Getting Ripped On Two Fifteen-Minute Workouts A Week

by Frost on May 4, 2011

Heavy resistance training is one of the most effective ways to improve your health, vitality, appearance and overall fitness. Any man who isn’t doing it might as well just admit that he doesn’t care about improving his lot in life.

One of the most common, and baseless excuses made by those who don’t work out is that they don’t have enough time. That’s bullshit on its face – unless you’re both a fortune 500 CEO and single parent, I guarantee you can find between ten and forty extra hours in your week by streamlining and eliminating unnecessary tasks.

But fine, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m a busy guy too. I also hate going to the gym. It’s boring, most of the people suck, and there’s usually an aerobics class going on in the background, so I have to listen to shitty music and watch pathetic middle-aged orca whales perform their own Special Olympics version of So You Think you Can Dance.

None of that matters to me though, because I rarely spend more than half an hour in the gym in a given week. Yet I look and feel better than most of the asshats lollygagging their way through two-hour workouts every day after work. The truth, often obscured by personal trainers wanting to maximize their hours, is that resistance training exhibits rapidly diminishing returns to scale. If you focus and lift heavy, half an hour in the gym will provide 90% of the benefits of two hours, and 150% the benefits of ten.

Here’s my standard weekly lifting schedule:

Day 1: Upper Body

Dumbbell or Bench Press: 5 sets of 5-10 reps
Pull-ups: 5 sets of 5-20 reps
Overhead Barbell Press: 5 sets of 5-15 reps

Do one set of each exercise in succession, then go back to the first, aka a super-set. Each set is to failure, with the same weight all the way through. Obviously I get more reps in the first sets (current pull-up record: 18) and fewer in round five. There is no rest between sets.

Day 2: Legs

Unweighted Jump Squats: 5 sets of ~20
Leg Press: 5 sets of ~20 Lunges: 5 sets of a 20 metre unweighted lunge walk
Deadlifts: 5 sets of ~10

Again, very little rest throughout the workout. I take an occasional 10-30 second break if it’s absolutely necessary, but I’m pretty much working the entire time. Only the leg press is done to failure from the start. The rest start out relatively easy, and by the third set I am gasping for air and fighting the urge to pass out.

And that’s it. Half an hour a week. Fifteen minutes per workout. By the end of either split, I am completely exhausted. My muscles ache the next day. I need to spend a few minutes in a cold shower before I get dressed or else I just keep sweating into my work clothes. I challenge anyone who claims that building muscle requires long, grueling hours in the gym to try this program. Over the past few months, I’ve been gradually working out harder, heavier and less than I ever have, and my fitness, BF percentage and energy levels have been improving. Some people genuinely enjoy the gym as a social gathering place, and look forward to their sweat-free two-hour workouts with three chit-chatty minutes of rest between each sets. Sad. But if you have better things to do with your hours, get in to the gym and get out.

A few other notes:

– I do the workouts at lunch, after fasting for 12-18 hours.

– If my knees were in better shape, I would definitely incorporate squats into this, probably in place of the leg press.

– Resistance training is only a small part of my exercise regimen. I play hockey, ultimate, volleyball and basketball. I practice yoga and meditation. I hike with my father and dog through forests. I walk to work. I drink too much, wear a tie around my head and dance the night away. I’m always on top during sex. But these are all things I would do even if they offered no health benefits.

– I eat Paleo. I live Primal. You should too. But lifting is good for you regardless.

Bottom line, it’s possible to get 90% of the possible benefits of a resistance training program in half an hour a week. Lack of time is not an excuse. Whatever your goals in life, take a step towards achieving them by starting a serious training program today.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Lily November 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I’d like to see how ripped you are because with 30min a week I seriously doubt you have muscle mass definition

TBA May 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm

>I guarantee you can find between ten and forty extra hours in your week

Hours? I’m guessing you mean minutes.

This concludes todays guest editing :)

Feel free to change the typo and delete this comment.

hans May 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Have you guys heard of Pave Tsatsouline?

What I read he isn´t too far removed from the above work-out routine. Only he advocates training to SUCCESS instead of the standard drop-down-dead failure routine everybody is so ecstatic about.


hans May 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Sorry for typo: Meant “Pavel Tsatsouline” and especially his “Power to the people” book.

MarcTheEngineer May 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Foam rolling is the bomb, bought a foam roller and saved myself from ever having to go back for 50$ massages (real massages that aren’t relaxing at all because they hurt like a son of a bitch but feel way better the next day)

D May 5, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Cuople quick things:

-Sets of ten on the deadlift? Mind if I ask why so many? Unless you’re just going for size I see no reason to ever do more than 5 deadlifts in a set…singles, maybe the occasional set of 3, is where it’s at IMO.

-Do you do your pullups with weight? I find that weighted pullups and dips make for some of my best workouts… Also are you doing proper pullups, no kipping/kicking, arms locked out to a complete dead hang on the way down? I rarely see anyone doing them the “real” way…

All criticism aside, the important thing is that youre doing something…I don’t care if a person is doing crossfit or powerlifting or what…really anything is better than nothing.

Rob May 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I do a variation of 5×5. You can find it if you google stronglifts. I do a variation because I like to do very painful cardio intervals and I find it impossible to do them effectively on days after I squat. I definitely recommend doing some sort of 5×5 routine. Anyone who does it will get stronger. I’ve had to supplement all that with mobility work, especially for my hips. Google kstar mwod and prepare to be in pain.

Two items I think you left out:

1) Progressive loading is key to getting stronger. Trying to add weight to the bar every workout will get you strong, fast.

2) Different people have different body types. Not everyone will put on a lot of cut up muscle quickly, if at all. You’ll get bigger (if you eat) and stronger, but don’t expect to get ripped right away.

Malcolm Tucker May 5, 2011 at 7:51 am

I was going to ask if you’ve considered bodyweight strength calisthenics like krauserpua already did, especially regarding squats. Ever think about it?

I’ve lifted for fifteen or so years before I recently switched over to a bodyweight program based on Convict Conditioning and Your Body Is Your Gym because I’m concerned about my long-term joint, tendon, and ligament health. The only thing I use weights for now is hand, wrist, and forearm exercises, based on John Brookfield’s books and old school stongman techniques, and some medicine ball and homemade sandbag work.

It’s been fun so far and I can do it anywhere for free. Just another tool in the toolbox.

Frost May 5, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I actually went a month or so recently doing pure body weight exercises. Yoga warmup, then pushups, pullups, jump squats. 5-8 supersets, no rest, all to failure. Great workout, but I find there is a point of exhaustion I can only reach with weights.

I plan to be on the road traveling from Sept-Dec though, so I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of CC before then.

jim May 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Quitting the 9-5 grind?

I would advise older guys to only lift once a week (if they’re using heavy weights and going to failure). Rest is much more important as you get out of your mid-20’s.

NomadicNeill May 5, 2011 at 4:31 am

Thanks for posting this.

We have a bunch of weights at our house now so I’ll do this.

What do you mean by no rest between sets?

Dumbbell or Bench Press: 5 sets of 5-10 reps (no rest between these?)
(Or no rest here?)
Pull-ups: 5 sets of 5-20 reps

Frost May 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Cool! Check out Convict Conditioning for when you’re back on the road and away from the weights.

WRT rest, I do a superset – pullups, bench, press, pullups, bench, press and so on. Just edited the OP because I realized I wasn’t clear, thanks for pointing it out.

Extinguish May 5, 2011 at 12:08 am

Power cleans are amazing. Works your legs, your back, your shoulders in one shot.

On squats: feet about shoulder width (or slightly wider), toes pointed slightly outward (15 degrees or so), and keep that shin as close to vertical as possible. Stick the ass as for out as possible and your chin must must must stay up. Don’t forget to tense your core muscles to support your spine. Way easier on the knees if you do this than the leg press machine, in part because you’ll be forced to use lower weight (about 1/2 to 2/3s of a leg press machine). Go deep; I like to use a box so I can watch in the mirror and make sure I’m going low enough.

With power cleans you really want to focus on the triple extention, the full use of the leg. You should be going up on your toes. Be explosive.

I work out way more than this, but it’s for weight loss and I’m working towards power lifting at the same time. You are right on the short rest breaks, for building lean, dense, high endurance muscle. You might spend a couple months at higher weight / fewer rep / longer rest breaks to really up the bulk of the muscle, than go back to your usual to make it dense.

I’ve been lucky to find a trainer that was a boxer & cage fighter, and is way more serious about this stuff than 99% of the trainers out there.

Frost May 5, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Thanks for the tips. One of my barriers to getting low and maintaining good form is poor flexibility, but currently addressing that via yoga and foam rolling.

Good luck on the weight loss!

Sojourner May 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I’ll second Marc’s notion. After I was finished Basic training at 27 years young my knees were wrecked from all the drill movements and general bad footwear with a lot of stand around. To see what I could do about it I started doing squats regularly (weight and non weighted) and I’ve gone from hardly being able to stand for more then 5 minutes to being able to run, jump or whatever with little to no pain. It’s been great.

Frost May 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Wow, that’s huge.

Healing old injuries is one of my main fitness goals right now – knees, achilles tendon and back are all recurring problems. Did you do anything else while your knees healed up?

If you’re still less than 100%, I recommend yoga, foam rolling and barefoot walking/running – all have helped me make some progress.

krauserpua May 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm

What’s your opinion on the old-school wrestling based workouts, without using weights? My old routine used to be 500x Hindu Squats, 100x Hindu Pushups, 5 minute wrestlers bridge. Worked great and I was never injured.

These days I’m lazy. I do 25x Hindu Pushups, 50x Hindu Jumper Squats, 20x V-ups, then ten rounds bagwork (boxing, kickboxing). 3 or 4 times a week. I know I should do more, but I’m lazy.

Frost May 5, 2011 at 12:02 pm

There are limits that can only be pushed with heavy lifts, IMO. For people whose goal is raw size, body weight alone probably won’t be enough.

But for the majority of people who want to be strong, fit, and lean-muscled, a routine like yours is great. I’d suggest trying out a few heavy weightlifting sessions per month though (squat, deadlift, power clean, bench) just to see how it affects your energy levels and vitality. For me and many others, occasional intense weightlifting = energy, better sleep, better concentration, leaner body, and crazy sex drive the day after a big workout. Also, it’s fun to test your physical limits and watch your weights/reps go up over time.

mike April 28, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I’ve been slugging weights for years ( since 1971) and never had the quick changes I’ve seen since I started doing body weight exercises. My routine now consists of supersets of 5 sets of pull ups and dips, which covers darn near every muscle group in the upper body. For fat burning I do HIT 2000 meters on the rowing machine, I go flat out every other 100 meters. At 57 years old I’m almost now able to do pure form Muscle ups. I’m done in about 45 minutes and I’ve never been in better shape

MarcTheEngineer May 4, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Squat deep without letting your knees move outward and without stopping at the bottom and you won’t need to worry about hurting your knees. From what I understand athletes who performed squats properly were at a lower risk of knee injury than those who did leg presses in place of squatting.

Try power cleans and full back squats instead of jump squats and leg presses… you’ll be amazed at how much faster your real world (I.E. not gym weights) power progresses.

Frost May 5, 2011 at 11:55 am

I definitely agree that I SHOULD be doing squats.

And it has been at least a year since I tried em out. Also, I’m not grinding my knees flanking and locking scrums anymore…

I think I’ll take your advice and start easing my way back into heavy lower body olympic-style lifts. Follow-up post (or abandoned blog following a lethal hernia) forthcoming.


Anonymous May 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Good post. It really is that simple.

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