3 Days a Week is All You Need

The Busy Man's Lifting Plan

Stress is Stress

Life often gets in the way of training. It doesn't matter if you're an executive, a blue-collar guy holding two jobs, a student, or a parent trying to raise a howling monster, training sometimes has to take a back seat.

But contrary to popular belief, you don't need to spend over an hour in the gym 6 days a week. In fact, that can be unproductive. Remember, your body isn't able to differentiate between all the various stresses in your life. Stress is stress. Whether it's stress from your job, your relationships, the bills, or weight training, your body only recognizes it as stress.

Training is only beneficial if you can recover from it, which is why if you're struggling to balance life and training, you can easily get good results by training three days a week for 45 minutes. The key to make this work is to be highly efficient with your time in the gym. You need to make the three 45-minute workouts count.

1 Focus on the big, compound exercises.

You want the majority of the work to be coming from your "money exercises." Think squats, deadlifts, dips, and chins. Wrist curls and kickbacks are out.

2 Pair your exercises.

One of the best ways to save time in the gym is to pair non-competing/antagonist exercises together. These aren't to be confused with supersets where you go from one exercise to another with no rest. As an example, you'd perform one set of squats, rest 90 seconds, then complete a set of leg curls, rest 90 seconds, then go back to squats.

3 Pay attention to rest periods.

Be strict with your rest periods. This isn't the time to be messing around in between sets.

4 Train your whole body each time.

If you've only got a limited time allowance in the gym, don't use a body part split. Do a full-body workout. Each session will be low in volume per body part, so recovery won't be an issue.


  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Back Squat 3 6-8 90 sec.
A2 Lying Leg Curl 3 6-8 90 sec.
Note: Remember, you'll be doing a set of squats, resting, then a set of leg curls and resting. Repeat two more times, then move to the B and C exercises.
B1 Chin-Up 3 6-8 90 sec.
B2 Dip 3 6-8 90 sec.
C Farmer's Walk 3 30 sec. 60 sec.


  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1 Low Incline Dumbbell Press 3 6-8 90 sec.
A2 One-Arm Dumbbell Row 3 6-8 90 sec.
B1 Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat 3 8-12 90 sec.
B2 Back Extension 3 8-12 90 sec.
C1 Hanging Leg Raise 3 10-12 45 sec.
C2 Standing Calf Raise 3 10-12 45 sec.


  Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A Deadlift 3 6-8 150 sec.
B1 Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press 3 6-8 90 sec.
B2 Neutral Grip Pulldown 3 6-8 90 sec.
C1 Hammer Curl 3 8-12 45 sec.
C2 PJR Pullover (see video) 3 8-12 45 sec.

  • The first 3-4 exercises in each workout represent your most "bang for your buck" exercises. While the prescribed exercises work great, you can make sensible substitutions to suit your individual mechanics, injury history, and goals. Dips hurt your shoulders? Swap them with floor presses. Don't like deadlifting off the floor? Go for Romanian deadlifts. The options are endless.
  • The last 1-2 exercises in each session are your optional movements. These include direct arm, calf, or ab work, as well as weight carries.
  • If you're really strapped for time, just go in and do the first 3-4 exercises. You'll make most of your gains with them anyways.
  • Pay attention to lower back loading. Separate the squat and deadlift days as much as possible and aim to keep the Wednesday workout less spine intensive. This is to prevent over-working the lower back, which is a common mistake made with full-body workouts.
  • The rep ranges are flexible. That being said, if you're a busy person who wants to build muscle, you can't go wrong with spending the majority of your time in the 6-12 rep range.

1 Insufficient Rest

This might sound counterintuitive, but when you have a limited amount of time to train, it's easy to under-rest between sets. We've already saved time by pairing exercises, so you don't want to turn this into circuit training.

We want performance to be high and your focus to be on applying progressive overload with perfect form over time. If you're rushing from station to station, your loads will take a sharp turn south, and you won't derive the benefits of this training system.

If you've only got 30 minutes to get a workout, either train only the first 3-4 movements or reduce the volume to 2 sets per exercise. Always think quality, not quantity.

2 Improper Pairing of Exercises

This applies not only across a training week, but within the workout too. For example, pairing back squats with Romanian deadlifts would be a poor choice, as both exercises require plenty of lower back stability and strength. On a similar note, standing military presses with bentover rows would be a risky pairing for the upper body, especially as you get stronger.

3 Not Being Active on Off Days

While this is a 3-day program, this doesn't mean you should be completely sedentary the rest of the time. Stay as active as possible and look for ways you can drive up your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) throughout the day.

This could be as structured as a 30-minute walk during your lunch breaks, or something more free wheeling like implementing "walking meetings," taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and parking farther away from your destination. This is particularly important if your goal is fat loss.

4 Not Tracking Workouts

Even if you're strapped for time, there's no excuse to stop tracking your progressions in the gym. Keep a logbook, write down your numbers, and always strive to beat your previous session in one way or another. This is critical if you want to build your physique.