Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
How do you achieve your ideal physique, especially when you’re short on time? After setting an objective goal (see my article “Goal-Setting, Progress and Success), writing down a plan to reach it, and visualizing accomplishing that goal, you have to actually train. But what if you only have about 45 minutes a few times per week? How would you structure your workouts to maximize your efforts?
Since my college days, I’ve been a fan of functional training. I want to be able to sprint a 100M in 13 seconds on any day, squat my body weight for reps, and jump up on the tallest plyometric box. This translates to every-day activities, such as carrying all of the groceries into the house in one trip and climbing five floors of stairs without being winded. I think it’s important for all of us to have something we want to get stronger, quicker or better for.
I have also always been drawn to the aesthetics of fitness: the sweep of the quad, the cap of the shoulder or the peak of a well-built biceps. Training for function helps with aesthetics, but it doesn’t quite improve the finer details. That’s why I designed a plan that would save time in the gym without sacrificing my goals.
The 20/20 Program
The concept behind 20/20 is fairly simple and adjustable based on your goals. For the first 20 minutes of training, you’ll focus on compound movements, which are multi-joint exercises that use two or more muscle groups. This means more muscle recruitment, more activation of the nervous system and more muscle growth. Some great examples of compound exercises are squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull-ups, overhead press and rows. I like using free weights and incorporating supersets and circuits to creates a greater calorie burn and keep my heart rate up. I noticed that I would often fatigue after about 20 minutes of intense training (either muscles or central nervous system), but I wanted to continue to train.
Enter isolation movements. These exercises are much less taxing and are great for working on aesthetics. Isolation movements are single-joint exercises where one muscle is being worked. Some examples of isolation moves include biceps curls, leg extensions, triceps extensions, and front raises. For the second 20 minutes of the workout, I focus on shaping certain muscles. This can be done in either straight sets or supersets.
The number of sets and reps you do will generally depend on your goals. You can choose light weight and high reps with a short recovery time for more of a cardio workout. Or you can focus on lower reps with heavier weight to work on strength and conditioning.
If you have four days per week, try doing two upper-body days and two lower-body days. I like setting up push-pull workouts in supersets, as it gives the opposing muscle group time to recover, keeps the heart rate up and maximizes time spent in the gym. On a three-day split, try one total-body day, one upper-body day and one lower-body day. Even if you’re not in a time crunch, this workout be an effective way to break through a plateau with your current training!
Thank you for reading, and see you next time! Train hard, y’all!
Erin Stern is a former Junior All American High Jumper, two-time Ms. Figure Olympia Champion and lifetime natural athlete. Her style of training is called F.A.S.T. or Functionally Aesthetic Strength Training. It incorporates her background of track and field with the aesthetic lifts of bodybuilding. Erin hopes to empower, educate and enrich the lives of people through health, fitness and re-framing the mind.