Best workouts for busy schedules

Work. Social life. Family time. They all take up big chunks of time in our schedules – so much so that fitness is often an afterthought.

The terrible shame here though is a higher level of fitness would help us crush other areas of life. 

Our health and fitness underpin our abilities to perform in all areas of life. When you’re fit, you feel more energized. This isn’t just my take either – it’s reported in the scientific literature. In a study published in a 2022 issue of ‘Frontiers in Psychology’, researchers reported that…

‘…moderate intensity exercise interventions of at least 6 weeks are on average beneficial for fatigue, energy, and vitality in healthy individuals and in those with chronic health conditions’.

Being fit means being the productive one at work. It means being the parent who has the energy to play with their kids after a long day. It means being able to have fun with your partner on the weekends, rather than lying on the sofa.

So how do you do it? How do you squeeze workouts into busy schedules?

Let me show you. 

How to train efficiently when you have a busy schedule?

It is possible not only to train, but to train very well even if you have a busy schedule. You just have to improve your efficiency. Some prior decisions on equipment can make your workout time efficient and versatile.

A prime example of a basic piece of gym equipment is the barbell (barbell maintenance is very simple, too). Along with weight plates, a squat rack, and a weight bench, they make up the key components of any home or commercial gym.

You don’t need to use the whole gym to build great fitness. With only a handful of items you can put together thousands of workouts.

As long as you have the will to work out, you could even create your workout routines without any equipment.

Here’s a few ideas for building the best workouts for busy schedules…

Use limited equipment

A lot of time in the gym is wasted switching from one exercise station to another. By putting together workouts with limited equipment, you avoid this delay. 

Try this workout – all you’ll need is a barbell and plates. You won’t even need a bench! It’ll cover the whole body and you won’t waste time switching from station to station. 

  • Deadlifts (4 x 10)
  • Squats (4 x 10)
  • Floor Press (4 x 10)
  • Shoulder Press (4 x 10)
  • Bent Over Rows (4 x 10)
  • Lunges (4 x 10)
  • Barbell Roll Outs (4 x 10)

Adopt a circuit approach

A lot of time is spent resting in the gym. Whilst some workouts require a lot of rest, if you’re tight for time it might be a good idea to mix things up. Instead of following a standard workout pattern of lift-rest-repeat, try a circuit. 

Perform each exercise back to back without rest. When you reach the end of the circuit, rest for 2 minutes and repeat. 

  • Push Ups (45 seconds)
  • Jump Squats (45 seconds)
  • Plank (45 seconds)
  • Kettlebell Swings (45 seconds)
  • Bicep Curls (45 seconds)
  • Rope Slams (45 seconds)

Perform as many rounds as you can in the time you have available. You can get a great full body workout done in as little as 30 minutes this way.

Check out these circuit training routines for more inspiration on the circuit approach.

Think frequency, not duration

There are no rules over how long a workout needs to be. In fact, I’d argue that some of the more effective workouts are the shorter ones anyway. A good 30 minutes in the gym is better than a lazy 90 minutes.

So rather than think you can’t train because you don’t have a spare hour, adopt an approach that makes your workouts 30 minutes maximum.

Here’s a sample week. It would keep your entire workout time to a total 2 hours per week and covers your whole body. Hit 4 sets of 8-10 reps of each exercise, unless stated differently. 

Monday: Squats, Pull Ups, Push Ups

Tuesday: Bench Press, Deadlifts, Ab Rollouts

Thursday: Shoulder Press, Chin Ups, Lunges

Friday: 100m Sled Push, Dips, Kettlebell Swings (4 x 25)

In 30 minutes, 4 days per week you’ll build an awesome body. 

Use High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

One of the things that puts people off cardio is how long it takes. 

The good news is you can get a fantastic cardio workout in a much shorter time if you use a HIIT protocol. This is where you combine periods of very high intensity exercise with periods of rest. You can do it with any form of cardiovascular exercise, so whether you’re a swimmer, runner, cyclist etc it’s possible for you to do it. 

In a study from 2016, a test group performed HIIT work on a stationary bike for 20 minutes per day, 3 days per week at 60% peak power. 

The study lasted for 8 weeks. The results showed the people who performed the exercise boosted their VO2 max (efficiency of their cardiovascular system) by 25% in 8 weeks, training only 20 minutes per time!

‘Hide’ your exercise

A great tip for people with busy schedules is to hide their exercise. What do I mean by that?

It means you use exercise as a vehicle to do what you must do anyway. Commuting for example. If you have to get to the office, why not cycle, walk or run there?

Are you posting a letter or taking the dog out? Make a run out of it. 

Meeting a friend? Why not turn it into a walk or a bike ride instead?

Is your dog walking route usually a flat, dull stroll? Instead throw a couple of heavy bottles of water in a backpack, find your nearest decent hill and turn it into a rucking session. Walk up a hill for 45 minutes with weight on your back and you’ve had a serious workout!

Best workouts for busy schedules – final thoughts

A regular workout schedule is one of the bedrocks of great health. We can’t let a busy schedule get in the way of that. 

The good news is that if you’re willing to adopt one of the training approaches I’ve shared with you here, you can still workout even if you have a busy schedule. 

Done correctly, they’ll likely make your training more efficient and effective anyway!

Good luck with your workout efforts, and stay strong!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Steve Hoyles

Steve is a personal trainer, qualified weightlifting coach, gym owner, and writer. With a career spanning since 2004, he has been an influential figure in the fitness industry, guiding thousands of individuals towards achieving their fitness goals.

Steve actively contributes to the dissemination of the most up-to-date and accurate strength training advice. As the owner of My Gym (Hazel Grove - UK), his expertise has been recognized in notable publications such as Men’s Health, Kymira Sport, and various other media outlets.

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