Here's what you need to know...
- Cardio warm-ups are a waste of time. Perform low intensity versions of the exercises you do in the weight room.
- Cut rest time in half by super-setting upper and lower body strength work. Squats and pull-ups are a perfect combo.
- Roll, stretch, or do mobility work between sets.
- Pick two exercises at most per muscle group, hit them hard, and move on.
- Follow a workout blueprint based on the time allotted to each portion of the workout, as opposed to a specific numbers of sets.
1 – Warming-Up On The Treadmill
How are you supposed to lift big after walking (or worse, jogging) on the treadmill?
Sure, the treadmill will get your core temperature up, but that's about it. Afterward you'll still need half a dozen warm-up sets of your first lift before you can even think about work sets.
A real warm-up prepares the body to lift heavy immediately thereafter.
A proper warm-up is comprised of low-intensity movements foreshadowing the upcoming training session, as well as drills mimicking the previous day's training in order to promote recovery. It concludes with a set or two of plyometrics to fire up the nervous system.
Here's a sample warm-up for a deadlift and bench press workout. Do 5-10 reps of the following:
Simply lift the hands up when you're in the down portion of each rep.
Single-Leg Deadlift and Reach
Scapular Wall Slides
Do these seated or standing against a wall with the arms held overhead. Slide the elbows, wrists, and hands down the wall to a "W" position. Hold for 5 seconds.
2 – Doing One Exercise At a Time
You might already be supersetting your hypertrophy work with pre-exhaust and agonist/antagonist pairings, but are you doing this with heavier strength training?
Why not? Unless you're testing a max, you should be supersetting your upper and lower body strength work, too. In doing so, you essentially cut your total rest time in half.
No need to get your singlet in a bunch. A set of loaded pull-ups really isn't going interfere with your squats.
In fact, this combination will do wonders for your spine by alternately decompressing it after compression. In addition to pull-ups and squats, another seamless pairing is overhead pressing and deadlifts.
3 – Letting Rests Become Cool-Downs
Herein often lies the biggest cause of those marathon workouts. To increase density (sets and reps in a given period of time) and accumulate metabolic stress, you must train your muscles on incomplete rest.
Yet with distractions like smart phones and TV's everywhere you look, what was supposed to be a minute break often turns into five. Before you know it, you've been curling for a half hour.
The solution? Wear a watch. While it may be true that big guys don't time their rest periods, they didn't get their impressive size from sitting around for an eternity between sets, and you won't either.
4 – Sitting Between Sets
Again, unless you're about to test a max, use the precious time between sets to do something corrective or restorative in nature.
Activate a stabilizer, stretch or foam roll an antagonist, do something for your core, practice diaphragmatic breath, whatever.
Although these drills may appear dinky to the uninitiated, they can pay huge dividends in terms of immediate performance boosts and accelerated recovery.
5 – Performing Excessive Variations
When it comes to hypertrophy, isolation is a perfectly valid tool.
However, endless variations of the same exercises are not. Don't be that guy doing dumbbell shrugs followed by barbell shrugs followed by Smith machine shrugs.
Instead, pick one or two single-joint exercises per muscle group, hit them hard for a few sets – to failure and perhaps even beyond – and then move on.
Unless you're performance-enhanced, the intensity likely isn't going to be there on set number nine of bicep curls.
Do feel free to up your training frequency by working the same muscle group for a second time later in the week.
The Workout Blueprint
Workouts are generally designed based on a specified number of sets. What if, instead, you blocked off a certain number of minutes for each of your training goals and performed however many sets you could manage comfortably during that time?
The exact "workout blueprint" will vary depending on your goals, of course, but for the average lifter looking to gain strength, size, and stamina, the following framework will do the trick:
Goal — Time Allocated
1. Warm-up: 10 minutes
2. Strength/Power: 15 minutes
3. Hypertrophy: 15 minutes
4. Conditioning: 10 minutes
5. Cool-down: 5 minutes
That's a total of 55 minutes. Now, even if it takes you five minutes to transition from block to block, that's still only 75 minutes. How does that compare to your typical gym stay?
Throw some core work into any of the above blocks, and, along with the aforementioned timesaving strategies, you've got the blueprint for both a comprehensive and compact program.