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Time Crunch Training

By Nicki Cartwright | In Blog | on September 6, 2016

All successful training programs, regardless of goal, share one thing – efficiency. For one, your body can only handle so much workload in one day before overtraining and becoming counterproductive. Second and more importantly, most do not have unlimited time to train. The majority of adults who exercise do so for general fitness, to maintain or lose weight and stay healthy. Of this majority includes busy parents and professionals, especially those that may travel for work. The following article will outline tips and suggestions for these types of individuals who only have 30-45 minutes to train each day.


When you have time limitations and especially very little equipment to work with, you need to be strategic with what you do in a given training session. If you only have 30-45 minutes to work with, you are going to want to get the most out of your time.


Therefore, your training should include the following principles:


  • High intensity—via movements recruiting the most muscle groups at once for increased calorie burn.
  • Combination of anaerobic (resistance training) and cardiovascular elements.
  • Limited rest time


Because of these training principles, your muscles will fatigue faster which will limit the amount of weights (in pounds) you will need for your workout to be affective. This element enables you flexibility in training location – home, hotel room, hotel gym, and conventional gym.


Here is a list of the major muscle groups that should be hit to some degree during your workouts:


  1. Chest
  2. Back
  3. Shoulders
  4. Biceps
  5. Triceps
  6. Quads
  7. Gluts/Hamstrings
  8. Calves
  9. Abs/Core


Training Goal:


Your goal is to incorporate as many compound exercises as possible in your workout, and if you wish to target specific/smaller muscle groups, I would include exercises that isolate those. The rule of thumb is to increase frequency of any specific area of your body you wish to target (“target” could refer to leaning, shaping or building purposes). So, for example, if in addition to staying in shape or losing weight you hope to build greater “shoulder caps” (medial deltoid), simply perform dumbbell lateral raises every workout session.


Exercise Suggestions:


Choosing compound exercises that burn a ton of calories are simpler than you think. Body weight exercises incorporate a lot of muscles as well as balance.


Here are some of my favorite bodyweight exercises:


  • Pushups (primarily chest/arms, core)
    • Regular, narrow, diamond, off dumbbells, traveling, plyo, incline, and decline on a stability ball, Bosu ball or bench.
  • Plank (primarily chest/arms, core)
    • Regular plank, side plank, plank up downs, plank off stability ball or Bosu ball.
  • Superman (upper and lower back, core, gluts/hamstrings)
  • Pull-ups (back, core)
    • Regular or assisted.
  • Inverted rows (upper back, core)
  • Bench dips (triceps, core)
  • Squats (all lower body, core)
    • Regular squats, plié squats, box squats.
  • Step ups (all lower body)
  • Lunges (all lower body, core)
    • Front, rear, side, curtsy, split, walking or stationary.
  • Glut bridge (gluts, hamstrings, low back, core)
    • Back supported, leg elevated, single or double leg, and on toes.
  • V-ups or V-tucks (upper and lower abs, core)
  • Lying hip lift (upper and lower abs, core)


If you do not have weights to use, I would aim for 30-60 seconds of each exercise with as many reps as possible until fatigue, while maintaining proper form.


There are many high intensity exercises that are put together by combining two or more exercises. A very simple way to make your own exercises up to increase intensity and calorie burn is to combine an upper body move with a lower body or core move.


Here are some of my favorite combination moves:


  • Lying chest fly with leg lifts (chest + core)
  • Knee tuck or pike to a pushup (chest + core)
  • Knee tuck or pike to triceps push (triceps + core)
  • Plank to glut kickbacks (gluts + core)
  • Plank to knee tucks (core)
  • Pushup to side plank (chest/arms + core)
  • Pushup to dumbbell rows (chest/back/arms + core)
  • Plank to reverse fly (chest/back/arms + core)
  • Lying pullover to sit-up (back + core)
  • Thrusters (shoulders + lower body)
  • Dead row (back + glut/hamstring)
  • Kettle bell swings (shoulders + lower body)
  • Stiff deadlift to upright row (shoulders + glut/hamstring)
  • Step up to curl (biceps + lower body)
  • Single leg deadlift to curl (biceps + glut/hamstring)
  • Pushup off medicine ball with alternating leg lift (chest/triceps + core)


I would aim for 12-15+ repetitions of each exercise.


How many exercises?


I suggest any workout to consist of a total workload of about 24-30 working sets. This could be 8 exercises at 3-4 sets each, or 6 exercises at 4-5 sets each. If you perform your workout in a circuit or super set fashion, you should be able to get through 24 working sets in about 30-40 minutes. If at a gym, I would set up your exercises very close together and have all of your free weights (if any) together so that you can move quickly from one exercise to the next. You might even be able to get through all of your exercises in as little as 20-25 minutes.


What about cardio?


There are a few ways to approach cardio. You could complete your main workout as quickly as possible and if you have 10-20 minutes leftover, I would do a high intensity plyometric workout or high intensity interval training on a cardio machine (sprints on a treadmill or an interval setting on a stair master or elliptical). I personally feel that the best tactic would be to combine extra plyometric moves in between circuits of your main resistance exercises. This way, you can avoid missing some extra high intensity cardio that can be combined in your main workout.


Here is an example of a plyometric workout:


30 seconds for each exercise with 60 seconds between circuits, repeat 3 times.


  • Split jump squats
  • Single leg ski bounds
  • Mountain climbers
  • Sumo jump squats
  • Box jumps



Something important to note about high intensity workouts is that the bulk of your intensity will come from lower body exercises, especially explosive movements (such as plyometrics). Your lower body has a ton of muscle and the bigger the muscle group; using it will burn more calories. If you have knee issues and cannot handle plyometric moves for added cardio, I would simply incorporate extra core exercises instead.



There are numerous online and smartphone application resources for high intensity exercises and workouts because this sort of training is most popular for the bulk of the population. I am a firm believer in workload over total work time when it comes to training; so do not feel that anything less than one hour is not a full workout. Remember, something is always better than nothing. With a commitment to your health and fitness, you can and will always find a way to make the best of any restriction on your training.


Nicki Crapotta