18 overhead lunges (I used weighted bar overhead)
I recently received a message from a college friend asking for advice about getting into the gym. She said that she was completely new to working out and was unsure of where to start. While it’s really easy for me to create my own gym workouts at this point, it’s also easy for me to remember moments of confusion in my early workout days. After responding to my friend’s question, I realized that there might be other gym newbies (or aspiring gym newbies) out there who might benefit from this information. This post might also be useful for some of you who are pros at the gym and looking to change things up. Here are different workout “templates” or formats that you can use to challenge yourself at the gym. Just choose some of your favorite (or least favorite) exercise moves, plug them into one of these templates and you’re all set.
Many of these styles are commonly used in Crossfit but even if Crossfit isn’t your thing (I’ve never actually been to a Crossfit gym) these formats are really useful for structuring your workouts.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): I’m a HUGE fan of interval training. Not only is it proven to be super effective for getting in shape, it’s also extremely time efficient. I usually aim for anywhere between 24-30 minutes of work in any gym session and I never leave feeling like I should have done more. To design a HIIT workout, simply choose your exercises and choose how you’d like to time your intervals – how many seconds of work will you perform per seconds of rest. I usually do 30/10 for strength workouts. I alternate between two moves and do each move twice for a total of 8 rounds.
Tabata: Tabata is a specific style of HIIT training that’s structured around 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest over 8 rounds.
As Many Rounds as Possible (AMRAP): When I’m on a time crunch and I want to get the most out of my workout, I usually do an AMRAP. All you have to do is choose your exercises – I usually pick 4-5 different moves – and then how long you’d like work. If I’m doing one big round, I usually do somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes, adjusting according to the number of exercises you’re performing.
Mini AMRAPS: Rather than doing one long time frame, you could also do multiple smaller AMRAP sets with less moves. I often do 3 or 4 8-minute AMRAPs with only 2-3 exercises per set.
Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM): This is the style that I probably do the least but I’m planning to start incorporating it more. You simply choose your move(s) and reps and do them as fast as you can at the start of every minute for some allotted period of time. For examples, you might do 5 thrusters and 2 burpees when the clock starts and then rest until the clock gets to minute 2 and continue this for 10 minutes/rounds.
Ladder: Unlike the other workout styles mentioned here, ladder workouts are not structured around time, but rather by reps. To design a ladder workout, you choose your moves and the highest number of reps you’d like to perform in any given set. This number represents the top of the ladder. Perform each move for the maximum number of reps and then decrease the number of reps and perform each move again. Keep doing this until you reach the bottom of your “ladder.” Some variations of the ladder include reversing the order – starting at the bottom and working your way up. You could also be intense and work your way up your ladder and then come back down. Also note that your ladder doesn’t necessarily have to go up/down one step at a time. You can increase/decrease by 2,3,4 etc. too. To challenge yourself, note how long it takes you to complete your ladder and then try to beat your time the next time you do the workout.
My last bit of advice for designing your own workouts is to buy or download an interval timer. If you’d prefer to have a separate timer, here is one that I like. If you’d like to keep it simple, download a gym timer app and program it with all your preferred intervals. I doesn’t need to be fancy at all. I’ve used the free version of the Interval Timer app and it works great for me.
When naming this post, the first thing that came to mind was “This Hard-Ass Workout that I Did Last Week” but I didn’t think that it really captured the essence of the experience.
That being said, here is the hard-ass workout that I did last week. It was inspired by a workout that Theresa Coen, one of favorite instructors at Enrgi Fitness in Chicago posted on her instagram a few weeks ago. Her version was way more intense as it included 2 miles of total running in place of the burpees. She also did 50 burpees at the top of the ladder – like a beast. Power to her! I changed this up to make it more practical/gym friendly and also so I didn’t die. I initially planned to do 2 minutes of jump rope in between the strength sections but my jump rope broke during the first interval. Womp womp. “How do I replace this cardio exercise?” I asked myself. Naturally, I ended up doing burpees.
The great thing about this workout is that it works every part of your body and will probably take no more than 30 minutes. The bad news is – it’s freakin hard. Obviously the weights you choose will shape your experience. I wouldn’t recommend going too heavy though since there are a lot of reps involved. I would suggest start with your version of “medium” weight and then adjusting accordingly.
Then back up the ladder!
Time yourself and then try to beat your time in the future. I came in at about 24 minutes as I took ample breaks between sets.
Don’t let your form get sloppy. If you find this happened, downgrade your weights or decrease reps – you’ll still get a great workout, I promise.
My workout routine has been a bit weird this week. On both Monday and Wednesday, I failed to get in my morning workout and ended up having to squeeze one in during my lunch break at the writing center. Since I only had 45 minutes to walk to the gym, change, workout, shower, and get back to work, I had to be super efficient to make it work my time and energy.
While I prefer to have more time at the gym, the short time frame forced me to eliminate all the procrastination that usually occurs in my workouts. Casually walking to the water fountain, gently dabbing sweat from my face, pondering over what equipment to use – there was time for none of it. I put together an interval workout on the bus ride to campus and I had to go all out once I was at the gym to get the most out of the 25 minutes of actual workout time that I had. The great thing about that was that I pushed a lot harder than I do when I have more time and can thus, do more rounds. I kept telling myself that 20 minutes was all I had to give and it motivated me when things got sticky. This underscored two things for me. Firstly, it reminded me of how often I waste time during my workouts. This is something that I’m aware of but often neglect to change in the moment. When I only had 20 minutes, I felt like I had to push to make it worth my time. Secondly, it reminded me that workouts need not be an hour long to be effective. When finished my 20-min AMRAP (As many rounds as possible) workout on Wednesday, I was absolutely gassed. There was no doubt in my mind that I had gotten a good sweat session in.
This is all to say that if you’re struggling too be time to workout in your day, you shouldn’t worry about carving out a large chunk of time. Not only is a twenty minute workout time-effective, it can also absolutely grooling when you challenge yourself. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and AMRAP style workouts are your best friends if you’re trying to save time while working towards your fitness goals. Here are some links to some great workouts that require minimal equipment and take less than 20 minutes (Including the one that I designed for my workout on Wednesday). Have fun!
My AMRAP Workout from this Week:
Adjust the reps to your liking/fitness level.
Set your timer for 20 minutes and see how many times you can loop the circuit. I got through 3 full rounds, a 4th round of rowing and 2 steps up. Beat it!