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Quick Barbell Workouts for Busy People

I have plenty of clients who work inhumane hours, yet all of them train 4 to 7 days per week and are making significant progress. I’m fed up with people who make excuses not to train. I couldn’t care less if someone doesn’t want to hit the weights.

To each his passion. However, I do get pissed off when someone complains about not being able to build a good physique because they don’t have time. If you really want it, stop being weak and make time to train.

The thing is, you don’t need that much time to work out. You can build muscle and strength in as little as 20 minutes a day (or even less) if you know what you’re doing. Twenty minutes of well planned, focused training will lead to significant improvements in your physique and work capacity.

Here’s a very simple program that will get you stronger and more muscular if you give it all you’ve got.  This program only requires a barbell and, ideally, a bench. You’ll only do four basic lifts. They’re split over two training days and you’ll go back and forth between them throughout the week.

The Program

The plan is very simple. It only requires a barbell and, ideally, a bench. We’ll use four basic lifts split over two training days and you will alternate between them throughout the week.

The lifts are:

Deadlift
Military Press
Bench Press
Bent-Over Barbell Row (torso kept parallel to the floor)

The groupings are as follows:

  • Workout A
  1. Deadlift
  2. Military press
  • Workout B
  1. Bench press
  2. Bent-Over Barbell Row

It’s crucial that you know your maximum (1RM) on those four lifts, and not a sloppy max, either, but the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a technically solid repetition. This maximum will be used to calculate the weights you will use on the first week. The loads will then be adjusted depending on your results.

After warming up (2-3 warm-up sets at the most), do 4 total sets per exercise:

5 reps with 80% of your maximum
1 rep with 90% of your maximum
1 rep with 92% of your maximum

The maximum number of reps you can do with 60% of your maximum. This number should fall between 15 and 20.

The important part to remember is how to adjust the load from workout to workout. What determines if you can go up in weight at the next session is the result of the fourth set. It’s simple: When you reach 20 reps on the fourth set, you go up in weight the next workout. Until you can reach 20 good reps, the load used for your 4 work sets remains unchanged.

For example, let’s say that your workout looks like this:

5 @ 240 pounds
1 @ 270 pounds
1 @ 280 pounds
17 @ 180 pounds

You would keep 240, 270, 280, and 180 pounds as your work set weights the next time this workout comes around. When you’re able to hit 20 reps on that last set, you increase the weight in the following amounts:

Deadlift: 10 pounds for the first 3 sets, 20 pounds for the fourth set
Military Press: 5 pounds for the first 3 sets, 10 pounds for the fourth set
Bench Press: 5 pounds for the first 3 sets, 10 pounds for the fourth set
Bent-Over Barbell Row: 5 pounds for the first 3 sets, 10 pounds for the fourth set

For example, if your bench-press numbers look like this:

5 @ 240 pounds
1 @ 270 pounds
1 @ 280 pounds
20 @ 180 pounds

Then the next time you do bench, your weights would use:

5 @ 245 pounds
1 @ 275 pounds
1 @ 286 pounds

Maximum number of reps @ 190 pounds

Frequency Is King

In my experience, training frequency is a lot more important than volume. This is especially true if you’re using a very low volume/training time approach like this program. A lot of people ask if they can change exercises every workout.

For example, instead of doing Workout A (deadlift/military press) three times during the week, they’ll ask if they can do that workout just once and then use other movements like a squat, incline bench press, or barbell curl on the other sessions. The answer is no, you can’t! The program simply will not work if you use different variations of the exercises at every workout. You must progressively overload the same movement to force the body to adapt and build muscle.

It’s simple:

  • Days 1, 3, and 5

Deadlift
Military Press

  • Days 2, 4, and 6

Bench Press
Bent-Over Barbell Row

Don’t try to get cute. Simply work hard at pushing the weights up on those four lifts and you will grow.

How It Works

This program looks deceptively simple, but give it a shot for a month and you’ll be shocked. If you work hard you will get everything you need to grow. The sets using 80-92% of your max will activate the nervous system and make your muscles denser and harder looking. Those sets will also get you stronger. The set of 5 will also contribute to hypertrophy and the set of 20 will further stimulate hypertrophy.

The cool thing is that these workouts aren’t draining and they could in fact be done even more frequently if you want to (e.g., Workout A in the AM and Workout B in the PM, every day) and you’d make fantastic gains without feeling fatigued.

Possible Adaptations

I typically don’t like to stray away from my systems, but here are three ways you can adapt this system to different situations:

  1. You can do a longer workout, but you can’t get to the gym that often.

Let’s say that you can spend 40-60 minutes per day on your training but that you can only hit the gym 3 days a week. Remember that frequency is king with this program – you want to hit each lift often. If you can only go to the gym 3 times a week, then you should do all four lifts at every workout. This will allow you to hit all four movements three times per week. The best order to do this is as follow:

Bench Press
Deadlift
Military Press
Bent-Over Row

  1. You want to train twice a day.

I personally like to do multiple short sessions during the day. I feel that if you can afford to do that, you’ll get the best possible gains. If you want to do this, perform the A workout in the AM as your first training session and the B workout in the PM as your second session.

  1. You want to also get leaner.

I suggest adding Tabata kettlebell swings to the end of the workout. Simply do as many KB swings as you can in 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds, and then start the next round of 20 seconds. You do this for 4 minutes straight. A 20 or 24-kilogram kettlebell will be adequate for most guys while a 16-kilogram kettlebell should work for most women.

 

Conclusion

It’s easy to come up with excuses not to train, and yes, many of us are pressed for time.  But if you make efficient use of your time and apply training parameters appropriately, you can get results with a short program that can easily fit into your day!

-CT

(*content previously shared with www.t-nation.com)

 

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…