How To Get In a Lifting Session With Limited Time

If you have limited time to do a strength workout, how can you get the most bang for your bodybuilding buck? When you’re trying to fit a resistance routine into a tight schedule, and you only have 20 minutes to do it, the best way to maximize your time is to lighten up on the isolation exercises, and focus on compounds movements instead.

Compound Exercises: More Benefits in Less Time

Compound exercises are ones that move multiple joints and muscles at the same time. Examples are push-ups, deadlifts, squats, bench press, pull-ups and lunges. Isolation exercises like biceps curls and triceps extensions only work a single muscle group. When you’re short on time, you’ll get more accomplished by doing compound exercises because a single exercise recruits multiple muscles. In fact, compound exercises should be the focus of your workout even when you’re not pressed for time. Why? Compound movements maximize the calorie burn because you’re using more muscle groups. In addition, when you do squats and lunges, you’re recruiting large, lower body muscles that burn more calories. Who doesn’t want a little more calorie burn when they train? Compound exercises also elicit a stronger hormonal response because you’re recruiting multiple fast-twitch muscle fibers, assuming you use a weight that’s challenging enough. That gives you an after-burn effect that keeps your metabolism elevated even after your 20-minute work-out is up. Compare a compound exercise like push-ups to an isolation exercise like biceps curls where you’re only targeting a small muscle in the upper body. Which is forcing your body to work harder?


They’re Good Functional Training

Another advantage to doing more compound movements is they mimic functional movements you do in everyday life. Squat training comes in handy when you squat down to pick up something heavy off the floor. Compound exercises train your muscles to work together more effectively and give you more functional strength to do the things you need to do every day. Even on days where you have more time to strength train, there are advantages to beginning your routine with compound movements. The additional metabolic effects from the release of growth hormone and testosterone will boost fat burning throughout your entire workout. Get those fat-burning furnaces revved up early.


Isolation Exercises Still Have Their Place

Focusing on compound exercises maximizes benefits when you have limited time to work out, but isolation exercises still have their place for days when you have more time to train. Isolation exercises let you to focus in with precision on areas where you may be weaker. This helps build a more balanced physique. On the other hand, you’re not going to burn as many calories doing them, and you won’t get a significant after-burn effect. Use isolation exercises for variety and balance during your longer workouts, but when you’re pressed for time, focus on compound movements. 



On Fitness Magazine. January/February 2012, page 74.
Exercise Physiology. Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Seventh edition. 2009.