In a perfect world, I’d exercise whenever I want for as long as I want. Nothing would interrupt or interfere with my training. Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect. It is often chaotic and unpredictable. As a business owner, coach, and parent, I never know what the next day will bring. On Monday I could be up all night with a sick child, and on Tuesday I might be traveling across the country with an athlete. Every day is different. The days of me training whenever I want for as long as I want have come and gone. What hasn’t changed however is my willingness to make time for exercise. No matter how busy I am, I always get something in. And despite my preference for long, hard workouts, I’ve come to realize that something beats nothing.
Life Changes, So You Must Too
I grew up as an athlete. Much of my life revolved around training. I was in the gym for a few hours each day. My responsibilities were simple. Keep my grades up and prepare for competition.
Looking back, I used to think I was busy, but my younger self didn’t know what busy was. At this stage in my life, I have many more responsibilities. My own training isn’t my primary concern. I have other athletes looking up to me as well as my children. Their needs come before mine.
Therefore, as much as I enjoy seemingly endless workouts, it is rare that I have time. My hectic schedule has forced me to become more efficient and creative with my training. I can’t just block off several hours in the middle of the day to lift. Instead, I need to make time, even when it seems like there isn’t time.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, the suggestions below might prove useful…
I. Something Beats Nothing
If I had a nickel for every time someone said they don’t have time for exercise, I’d be a rich man. Yet, whenever I hear this excuse, I don’t argue or belittle the person. Instead, I respond with a question.
How much time do you need?
My question is usually followed by a blank stare. Many people honestly don’t know. They just assume that however much time is needed is more time than they have. As a result, these people opt for nothing instead of something. That’s a mistake.
Just because you don’t have an uninterrupted hour or more to train doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from shorter blocks of exercise. Doing something is almost always better than nothing. Don’t let the frustration of not getting in a perfect workout stop you from doing anything. Even a single set of pushups is better than sitting on the couch whining about how you didn’t have time to exercise.
II. Bodyweight Exercise Convenience
When I ask someone how much time they need to exercise, their first thought is often how long it will take to drive to and from the gym. They aren’t just thinking about exercise time, but also the commute.
If you find yourself thinking similar thoughts, you are a prime candidate for bodyweight exercise. Its convenience can’t be beat. You don’t need to drive anywhere to perform a few sets of squats, lunges, pushups, pull-ups, etc.
I make this suggestion as someone who genuinely enjoys lifting weights. I’m a proud iron addict. I don’t always have time to lift the way that I want however. That’s no reason to skip training entirely though. I can always find time for calisthenics.
Regardless of your interests or goals, I highly recommend getting acclimated with bodyweight exercise. Once you become proficient with your body, you can essentially train anywhere. You won’t need much time (if any) to warm up and you also won’t need as much time between sets when compared to heavy lifting. In other words, you can cram a significant amount of work into a short period of time.
If you don’t believe the last line from above, see how many pushups or pull-ups you can cram into a ten minute block. I’m guessing that after ten minutes, you’ll have a change of heart. And if you are really stubborn, add a second ten minute block where you perform as many bodyweight squats as possible. Just don’t expect to walk anywhere afterward.
Training for approximately 10 to 15 minutes is what I refer to as a mini-workout. I’ve used mini-workouts successfully for many years. I actually credit these brief sessions with much of my success. Without regular mini-workouts, there’s no way I’d be where I am today.
As for how I use mini-workouts, I typically target one of the following.
- A single exercise (ex. pushups, pull-ups, rollouts, etc.)
- An objective (ex. lower arms, neck, or core)
- Conditioning (ex. jump rope or run for 10 to 15 minutes)
- Isometrics (ex. static holds or push/pull an immobile object)
As for when I include mini-workouts, I don’t take time for lunch so I squeeze in a short session instead. I’ll often do the same at night before bed. I vary what I target during each session to balance my development while also avoiding boredom.
IV. Wake Up Earlier
There’s no denying that sleep is important, but most of us can adjust our schedules to go to bed slightly earlier, thus wake up earlier to exercise. If I can wake up 30 minutes earlier, that’s 30 minutes that I add to each day. Thirty minutes might not sound like much, but after 365 days, you will have freed up over 180 hours. That’s more than a week of time.
Waking up earlier allows me to train in the morning. That’s when I perform my primary session. Mini-workouts are secondary. I always try to get the primary workout in first. And if for some reason I can’t, I’ll fall back to the something beats nothing idea later in the day.
V. Efficient Lifting
Efficient lifting to me means performing exercises that offer the most bang for the buck. In other words, look for lifts that are compound in nature and allow you to go heavy. Deadlifts are a prime example. If I don’t do anything but heavy deadlifts on a given day, I’ve still performed more work than most.
Another example of efficient lifting would be to pair an upper body exercise with a lower body movement. Doing so will minimize the total time spent resting between sets. I first mentioned this concept many years ago in my Infinite Intensity book and I still utilize it today. For example, I might pair pull-ups with glute-ham raises or perhaps a standing rollout with a one leg squat. There are countless options. Just be sure to pick two exercises that won’t interfere with each other. You’ll want to hit each movement hard, yet still be fresh when it is time for the next set.
VI. Combination Exercises
Another option is to perform exercise variations that target multiple objectives. For example, rather than just perform pull-ups, I might opt for pull-ups from thick grip handles (as seen above). This combination adds a secondary benefit of lower arm development.
Another example can be seen below. Rather than simply perform pushups, I’ve added a core component to the exercise by using an inexpensive furniture slider. It doesn’t take long for the upper body and core to be challenged with this combination.
Odd objects are also excellent for combination exercises. For example, I might shoulder a sandbag for several reps, before squatting or carrying it. Another option would be to press the sandbag overhead until you approach failure. At that time, lower the bag to the zercher position and continue lunge walking until your legs begin to shake. Repeat for a few sets. It won’t take long for the entire body to be spent.
VII. Spoil Yourself
No matter how busy I am, I always make time for at least one longer workout each week (ideally two). For me, that typically means Saturday or Sunday morning and possibly again on Wednesday. Even if it means waking up earlier than what’s already early, I give myself as much time as I need to push myself to the max.
I’m all for shorter and more efficient workouts, but I still need to feel a long, hard workout on occasion. Doing so once or twice a week is more than enough considering all of the additional work that I rack up via shorter sessions.
Clearly, the above ideas represent just a few options that have worked well for me. I’m not here to suggest that everyone follow my example. I do however have quite a bit of experience training hard despite working long and hectic hours. I’m living proof that it is entirely possible. I won’t suggest that it is always easy, but it certainly is doable. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way.
Lastly, if you have any tips that you’ve found useful, I encourage you to comment below. It’s always useful to hear from other like-minded individuals.
“Men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.” – Lloyd Jones
Awesome post, Ross. I have used a jump rope workout from Full Throttle Conditioning as a one-a-week staple in my routine for few years now. (60 sec on/30 off x5) and (30 sec on/15 off x 5) with sprint in place style never gets easy. You can always turn the rope faster. Also, it takes only 10 minutes. For strength in a time crunch, I set up aniron gym in a doorway at my office and brought in some heavy elastic bands. I have literally been able to cram in a full body strength workout during the time other coworkers are on the toilet.
Really enjoyed this post. I’ve always been of the mind that I had to get in a full workout regardless of what’s going on, but that ends up adding undue stress.
Your one comment on Facebook a little while back really stuck for me when you said something like, “people complain about not having time to workout. How about dropping and doing some fk’n pushups.” Anybody can muster up that much time.
Great stuff as always. I’m nowhere near your fitness level, but what has worked for me for the past 1.5 years is to get up earlier. As a result, I do go to bed earlier.
But I have found that “oh, I’ll do this later today” generally means it never happens, as life gets in the way. Whereas early morning time is guaranteed to be my time that I can use however I want.
I wholeheartedly second the recommendation for early morning workouts, particularly for fathers. After work, there will be the pull to go home and see your kids, and your family will expect that too. Early morning can be your own time that you aren’t “taking” from anyone else. My wife appreciates the fact that I do it that way because she knows I am making sure all other free time is family time.
Another method I like, and should do more of, is simply ducking away for a few quick sets that don’t really interfere with anything else. If I’m playing with my daughter, I might jump up, do a set of pull ups from the bar hanging in the next room, and be back 30 seconds later. Repeat five times. The kid doesn’t care (or learns to appreciate exercise) and you have knocked off 50 pull ups.
Trips to the playground can also be a good way to sneak in a quick body weight work out. After playing with my daughter for a while, my wife will take over, I’ll do a 15 or 20 minute body weight workout, and then go back to playing with my daughter.
I should add that Ross’s philosophy has been the inspiration and motivation for all of those ideas.
As ususal an awesome post and something that is really important. You are indeed a special coach and I wish to atleast train 2 or 3 workouts with you as my coach.
I liked that thing you talk about mini workouts. Though sometimes i get carried away by not able to go to gym since I have to drive, I used to do some amount of pushups plank burpees and other such exercises and feel satisfied with the pump at the end !!!!
You are the most practical coach and am happy that I have purchased your DVD, book been following you for many years from 2002 or 2003 i Guess and am happy about that !!!!! Most importantly I have applied the knowledge I got from you !!!!
awesome advice!! i also prefer my longer harder workouts but sometimes find i have to wait for the weekend for those. on workdays i supplement my training with minis as well. you might even say that some are micros! waking up early enough is clearly a prime way to go, but on days i hit the snooze too much i’ll still do at least 10 pushups, 10 squats with a 40lb barbell, and 20 Russian twists with a 5lb medicine ball while my tea is steeping and my flatiron is heating. not sure how much benefit i get from that tiny routine but i’m pretty sure i’m not worse off because of it! if i have any additional minutes to spare i’ll add deadlifts and barbell rows with the same 40lb barbell. it’s such a quick routine that way! i also bring a jump rope to work and do a 15 to 20 minute routine on my lunch break. to prevent getting too sweaty i break it up into 30 second intervals. 30 second rope work, 30 second mountain climbers, 30 second rope, 30 second plank, 30 second rope, 30 second sumo squats, etc. i have to do this outside the office building out in a corner of the parking lot. other office people either look at me weird or they avoid looking at me at all, like i’m Medusa or something, but that’s okay. i’ve had to develop a DGAF attitude about what anyone thinks about me out there =). obviously i’d much prefer more sets, reps and exercises, but these are my tips for those extra time-strapped days. also, i quit folding towels! lmao. seriously though, what a waste of time. now they go straight from the dryer or clothesline into the bathroom closet. voila, more time to work on getting my handstand! =)
also, one other comment i’d like to make… parents should make an effort to have dedicated fitness time with their kids. when my son was little i would do an exercise dvd each day (this was back when i was brainwashed by those so-called fitness professionals that promoted the false yet scary idea that women would get bulky and man-like by lifting weights). during these workouts, my son would lay on me and push his toys in my way, etc., but i made it fun so he wouldn’t resent that time. it just became a part of what we would do each day and we both enjoyed it. now our workouts have evolved and we each have our own routines but quite often we do our longer, heavier, and/or more strenuous workouts together! i love my son so much and there is nothing wrong with striving for a healthy strong body! if any of you are also a busy single parent you CAN find time and it benefits both or all of you!
btw, if any ladies want my tips on keeping your hair, makeup and clothes pretty despite a mid-day workout, just let me know! =) =)
Air – I agree with you. I work out with/around and in front of my small children. They can see that it’s an important part of my day and they like to do their own “workouts” at times. It can be cumbersome or frustrating at times but I think the long term benefit to all of us outweighs all of that.
Great post. A few things I do to keep fit at work. I am fortunate enough to have an office with a door and a carpeted floor. I use my lunch time to get in a mini workout almost daily. I have a small gym of equipment in my office, but it takes up very little room. A physio ball, a foam roller, two 10# dumbbells and a folding walker from Goodwill, a heavy bicycle lock and chain that I use for weights (another 9#) , a set of furniture sliders, a exercise band and two push up handles. Total cost about 30 dollars. I usually go for a brisk 10 minute walk, then come back, close my door and get busy.
Some days are mobility and focus on specific areas. Other days I do more conditioning with various slider exercises adopted from you! Thank you! On strength days I do dips, inverted rows, and L-sits on the walker, and throw the weights and chain in my backpack for added weight. If I need more weight I throw in a ream of copy paper. I do inverted push ups with my feet on my desk, and glute hamstring exercises on the ball or the sliders. I do slider mountain climbers, angry cats and standing figure 8 shoulder raises with the weighted backpack. I usually finish with some ab exercises. When I am finished the equipment all fits in an unused cabinet drawer, and the walker slides behind the cabinet, next to the wall. I sit on the ball part of the day while at my computer. Of all the equipment the sliders are the most versatile. The walker is next. The point you made and I try to follow, is that if you want it bad enough you will find the time.
Very interesting article as I also believe that you can train effectively wherever you are with what you have around you!
Because I have been a bit busy with my job, I only use bodyweight exercices and to my great surprise my body has become stronger! I am trying to complete a full human flag and day by day , I feel my body going up in the air!
Ross, that’s great advice man! I can relate to that myself. I get up at 430 for work get home at 530 in the evening. My brother and i train a group of people (physical fitness) from 630 to 730 then we have to get our workout in. I’m doin good if I get in the house at 830. In our training time is also an issue so we go hard and intense. How long does it take to do 100 burpees? Like you once said an advanced athlete should be able to do it in under 10mins. My best is 6:26. And maybe after that see how many times you can hit the tire with the sledge in 5mins. I also like to take 2 exercises and count down from 10 on 1 and count up to 10 on the other. Example, heavy sandbag clean and press and burpees on 2 big stacked tires. Doesn’t take long but very effective. Much of my training style I learned from you Ross. Thank you!
Ross, thanks for an excellent article full of great and easy to do ideas! I’d like to add some information which could be usefull for sport addicts))
1. You should make sport as a habit and do something everyday! Don’t hesitate about overtraining.
2. You should feel your body and give it as much work as it could do and even little more to make progress!
3. If you still have a lack of motivation, try to use timers for training! There are many ways to motivate yourself! For example, you can make timer for 30 minutes (less or more, see by yourself) and do whatever you like (pushups, pullups and so on). Your goal is to spend that time during the day. The benefits are easy to see: don’t count reps, just do it! (Nike, thanks:).
4. You can use jumprope everywhere! It’s great, fun and very useful for improving your cardio! Just play your favorite music and start jumping. That’s it!
5. You can start developing you arms and wrists! There are many different gears for doing the job! You can carry most of them in your pocket and start training even during meetup or coffee shop!
6. You should work on your flexibility. Everything you need is your body! After working on that aspect, you would be relaxed and ready for more work!
Thanks for reading my suggestions! And start training right now!
I work in a public school: there’s no place to exercise that wouldn’t be a distraction, and we don’t get much time to ourselves. But the staff bathrooms are single-person, handicap-accessible, and, importantly, very, very clean. Plenty of room in there for movements like one-legged squats and tiger crawls, and the unused end of the bar to help people sit on and stand up from the toilet is good for bodyweight tricep extensions. A few quick sets during the day does make a difference–and helps me do a good job with the kids. Maybe someday we can exercise in the open and role-model it to the students, but for now it’s “get it in anywhere.”
As someone who spends a fair bit of time on the road this article will come in handy. Thanks for the tips and great quote at the end btw.
Great info!! As a father of two and also a weightlifter I can relate to your story!!
One thing I do is do two whole semi-whole body workouts a week when I am really busy.
It works quite well
You are correct Ross.
There are no excuses for not training.
As was in the Infinite Intensity book, the G.P.P. minute drills are phenomenal when done in the morning. As you said, waking up even 30 minutes earlier allows sufficient time for an effective and intense workout that will leave you feeling energized throughout the day.
Golden, as per usual. One tip from me would be;
If you’re stuck for a Hamstring Curl device what I do is simply grip the tire on my car with my ankles, if its a large enough car you can usually just put down a mat and slip your ankles underneath the tire as it curves upward. Simply gripping like this will already work the hamstrings, making a hard exercise even harder. The same thing can be done with trees and such. I usually do some calisthenics while I am out walking the dog, may as well get two birds with one stone. The dog himself also weighs about 100 pounds and…well, lets just say the vets loves how he has gotten so used to being picked up and handled hahaha
I really like Infinite Intensity and Never Gymless. But I’m struggling to train as a busy person. And to, at the same time, downsize to a situation where I have very limited space and no access to a gym. I’m used to train differently.
Never Gymless has a very nice split of exercises: i) push ii) pull iii) lower body iv) isometrics iv) core vi) conditioning.
What would be a really minimal set of equipment? A pull-up bar is mostly a given. Dumbbells are good for not limiting myself to bodyweight. But aside, what extra 1 or 2 items do you recommend? Parallettes? Resistance bands?
@Alex – A weighted vest might be the most convenient addition (can be used with countless exercises). Bands and/or parallettes are also useful of course.
Regardless of what you choose, I wouldn’t view the decision as a permanent choice. You can always add bits and pieces to your home gym as time passes. Items such as bands or a vest are easy to store (even underneath a bed). You don’t have to have everything in place to do something. Start with what you have and add to your current arsenal when the time is right.
About the hours, even as i know that training at morning its great, To me that worked more as an excuse to not train, As I have to work really late at night. I think its a constant challenge to stop excusing yourself of doing something. Most of the times I train 2-3am, when everyone is sleeping, noone is bothering you and that works great too.
This is a very inspirational article! I am just curious to know:
(1) What is the earliest that you have ever worked out?
(2) At what time do you normally start your morning workouts?
(3) For someone who is not a morning person, like myself, would it be okay to stay up later to get a workout in at night as opposed to rising earlier in the morning?
I am just curious to know your thoughts on the above.
@Renier – I’m obviously a fan of morning workouts as that has been the best time for me. Please don’t confuse my preference with a universal suggestion however. I will write another entry on this subject to provide more details. The short version is that you need to find a time that is convenient for you. That might mean a late night workout as opposed to my early morning session (which may happen at 5AM).
I’ll get another entry up on this subject within the next few days.
I have this kind of approach for days when i don’t have much spare time:
I have a pull-up bar in kitchen doorway, and I do a couple whenever I walk under it(maybe 20-40 per day)
I also do 10 push-ups when I come from bathroom and 10 bodyweight squats before I sit on a couch.
Before i hit the shower, I do kettlebell swings to the point when my grip gives up or technique breaks down.
this approach is easy but the reps pile up pretty quickly.
Hi there Ross,
I can’t agree more. For example I have a day job, a newborn baby at a same time trying to manage 2 blogs (an investment blog and a fitness blog). To squeeze time for exercising, I do mostly HIIT body weight workouts. I need between 10-40 mins to get a freaking great workout by following the routines from Freeletics.
As a matter of fact, I wrote about the benefits of Freeletics in my blog post here. If you don’t mind I would like to share that post here:
Lastly but not least, keep up the good work Ross! You look fantastic and truly an inspiration for many.
Using a bicycle instead of Car/Bus is also an option, at least for the singles. For
Parents it might complicate time management.
This article pretty much sums up the way I train. Due to all life’s commitments I rarely have adequate time to train throughout the bulk of the day. However, first thing in the morning works for me so I gave up working out in a commercial gym and began building a “gym” in my garage. I have to wake up 45-60 mins earlier on work days but I always feel great at the end of my workout. Most of my workouts have some sort of conditioning block built in that requires me to train outside. There’s just something about training outside in the fresh air, with the sun just coming up that’s invigorating! My “gym” doesn’t contain much at this point but I’m adding to it slowly. I have an olympic bar (winter gloves can be a requirement in the dead of winter!), a few hundred LBS of plates, a pair of 80LB dumbells, a homemade sandbag, a homemade bulgarian training bag, a homemade sled, and various objects for throwing/carrying like tires, tree stumps, rocks,etc. Before work workouts are generally shorter, but more intense. My day off workouts are generally longer, and are usually my heavier lifting days. I also add in push ups, pull ups, calf raises, etc. at various times throughout the day fairly often. Depending on the day I may drop down at my desk at work and bang out a set of 20 push ups every hour. I work 12 hour shifts so that works out to be 240 push ups for the day without even breaking a sweat! We have a gym at work too so I may jump in there periodically and bang out a couple sets of pull ups. By the end of shift I may end up 50 pull ups. I appreciate all of your advice and your common sense approach, you’re an inspiration to many. Keep up the great work!
Hi Ross I am an avid reader of your site, it inspired me to do some boxing and it helps to read it whenever i am feeling like training is too hard. I have purchased Never Gym less and Infinite intensity and I love the conditioning drills in them. Band good mornings now replace dumbbell swings whenever I do not have a bell around. 🙂
I was wondering what sort of warm ups/ sets and reps you would do in one of your early morning workouts? I struggle to get my workouts under 45 minutes, this includes 15 mins warm up and two ten minute super sets utilizing push/pull in kettle bell and body weight exercises. Do you have any favorite morning Workouts that only take you 30 mins?
Thanks from Dan.
@Daniel – When time is limited, I stick with movements that don’t require much (if any) warm-up time. For instance, a set of pushups doesn’t require the same warm-up that you’d need to work up to a one rep max on the deadlift. Bodyweight exercise is typically more convenient in this regard.
If the temp is cold in the winter however, I usually start with a few minutes of brisk rope skipping to warm the body as a whole.
Overall, I don’t spend a lot of time warming up though. I believe a lot of people focus too much attention on the warm-up, which can ultimately eat away from the actual workout (if/when time is limited).
Thank you for this great post. As a new father and being busy at work, I had to make the switch to mini-blocks throughout the day and it works for me since a few months now. However, I have a question. May I ask you how many mini-blocks a day you perform on average? I know there’s day when you do more and some other less but just to get the idea. 🙂
@Xavier – It’s tough for me to provide an average as every week is different. There are some days when I can make more time, others when I’m crammed from morning until late at night. With that in mind, I suppose the best guess would be a “few” per day. It’s not an exact science though (which is one of the reasons it works for me when I’m super busy).
Thank you Ross for the quick reply. 🙂
Ross,Thanks for being a great motivator for guys like me who get stuck in a set pattern.You show me some great ideas to put some twists on routines and it
Works. Thanks Again ,Larry
I hate running. If I could get all my cardio from just shadowboxing, that’s all I’d do every day. The reality is that there are two dogs in the house and they need exercise as much as I do. So it’s pretty clear what I should be doing- taking the dogs for a “walk” (the German Shepard is always pent up and willing to jog a bit, while the mini-dachshund is too tiny to need more than a few minutes of jogging around to be satisfied, though he’ll play ball indoors pretty much forever) and since we live on a hill, walking uphill can be enough for me and the little guy.
So True!!! I’ve bien an adept of micro sessions since some time nos. I’m not a parent but I totally understand the convenience of mini workouts in every day life. It’s also True that when I advice friands or family about this, thÃ© inÃ©galable rÃ©ponse is : 10 minutes? It’s not enough! If only they tried! I love your Work. You’re an inspiration.
This blog is a great reminder to be cognitively flexible:)