How long do you spend in the gym? Do you avoid working out because you just don’t have the time? What if I told you that you could cut your gym time in half and get even better results?
When I first started working out over 6 years ago, I used to spend anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours in the gym daily. Now, my workouts rarely take more than 45 minutes.
Younger me was obsessed with the bodybuilding style workout. I would go into the gym with a list of anywhere from 7 to 10 exercises. I would spend hours hitting every muscle group I could think of, it was overkill.
After years of this type of training, I got bored of doing isolation movements with limited results. Not to mention that I would miss out on fun things because I had to spend two hours in the gym.
As I sit at my cluttered desk, I actually have stacks on stacks of my workout logs in a file drawer to the right of me. I’m laughing at how over-the-top I was and how much time I wasted in the gym when I could have gotten similar results with far less time.
Now, I cut my workout duration in half and am actually fitter than I used to be. I’m deadlifting more than ever, can roll several jiu jitsu matches without being winded, and my arms and chest are as big as ever.
Time For A Change: The 80/20 Principle
My game changed when I stumbled on something called the 80/20 principle.
This principle can be used in all different areas of life. The principle says that in most things you do, there are a specific 20% of your activities that get you 80% of your desired result. So in business, 20% of your clients actually give you 80% of your profits and in time management, 20% of your activities will get you 80% of your work done.
The breakthrough for me was when I realized that the 80/20 principle can be used in fitness too!
Exercises for 80/20
It turns out that there are a select 20% of exercises that give you 80% of the strength, muscle, and fat loss effects that you want.
We get lured into spending far too much time hitting less effective movements because that’s what we see on random workouts on bodybuilding.com.
As life gets more complex, you’ll need a more practical and efficient route. Not all exercises are created equal, some give you more bang for your buck. Spend your time on those!
Below are the main exercises I use to build strength and size most efficiently. These are all compound exercises, meaning they hit many muscles at once instead of just one specific muscle.
Here are my top 11 exercises for more results:
The pushup should be any beginner’s starting point. Pushups require no equipment and will build the foundation of a strong upper body. Whether you’re new to fitness or a veteran looking to change it up, try a 30 day pushup challenge where you do 1 set of pushups to failure everyday. You will notice the difference. Pushups will forever be a crucial part of my fitness, and they should be for you too!
Muscle Groups hit: Chest, Triceps, Core, Shoulders
The pullup is to the back what the pushup is to the chest. Another foundation movement.
Pullups, however, are more challenging than pushups. I suggest being able to do around 10-20 pushups before starting pullups. To get better at pullups, start by doing as many as you can with good form, even if it is only one.
Get on the bar, do one pullup, take a rest, then do it again. This is the only way to get good at them. It’s okay if you are having trouble getting up to the top of the bar. Jump to get yourself up there and try to hold that top position as long as possible before slowly letting yourself back down.
Muscle groups hit: Back, Biceps, Core
Ahh, the deadlift. There is nothing quite like ripping a loaded barbell off the face of the earth.
The beauty in this movement is twofold. On one hand, the deadlift is very important because it is the basis for safely picking any item off the ground. On the other hand, it’s so powerful because it recruits almost the entire back side of the body and provides a huge release of testosterone.
Muscle groups hit: Hamstrings, Calves, Glutes, Core, Lower Back, Upper Back, Forearms
Squats are the king of full body movement. You can develop an impressive physique from squatting alone. I even feel that squatting heavy often can help the rest of the body grow from the testosterone released. Here is a video to help you learn proper form so you don’t injure yourself.
Squats are also great because no equipment is needed. You can bust out a set of squats literally anywhere. Note: Don’t be fooled by the thought that the squat is just a lift for getting strong. You will surely find yourself panting and out of breath after an intense set of squats.
While the deadlift doesn’t need much prerequisite flexibility, in order to properly perform a squat, you need a healthy degree of flexibility in the ankle, hips, and even shoulders.
Muscle groups hit: Calves, Hamstrings, Glutes, Quads, Core,
The lift all bros are required to hit on Monday’s and the only number that counts when talking to another bro about fitness.
Bench press is certainly one of the biggest players when it comes to developing a wide, chiseled chest. There isn’t much better than getting to the gym after a bad day, loading up the bar, and repping out bench till your chest wants to explode.
Warning: Keep in mind that bench press has taken many victims in the form of shoulder injury. Unless you are looking to compete in powerlifting, be cautious about the amount of weight you are regularly hitting on bench.
Quick tip: I have found that by putting my feet up on the bench, I feel the movement much more in the chest area and need less weight to get the same results.
Muscles groups hit: Chest, Shoulders, Core, Triceps
The push press is performed by standing with a loaded barbell at shoulder height. Slightly bend at the knees while keeping your chest upright to load your legs. Then explosively push through your legs while driving your arms towards the sky to bring the barbell overhead. Check out this video if you need to see it.
The push press is a great way to build some serious overhead strength while also developing explosive legs. Not only that, your core is getting trained as well since you are using it to remain stable while standing.
The push press is like the standing military press except that you can go heavier since you also use your legs.
Muscle groups hit: Shoulders, Core, Glutes,
The kettlebell swing is an underrated movement. Kettlebell swings can build serious lower body strength as well as whole body cardio. If performed right, your glutes will be burning from squeezing to launch the weight overhead. A kettlebell is perfect for any home gym and will build you the posterior of your dreams. Here is a video that will teach you how to do a kettlebell swing better than I can explain.
For six weeks, Tim Ferriss only performed one set of 75 kettlebell swings twice a week and was at the lowest body fat he had been in a long time.
Muscle groups hit: Glutes, Hamstrings, Core. The shoulders and arms are also hit but shouldn’t be used to move the weight. They are just along for the ride.
Lunges are a leg burner that nicely complement other leg movements. Throw lunges at the end of a run or a set of squats and your glutes and quads will be screaming. I also love lunges because they work on your knee stability and core strength.
Muscle groups hit: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Core
In simplified terms, a clean is taking a barbell from the ground to your shoulders.When completing a full clean from ground, you are essentially doing a deadlift, hip thrust, shrug and then a squat to get under the bar.
If you want to build an explosive physique, cleans are a must.
Warning: Cleans are a complex movement. Please find a professional to teach you proper form. Here is a video to learn the basics, but don’t go to your gym and try to clean heavy weight until you’ve learned good form.
Muscle groups hit: Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads, Core, Traps, Back
Burpees are another movement that get the entire body going and require no equipment. Burpees will help build muscle as well as endurance and cardio.
Add these as a warm up or a finisher at the end of the workout and you’ll certainly feel the burn. I remember once not having time to go to the gym so I just did 100 burpees in my driveway. Needless to say, I got a full workout.
Muscle groups hit: Shoulders, Arms, Chest, Core, Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings
Running like your life depends on it.
Sprinting allows you to take all that gym strength and put it into real motion.
Sprinting requires powerful driving from the legs in combination with aggressive pumping of the arms. This is a reason that most olympic sprinters are heavily muscled. Regularly sprinting also helps work on that explosive, fast twitch muscle that many of us miss out on during traditional lifting workouts.
Muscle groups hit: Mainly Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, and Core, but can help with overall body tone and conditioning.
Boom! That’s it.
If you were looking for some crazy Russian exercises, I’m sorry. These are the staples.
These eleven exercises require you to use your entire body, so they will give you more bang for your buck and keep you balanced and fit for life. (No chicken legs here!)
Whether your goal is fat loss, toning, muscle size, explosiveness, or general functionality, these exercises need to be the foundation of your training if you want to reach your goals quicker.
If you aren’t preparing for the next bodybuilding show, skip the isolation movements and move to the compound lifts.
Stay tuned for an upcoming article talking about the numerous ways to combine these movements for intense, quick workouts.