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I just don't have time to go to the gym right now.
We've heard that excuse from friends, overheard others talking about it, even said it ourselves many times. That means any of our eight 30-minute weight workouts will be right up your alley at some point in, say, the next month.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need 90 minutes of gym time to build or maintain solid muscle or to get a vein-blasting pump. Some of these routines are full-body workouts while others are for just upper or lower body, but all of them hit the major areas necessary to ensure you train as efficiently as possible when time is short.
A few things to keep in mind: Do each move bilaterally—not unilaterally, or one arm or leg at a time—unless you want to end up doubling your time in the gym. Also, weight selection is tough enough without having to watch the clock. So on our timed workouts, if you end up going too light or too heavy, don't bother repeating a set, which could extend your gym time. Just make a note for your next go-round.
Another good rule of thumb is to perform 1 to 2 warm-up sets on each bodypart, with certain exceptions, such as when you feel your triceps are sufficiently warmed up after training chest. Same goes for biceps after back and hamstrings after squats or lunging exercises. If doing a few extra warm-up sets means you're in the gym for 32, even 35 minutes, well—that's close enough for us.
What: An upper-body routine done in circuit fashion—do one set of an exercise, then immediately move to the next.
When: You're looking for an all-encompassing upper-body blast in a minimal amount of time. Also, when you want to add a cardiovascular element to your lifting, as you take almost no rest between sets.
Why: Covering all your bases means hitting every muscle group from a variety of angles, which this routine does with three different exercises per bodypart. And because you're training circuit style, there's no need to take full-length rest periods since each muscle group rests while the others are trained.
How: Rest between sets only as long as it takes to set up the next exercise. The sequence here is crucial; the exercises can be switched around (or you can pick your favorite moves if they aren't on this list), but be sure to not do consecutive sets or exercises for a single bodypart.
What: A full-body workout that has you doing one exercise per bodypart for time (five minutes) instead of for a particular number of sets and reps—it may remind you of doing rest-pauses. You'll simply do as many reps as you can in five minutes, resting when you need to.
When: You're afraid that doing straight sets will cause you to cut your workout short.
Why: Some people just aren't able to do 15 straight sets in a half-hour, probably because they're accustomed to resting too long. This "choose-your-adventure" method requires you to train each bodypart in five-minute increments so you never lose track of time. For safety reasons, all the exercises are done on machines—you'll probably fatigue quickly and will be working off of limited rest, and machines tend to be safer.
How: For each exercise, select a weight that will cause you to fail at 10 reps. Do 10 reps right off the bat, then rest until you feel ready to go again. Do as many reps as you can, then rest again. Do this for five minutes, which means you'll have to keep a close eye on the clock or your watch.
What: An upper-body-only routine that incorporates a bit of the pre-exhaust principle into back, chest and shoulders, and one set of 100 reps each for triceps and biceps.
When: You can train only two days that week, and you want to hit upper body one day and lower body the other.
Why: The pre-exhaust technique involves training a muscle first with an isolation exercise before moving on to a heavier compound move, which lets you use more weight as adjoining muscle groups are called into play. The target muscle group will give out first since it's pre-exhausted, and the 100-rep sets will shock your bi's and tri's in a hurry.
How: Make sure you do the back, chest and shoulder exercises in order—the single-joint move before the multijoint one. Feel free to swap the order of bi's, tri's and abs.
What: A routine for the quads, glutes, hams, pecs, calves and abs that you can do at home with no equipment except an exercise ball—and even if you don't have a ball, it would cost you only two sets.
When: You can't get to the gym, you want to work both upper and lower body and you have roughly 30 minutes before you have to hit the shower for a dinner date.
Why: Pressing movements for legs and chest are easy to hit at home for a good, quick pump. Polish off your workout with an abs blitz that'll fry your midsection, and you're set for whatever the evening has in store for you.
How: Rest 30 seconds between sets, except when going from hamstrings to calves, calves to chest and chest to abs, where no rest is necessary.
What: A full-body workout that incorporates primarily barbell exercises, the exceptions being the standing calf raise (machine) and crunch (no equipment necessary). Lying triceps extensions can be done with an EZ-bar.
When: You're strapped for time and you don't know if you'll be able to get to the gym the rest of the week.
Why: With only 30 minutes to hit all your major muscle groups, your best bet is to do compound moves with the heaviest resistance possible—you simply cannot lift as much weight with dumbbells as you can with barbells for most exercises.
How: Do not perform this as a circuit. Complete two sets of an exercise before moving to the next. Rest 30 seconds between sets of the same exercise and only as long as it takes to get to the next exercise. For added intensity, after your second set, drop the weight 30% and rep to failure.
What: A legs-only routine that requires nothing more than a Smith machine and some plates.
When: You've already trained your upper body this week and this 30-minute window is your only opportunity to hit legs until next week.
Why: Because chances are you'd have to wait in line at the leg press, leg extension and leg curl machines, or all of the above, and you just don't have time for that today.
How: Even though you'll be training fairly heavy with sets of six and eight on squats, limit rest periods to one minute.
What: A full-body routine using nothing but selectorized (Cybex-type) machines.
When: You have one day to train that week and it needs to hit every bodypart, and you want a hybrid of heavy (sets of five reps) and moderate intensity (12s).
Why: Using machines means you don't have to rack weights, so you can do more sets in the same time span. Machines let you overload the muscles without needing to balance the weight as with dumbbell and barbell moves, and they give continuous tension throughout the range of motion.
How: Circuit fashion, do your first set of each exercise with a heavy weight (five reps), rest one minute, then move to the next exercise. After going through the circuit once using low reps (five), begin the circuit again; this time, lighten the weight and do sets of 12, resting a maximum of 30 seconds between sets. This will provide a great pump and add a cardio element to the last half of the routine.
What: A more focused upper-body workout with no frills—just straight sets and meat-and-potatoes training for shoulders and arms.
When: You're saving chest and back for another day (or you just trained them and they're still fatigued), but still want to get in a quick upper-body pump.
Why: When time is of the essence, you want to stick to the basic exercises in the 8 to 12-rep range to maximize hypertrophy (muscle growth).
How: Rest no more than one minute between all sets and try to hit failure on each set.