Here's what you need to know...

  1. The exercises and loading parameters you'd choose if you could only train twice per week will tell you a lot about your training priorities.
  2. Two workouts with the right blend of deadlifts, chin-ups, squats, bench press and a couple of other movements can effectively stimulate hypertrophy in every major muscle group.
  3. Depending on your goals and muscular topography, fronts squats, military press and loaded carries may work better for you.
  4. What your two-day program doesn't include is just as important as what it does.

What if you were in prison and could only train twice a week for 45 minutes each session? What exercises would you use, assuming you had plenty of equipment choices? What loading parameters would you select?

Or, what if your new job and new two-hour commute made it so you only had time to train twice per week? Could you devise a plan that not only helped you maintain your current level of progress, but also stimulated new gains?

I think you could, if you have your training priorities in order.

What's Really Important to You?

You've seen hypothetical questions like this before. Questions like, "What if you could only do one exercise for legs?"

While these theoretical questions can be annoying sometimes, I find them to be a valuable exercise in values clarification. It forces you to make difficult decisions. It requires you to decide what's really important to you when you're in a pinch.

Twice-Per-Week Workouts

Let's analyze the convict's dilemma. Here's what I would do if I could only train for two short sessions per week, followed by my reasoning:

Session 1

  • A1 – Conventional Deadlift
  • A2 – Chin-Ups
  • B – Weighted Back Extension (1 set only)

Session 2

  • A1 – Low-Bar Back Squat
  • A2 – Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
  • B – Barbell Hip Thrust (1 set only)

Loading Parameters

On "A" exercises, I would employ a narrow pyramid approach, working up to 1-3 sets of 1-3 reps, followed by 1-2 back-off sets of between 8-12 reps.

This methodology provides for both maximum strength stimulation through the heavy, low-rep attempts, as well as a hypertrophy stimulus via the back-off sets.

Also note that I would perform the "A" exercises in circuit fashion to save time and energy. Finally, notice that both workouts are whole-body, which would be necessary to provide for optimum training frequency given the restrictions I'm working with.


My first guiding principle is that I'm looking for the fewest number of exercises that train the largest degree of muscular topography, leading to maximum strength and hypertrophy development.

In my personal case, this leads to the 6 exercises you see above, which train almost every muscle in the body over two sessions. In your case of course, other exercise selections may be more appropriate.

My second principle is that I'm looking for exercises that require minimal prep. By this I mean exercises that need little in the way of warm-up sets or equipment setup.

My choice of the barbell hip thrust was selected on this basis and personally, I can slap 405 on a bar and knock out 10-12 reps without any warm-up sets and without needing to psyche myself up to any significant degree.

My final selection criterion pertains to the principle of individual differences: the exercises you select must be safe and efficient for you.

No matter how great an exercise may be in general terms, if you don't have the skill, orthopedic resources, or body-type to perform it properly, it's not a great choice. This is why I chose dumbbell benches over barbell – over the long haul, I find I develop less shoulder problems with dumbbells. I also find that dumbbell benches lead to better hypertrophy.

What Might Be Better For You

  • Front Squats: I chose back squats due to my personal anthropometry: I'm long-levered, and with my history of knee surgeries, front squats look pretty much the same as back squats on me. For lots of folks however, front squats might be a better choice.
  • Barbell Military Press: Especially when preceded by a power clean, military presses are a fantastic whole-body exercise. For me however, they tend to lead to orthopedic issues over the long haul, which is why I selected dumbbell bench presses instead. With that said, if you personally find military presses to be safe, I'd support the decision wholeheartedly.
  • Carries and Sled Work: There are many forms of carries and sled drills, and I love them all. They're great for conditioning and core-control, but not great for maximum strength or hypertrophy, which is why you don't see them on my program above. However, if conditioning and core development are higher on your goals list than strength and hypertrophy, I'd include them.

Your Turn, Inmate #80906

My "what if" program is more notable for what it doesn't include than what it does. That's what happens when you're forced to limit your options.

Do you disagree with my choices? What does your "what if" program look like? Let's talk shop in Livespill below.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook