If you can get a third day, you can mix up your upper/lower days. In other words: switch back and forth from upper to lower according to what you’ve done in previous days.
Cardio should be done when you can. I still am a firm believer what I call “fresh air cardio” -- go out and shoot some hoops or go mountain biking rather than stand on some machine and watch TV while you walk or jog. Most people enjoy that much more and push harder. If you’re playing something against your boys, you’re gonna do your best not to look like a chump, so you dig a little further down.
If you understand that you are not able to get to the gym as much as some people, then you probably also realize that you will not get the results of a gym rat who is there daily. Just be sure to push yourself every time you walk through the gym doors. Don’t fall into the “I’m only here a couple times a week syndrome.” You can get strong and add some muscle.
Just because your time is limited does not mean your results have to be as well.
Rick Scarpulla, the creator of The Ultimate Athlete Training Program, is a highly sought-after and renowned strength, speed and conditioning coach who works in developing top high school, college and professional athletes and programs throughout North America. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.