Unless you are employed in a gym and train when you should be working, bodybuilding invariably means sacrificing a big chunk of your leisure time. That is probably no big deal if you are young, single, and have few responsibilities.
But, if there are a lot of additional demands on your time, you may find sticking to your workout schedule increasingly difficult. After all, you can’t be in two places at once!
When time is short, workouts are often the first casualty. That’s because it’s something you can put off until later or tomorrow.
Unfortunately, delaying a workout often means that it’s skipped entirely. Miss enough workouts, and your progress will grind to a painful, frustrating halt, or you might even lose some of your hard-won gains.
The good news is that you can save time without making your workouts less productive. In fact, many of the time-saving strategies outlined below will make your workouts even more effective.
So, don’t let lack of time become a barrier to working out. Instead, use these time-saving workout tips for bodybuilders to keep your training on track.
Time-Saving Workout Tips for Busy Bodybuilders
Make your workouts shorter or do more training in less time with these tried and tested time-saving bodybuilding strategies!
1. Warm-up smarter
Most training experts agree that you need to spend 10-15 minutes warming up before an intense bodybuilding workout. This typically includes 5-10 minutes of cardio followed by a few dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises.
While it’s a bad idea to skip warming up entirely, you can make your workout shorter and more efficient by warming up smarter.
Simply do several ramped sets of your first main exercise with dynamic stretches and mobility exercises between each one. This will save you from cardio and prepare your body more specifically for what you’re about to do.
For example, if your first exercise is deadlifts, you could do something like this:
- 20kg x 20 reps – empty barbell
- Bodyweight prisoner squat x 20 reps
- 40kg x 10 reps
- Bodyweight lunge x 10 reps per leg
- 60kg x 8 reps
- Yoga push-ups x 10 reps
- 75kg x 5 reps
- Band pull-aparts x 20 reps
- 90kg x 3 reps
- Booty band side steps x 10 reps each side
- Rest 1-2 minutes
- 100kg x 5 reps (first work set)
2. Focus on the most productive bodybuilding exercises
A lot of bodybuilders use a “kitchen sink” approach to exercise selection, doing four, five, or even six exercises per major muscle group. That’s a very good way to waste a lot of time!
Make your workouts more time-efficient by choosing only the most productive exercises for each muscle group and limiting yourself to just 2-3. This will force you to a) cut less productive exercises from your workouts and b) put more effort into the exercises you do include.
For example, instead of doing something like this for your back:
You can half the length of your workout by doing:
- Single-arm rows
Put more effort into each exercise, and you won’t need to do so many different movements per muscle group. Use a bodybuilding training system like drop sets or rest-pause to crank up the intensity even higher so you get more from your shorter workout.
3. Do non-competing supersets
Most bodybuilders train two or more muscle groups per workout. Also, because of the need to rest between sets, they also spend more time sitting or standing around than they do training.
Non-competing supersets half the amount of time you spend resting so you can get in and out of the gym in much less time.
So, instead of doing all your chest exercises and then all your back exercises, wasting a whole lot of time in the process, do chest and back supersets. Pairing non-competing exercises means one move provides a rest from the other.
- Bench press
- Seated row
- Incline dumbbell bench press
- Lat pulldown
- Cable crossovers
- Face pulls
Instead of resting after every exercise, only rest for 60-90 seconds after the second exercise. As well as saving time, this method may also speed up recovery by increasing blood flow and enhancing the removal of metabolic waste products, i.e., lactic acid.
Just make sure the paired exercises won’t have a negative effect on one another. For example, bent over rows and biceps curls and bench press and shoulder press would not work. Think push/pull or upper body/lower body supersets.
4. Do cardio between sets of bodybuilding exercises
If you are one of those people that does 20-30 minutes of cardio after you’re done with the weights, you know how time-consuming your workouts can be. You probably spend 90 minutes to two hours in the gym, and that’s a huge time commitment.
Make better use of your time by doing a quick 30-60 second burst of cardio between sets of strength training. Any cardio will do, but jumping rope and step-ups are great options as you should be able to do them next to the exercise you’re performing.
Assuming you do three sets of eight exercises per workout and do cardio between each set and exercise, this time-saving method will let you accumulate 30+ minutes of cardio without making your workout a moment longer.
5. Try full-body workouts
Bodybuilders tend to favor split routines but, invariably, that means finding the time to go to the gym 4-6 times a week. If you do full-body workouts, you can cut your gym visits down to 2-3 per week and still build muscle and get stronger.
Even one full-body workout per week could be enough to maintain your current muscle mass. Full-body workouts also force you to choose the best exercises per muscle group, saving even more time.
And before you dismiss full-body workouts as only suitable for beginners, remember that some of the best bodybuilders in history have used full-body workouts, and they’re all bigger and stronger than you!
Related: Full-body vs. Split workouts
6. Try HIT
Not to be confused with High-Intensity Interval Training, HIT (High-Intensity Training) is a form of bodybuilding where you just do one set per exercise. However, that set is taken to failure and beyond using drop sets and other workout intensifiers.
Needless to say, HIT workouts are challenging but also very short. In fact, you should be able to train your entire body in 30 minutes or less. Because the intensity is so high, you’ll probably only need 2-3 workouts per week.
HIT is not the perfect training system for long-term progress, but it’s ideal when you’re short of time but still want to continue working out.
7. Do your cardio closer to home
Going to the gym just to sit on a bike or use an elliptical is a colossal waste of time. It probably takes longer to drive to the gym than you spend exercising!
Save your precious time by doing your cardio from or at home. Head out for a brisk walk or jog, ride your bike around your neighborhood, or do some calisthenic circuit training in your garage or backyard.
Either way, there are more productive ways to spend your time than driving to the gym!
8. Consider setting up a home or garage gym
Leading on from the point above, if you spend more time driving to the gym than you do training, you are needlessly wasting a lot of time. Save on traveling by bringing the gym to your home!
With no time wasted on lengthy commutes, you may even find you can work out more often. As an added benefit, you’ll never have to wait in line for the equipment you want to use.
A home or garage gym could even end up saving you money. With no ongoing gym membership to pay for, after a year or so, you’ll recoup whatever you’ve spent on training equipment.
9. Do more interval training and less steady-state cardio
Cardio is an integral part of bodybuilding training, or, at least, it should be. After all, what muscle is more important than your heart?
Unfortunately, cardio can also be time-consuming. As most bodybuilders are more interested in muscle mass than fitness, that can mean that cardio gets dropped in favor of more strength training.
Rather than spend an hour at a time doing Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio, make the switch to more time-efficient High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) instead. HIIT workouts are much shorter than LISS but are every bit as good for your fitness and health. They’re also superior for calorie burning and trigger something called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), which leads to an increase in post-training metabolic rate.
So, HIIT is more effective in less time; what’s not to love?
10. Avoid distractions
Stopping to chat with other exercisers, updating your social media, and other distractions can add a lot of time to your workouts and even make them less productive.
Your rest periods should be carefully controlled so that you don’t recover too much between sets. If you get distracted, you may end up resting longer than you should, and your next set won’t be as intense as it needs to be to trigger hypertrophy. Plus, you’ll also make your workout longer.
Ways to avoid distractions include:
- Go to the gym when you know it’ll be quiet
- Leave your phone in your locker
- Wear headphones to discourage conversation
- Use a stopwatch to time your rest periods. Start your next set when it beeps, even if it means breaking off a conversation
Remember, your time is a precious commodity, so don’t waste it on idle chitchat. You’ll get better results from your gym time if you train more and lollygag less!
11. Prioritize your workouts
A lot of people are guilty of wasting time, only to complain they can’t find an hour or two to workout. Playing video games, watching funny YouTube videos, updating your social media, or watching TV are all examples of time you could use for training.
You might not think you waste a lot of time each day, but statistics reveal the average American spends about three hours a day watching TV (1). That’s more than enough time for a workout!
So, if you want to be a bodybuilder, you need to prioritize your workouts. Put them at the top of your daily to-do list, with all other leisure activities below. There is nothing wrong with spending time perusing Facebook, so long as you get your training done first!
Lack of time is a legitimate barrier to bodybuilding. After all, there are only 24 hours in the day, and that’s true for Mr. Olympia, you, and every other lifter on the planet. You can’t make time, but you can determine how you spend it.
Thankfully, there are ways to make better use of your time, so it’s easier to maintain your workout schedule, even when you are busy.
Use the strategies in this article to shorten your workouts, spend less time in the gym, and still achieve your bodybuilding goals.
1 – U.S. Bureau of Statistics: American Time Use Survey https://www.bls.gov/tus/