How to make the most of a short workout, according to trainers

  • According to top trainers and coaches, getting in shape doesn’t have to require hours of hard training.
  • You can build muscle in a few gym sessions a week with short, intense exercises.
  • For best results, focus on compound movements and eccentric exercise to maximize muscle tension.

You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to see results.

You can get the health benefits of exercise, like more energy, better mood and lower risk of disease, in just 5 minutes a day, according to recent research.

Building muscle and maintaining it requires a little more strategy, but it’s still possible to do in a few hours a week, according to personal trainers and strength coaches.

To make the most gains in the shortest amount of time, focus on the right volume (amount of reps), intensity, and movements for your goals.

Cut the “junk volume”

More exercise doesn’t necessarily mean more gains – in fact, it could backfire. “Useless bulk” refers to the exercise you do in the gym that exceeds what you actually need to make progress, building muscle and strength.

A 2017 study found that the majority of strength gains occur in about four sets per week, per body part.

To build muscle size, a good goal is two days a week at the gym, with about three sets of 10 reps per muscle group each session, strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle told Insider.

“If someone is lifting for more than an hour, they’re probably doing a lot more than they need to,” he said.

Even for a beginner, 45 minutes a session is a lot, top powerlifter Chris Duffin previously told Insider.

Doing more work can actually make it harder for your muscles to recover and can slow your progress over time if you over train.

Doing less makes it easier to gradually increase the intensity over time to keep making gains, a basic fitness concept known as progressive overload.

Choose the right exercises

Exercises like bicep curls and leg extensions are popular for building muscle because they isolate a single muscle group to focus on gains in one area.

But to gain as much as possible, personal trainers recommend complex exercises that adapt to several muscle groups at once.

Examples of muscle-building compound exercises include deadlifts, pull-ups, shoulder presses, and squats.

Prioritize eccentric exercise

Eccentric exercise, in which the muscles contract while lengthening, is ideal for gains because it creates a lot of muscle tension, the necessary stimulus for growth.

To amp up the eccentric work in your routine, take a page from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s gym sessions.

His strength and conditioning coach, Dave Rienzi, swears by techniques like negative reps (which focus on the lower part of the movement) or adding tempo (slowing down the movement) to build muscle.

Try the 2×2 rule

If you want more time away from the gym but don’t want to miss out on gains, functional bodybuilder Marcus Filly recommends doing just two sets of two exercises per workout, called the “2×2 rule.”

The technique leads to “maximum results” in “minimum time,” Filly said on his YouTube channel.

The key point is that you have to really push the intensity to see benefits in such a short period of time, approaching muscle failure (the point where you naturally can’t do another rep with good form).

Don’t skimp on protein or sleep

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build muscle is not resting or eating enough, personal trainers and sports nutritionists previously told Insider.

Training breaks down muscles, and without enough rest and calories to rebuild them bigger and stronger, you’ll just be wasting your time in the gym.

You’ll also need to eat enough protein, the specific macronutrient that helps repair and grow tissues, including muscle: about 0.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is ideal, according to research.

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