[Premium Content] The 20 Minute Dilemma: How To Train Effectively If Time Is Against You

 In Magazine Articles, Training Plans

The 20 Minute Dilemma. Senior Strength Matters Instructor Jerry Trubman cuts the appetizers and goes straight to the main course.

Having been in the health and fitness industry for more than a decade, I’ve seen some very sad, yet predictable patterns. Start a crazy diet and/or exercise program that is unsustainable long-term. Grit teeth through the said program for defined period (usually under 90 days, most times less). Start to attain a small amount of success from the program, but burn out quickly. Fall off the wagon; gain the weight back—and then some. Repeat steps one through four indefinitely.

This article first featured in the January 2017 issue of Strength Matters Magazine. It is best viewed in our beautiful app. Download your copy now via the Apple or Android store. 

Once again, the holidays are over, and this is usually where step one begins. We’ve been surrounded by yummy food everywhere, and resistance has been futile; the average American gains between five and ten pounds during the holiday season. All the decorations have come down, we have all headed back to the office and reality has set in. “This is the year to make a change! We’re going to sign up for that seven-day-per-week crazy workout program and eat nothing but kale smoothies to undo all the transgressions from the prior year!” As the soreness from the workouts becomes too burdensome, and the thought of another kale smoothie causes nausea, motivation wanes and the program becomes a memory. Maybe it will work next time? Probably not.


In our SM community, we know that there are better and smarter ways to help people than this vicious cycle. The journey to helping our clients become better versions of themselves is not as hard as our industry makes it out to be, and most of those better answers can be found in one principle—habits. People like our own Georgie Fear and Josh Hillis have done splendid jobs in their nutrition coaching programs, and I refer to their work frequently when helping clients. It’s funny how when people read the work of these two experts, it makes total and complete sense. But why is it that when they get to training, these habit-based approaches seem not to assimilate so well? It’s like people reach for the crash workout, not realizing that it’s just like the crash diet.

When I’m teaching workshops and certifications, one of my favorite group discussions is when we debate the following topic: If you were put into a situation where you could only train 20 minutes a day, three times per week, what would you do? It’s fun to listen to the banter that goes back and forth during some of these discussions. There isn’t a wrong answer here, but I’d be willing to bet that if all serious gym rats were only allowed to use their gym for this short time, a lot of goofy stuff would probably go away. A dedicated trainee probably wouldn’t foam roll for 15 minutes if the whole workout were limited to 20.

I’m hesitant to give away what my answer would be here in case we run into each other at a workshop, but I will share some thoughts. The critical component to this focused approach is this: Since the practice of certain key movements is essential to attaining results, we must determine and solidify what these key movements are. Here are some good places to start.

This article first featured in the January 2017 issue of Strength Matters Magazine. It is best viewed in our beautiful app. Download your copy now via the Apple or Android store. 

First, keep your warm-up short, but effective. With the 20-minute clock ticking, three minutes or so (five at the most) is about all we have here. I like to create compound mobility drills (similar to compound exercises only with warm-ups) where multiple drills are put together into single movements. Not only is this an efficient way to warm up, but it also has a wonderful thermogenic effect on the body, which will help prep for what lies ahead.

Secondly, the workout itself. My simple formula is to take three to five repetitions of four to five exercises, for four to five sets, making sure to incorporate the entire body between the selected movements. If it’s something like kettlebell swings, we can do up to ten reps, but you
get the picture. It might look something like this:

Double Kettlebell Complex

  • 5 sets
  • 10 Double Swings
  • 5 Double Cleans
  • 3 Double Presses
  • 5 Double Squats Perform all exercises in a row without setting the bells down. Rest 60-90 seconds between sets.

Barbell/Kettlebell/ Bodyweight Workout 4 sets

  • 1 Turkish Get-Up
  • 5 Pull-Ups
  • 5 Barbell Back Squats

No gym? No problem!

  • Simple (Not Easy) Bodyweight Conditioner Rep scheme: 1-2-3-4-5 -One-Arm Pushup -Strict Pull-Up
  • Pistol Squat
  • Hanging Leg Raise

I did the last workout once per week for the better part of several months. I had a little extra time, so the rep scheme was actually 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1. At the end of that program, my pistol squats became significantly cleaner, I tested my pull-up and got a new PR of 16, and my hanging leg raise looked more like a front lever than ever before. It’s amazing how a little bit practice can go such a long way. Because of the way my schedule works with running a facility and loads of travel, about 50% of my workouts end up looking very similar to this. Not only are these sample workouts short enough to be in the no-excuse- not-to-workout category, they can also serve as building blocks to creating a sustainable approach for when life gets busy. It’s only 20 minutes after all. If it’s important, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse, but at least “I don’t have time” isn’t one of them.

To read the original article, please download the January edition of the Strength Matters magazine. You can preview this article for FREE.

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This article first featured in the January 2017 issue of Strength Matters magazine. It is best viewed in our beautiful app. Download your copy now via the Apple or Android store. 


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