The world may operate a lot differently these days after being upended by COVID-19 and its aftermath, but one key aspect has remained the same: It can be just as hard to squeeze a regular workout into our busy schedules.
Perhaps we’re all a little out of practice in accomplishing everything we used to, especially if we spent months in lockdown and are just now getting back in the groove. But whatever the reason — juggling work, school, time with friends and family, and navigating relentless to-do lists — our precious moments for the gym can quickly slip through our fingers.
The solution, however, is simple, according to Denise Cervantes, certified personal trainer. By employing a few high-efficiency techniques in our weight workouts, we can dramatically increase the intensity of every set and rep, thus gaining much of the same benefits we would in a traditional 60-minute session in about 30 focused minutes.
Here, Cervantes details a three-part chest, triceps and biceps routine that cuts down on time without cutting corners. To do it, you’ll need a bench and dumbbells, or you can use a barbell with an assortment of weight plates, if you prefer (and if you have a spotter on hand). You’ll start off with incline presses, followed by two superset combinations that minimize the rest periods to keep you focused and pushing toward the finish line.
“This workout makes sure not a moment is wasted,” Cervantes says. “You’ll work near the upper limits of your strength while trying proven techniques such as eight-count negatives, drop sets, supersets and partial reps to fully challenge these muscles. You’ll get in and out of the gym quickly and yet still feel really accomplished.”
The Chest and Arms in 30 Workout
|Incline Bench Press||3
— dropsets —
|6 at 80% one-rep max
4 at 60-70% max
— superset with —
Flat Bench Press
|3||6-8 at 65-75% max
6-8 at 65-75% max
— superset with —
10 full reps, then 20 half reps
Part 1: Incline Bench Press
If using an adjustable bench, set the angle to about 45 degrees. After doing two to three lighter warm-up sets of eight to 10 reps to get the blood flowing, choose one weight for your three working sets — ideally about 80 percent of your one-rep maximum. If you don’t know your exact 1RM, that’s OK: “Pick a weight load where you feel challenged and the last two reps feel extra difficult,” Cervantes says.
You’ll start with three sets of six reps, then drop the weight by 10 to 20 percent and do two more sets of four reps. “For these, you’ll really focus on the negative portion of each rep — the part where you’re lowering the weight,” Cervantes instructs. “Try to go as slow as you can. Challenge yourself to take at least an eight-count down, one one thousand, two one thousand, etc.”
Part 2: Lying Skullcrusher and Flat Bench Press Superset
Adjust the bench so it’s flat. Lie back with the dumbbells or a bar and do a set of six to eight lying triceps extensions, aka skullcrushers. Immediately after, you’ll bring the weights to your chest and do lying presses, pushing the dumbbells or barbell straight up toward the ceiling to full arm extension.
“When you’re doing the skullcrushers, try to keep those elbows from flaring,” Cervantes says. “Pretend there is a beach ball in between your elbows and you are squeezing it with them throughout each rep.”
In addition, keep rest to a minimum between the end of the skullcrushers and start of the presses, and take only 30 seconds or so between supersets to catch your breath. “If you find that you’re struggling too much and need to change up the weight, do so,” Cervantes adds. “It’s more important to focus on good form and technique and feeling the muscles of your triceps and pectorals flexing and extending.”
Part 3: Push-Up and Standing Curl Superset
This combo hits the chest, triceps and biceps all in one fell swoop. If you need to, you can modify the push-ups to fit your strength levels — do them on your knees, if need be, or if you’re a pro, try diamond push-ups with your hands together instead of spaced shoulder-width apart.
When it comes to the curl, you’ll grab a pair of dumbbells or a barbell that you can do a set of 10 to 15 biceps curls with. “You’ll start with 10 full-range-of-motion reps, bringing the weight from your thighs up toward your shoulders,” Cervantes says. “Then you’ll finish working just in the middle range for 20 reps, bringing the weights from a starting point just underneath the bellybutton to a few inches above the bellybutton.”
All in all, it’s a burnout set that’ll really fire up the biceps. “If you find you can’t finish 20 reps, drop the weight between the full and partials by about 10 to 15 percent or so,” Cervantes adds. “Try to complete three full rounds of the push-ups and curls without resting.”