Sam Altman, President of the startup accelerator Y Combinator, tells company founders to “work on their product, talk to users, exercise, eat and sleep, and very little else.”
Here’s why you should care: Y Combinator has 3 months with each founder before they pitch their product. That’s it. It’s not about work-life balance. It’s an all-out, 24/7 sprint to the finish line. And they still find exercise to be a vital component for success.
The number one reason business owners don’t work out is a perceived lack of time. Freeing up an hour for the gym just isn’t going to happen.
Here’s what I’ve learned: You don’t need an hour. For most, 60-minute workouts are a waste of time. Time you don’t have.
Instead, I’m going to show you how to get a great workout in only 15 minutes.
Training Density: Less Time, More Results
Training density is the amount of work you do in a given time period. It’s the sum of your total sets and repetitions, or volume, and the duration of your workout.
Imagine you’re going to do 4 sets of 8 repetitions each, for pushups and squats; a total of 64 repetitions. And you’re going to take 15 minutes to perform this workout.
This is your total training density: 64 total reps in 15 minutes – and your new measuring stick.
Try to increase your training density over time. Here’s how: Keep your workout duration static at 15 minutes and increase the amount of work you do. So, instead of 4 sets of 8 repetitions, you might aim for 5 sets of 8 repetitions each for a total of 80 repetitions.
Another option is to keep the 4 sets of 8 repetitions static and progress the load, or how much weight you’re lifting.
Forget the weight on the bar.
Your strength will come. This is a better indicator of progress. Improve your training density and you’ll know that you’ve
enhanced your physical – and mental – ability to do work.
You’ll get comfortable being uncomfortable. And your workouts will become brutally efficient because you’re competing against the clock, and yourself.
Train Movement Patterns, Not Muscles
A longer workout allows for higher volume. Remember, volume is the amount of sets and reps you do. With more time, you’re able to do a large variety of exercises.
We don’t have that luxury.
If you’ve got 15 minutes to workout it’s time to eliminate isolation exercises that target only one muscle group. I’m looking at you, bicep curls.
Isolation exercises create local fatigue – you’ll feel the bicep working during curls. But we’re looking for global fatigue. We want to hit the maximum amount of muscle possible in the shortest amount of time.
Movement patterns demand more from your body. They promote intensity, and they’re efficient because they target more muscle groups.
Build your workout with these movement patterns:
: lunge variations, step-ups, single leg deadlifts
: pushup variations, bear crawls, or dumbbell/bench press variations
: bodyweight squat, goblet squat, DB Front Squat
: seated cable rows, dumbbell rows,
pull-up/chin-ups, lat pull downs
: Romanian deadlift, KB swings, physioball leg curls
Ready to get started? Create a quick workout by choosing one exercise from each category and performing them as a circuit, 6-8 repetitions each.
Your Warm-up Shouldn’t Be Your Workout
I used to give my clients extensive warm-ups before every session.
I’ve changed my mind. The truth is they’re boring. You’d rather get to the exciting stuff. I don’t blame you.
And warm-ups only work if they are executed well. Going through the motions won’t do it – and it’s a huge waste of time. Time we don’t have when designing time-saving workouts.
I still think you need to warm-up, just keep it simple. Do something to get your blood pumping a little bit and prime your body to move well. Then get to work.
This article has been edited and condensed.
BJ Ward is the founder of Ward Fitness Systems, a Kansas City-based personal training company that helps entrepreneurs and executives build the strength to succeed with online training programs. Connect with @_BJWard on Twitter.
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