“What is the most effective routine if you only have about 45-50 minutes to lift first thing in the A. M.?” – Larry Criswell

They say that the most effective routine that you can do is the one that you will do consistently. Just being committed to the program however, is not enough; especially if you’re training in the morning.  You’re tired as hell, weak, and the last thing you want to do is get a workout in when you’re still half asleep. But if that’s the only time you can get it in, then there are some strategies you can use to make the workout very effective, and not make training something you dread.

Wake Up

Smash two huge glasses of water, some fish oil pills, vitamin D, and some licorice root as soon as you wake up. You get dehydrated when you sleep and your movement and strength can be negatively affected when you don’t have enough water in your body. The fish oil and vitamin D is great for you overall, and the licorice root will wake you up.

Dress in lots of layers. Don’t just grab your shorts and tank top. This will work to your advantage for helping you stay warm and allow you to warm-up up faster before the workout. During the morning, it takes longer to wake your body up and get warm, so wearing more layers helps. 

You can also grab a coffee as you drive into the gym if you want. This will help you wake up even more and get your mind right before you step into the gym. Continue to sip it and transition to lots of water as the warm-up and workout starts.


Hit a very thorough warm-up with lots of full-body movements. Target your lower body, upper body, and entire body, and just get moving. You should have a good sweat going before you even think of getting under any weights. Transition the warm-up into light workouts for your first exercise. Studies have shown that you’re more susceptible to back / spine injuries in the morning, so use your initial worksets to test the waters as you progress. The warm-up shouldn’t last more than 10-15 minutes.

Once you get into the workout, stick to big movements – see my previous Lift Doctor here on the most effective compound exercises. Use a variety of rep ranges during the workout as well. A 5×5 (set x rep) scheme for the heavier, main exercises with a higher volume for the supplemental exercises of 4-5 sets x 10-15 reps, will stimulate more muscle growth and get you stronger.

Sample Morning Workout


1) Bench Press, 5×5, 60 sec rest

2A)  Push-ups, 4x 5, no rest

2B)  Pull-ups, 4×8-10, 90 sec. rest

3A)  Alternating DB Curls, 3-4 x 8-10, no rest

3B)  Cable Tricep Extensions, 3-4 x 25-30, 60 sec rest

Finally, the quality of sleep and the amount of sleep you get the night before the workout will also be a contributing factor for how hard you can train the next morning. Get to bed early and rest up!

“I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis in both knees. Any suggestion for a good leg workout?”  – Bill Nichols 

The key to limiting the affects of arthritis is hydration and quality movement.  You also need to ensure that you stay away from sodas and artificial sweeteners. Through my experience, I felt better, moved better, and my joints stopped aching after I quit all of these things.  

Then, start pounding water; tons of water – all day, every day.  Keep your body hydrated.  Your soft-tissues, including your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and most importantly fascia, need water to move unrestricted.  When you become dehydrated, make poor choices in the gym with the exercises you do, and start limiting your motion throughout the day – as in a desk job – your body becomes locked down.

As for the workout, there are many variations of squats and deadlifts you can do to keep your lower body adapting. Find the ones that work for you. Not every exercise is right for everyone.  I can’t do deep squats anymore, so I perform box (or bench) squats, good mornings, and Romanian deadlifts.  These allow me to dominate my legs and posterior chain while keeping my training heavy. If deadlifts aggravate your knees, try sumo deadlifts or trap bar deads. Get a sled (or make one with an old car tire) and start dragging it in all directions. If lunges hurt, try split squats or rear foot elevated split squats. There’s always a way.

The old saying is true, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” The key is to keep moving and stay hydrated.