No, I'm not getting enough sleep. (How to train with no time)

No, I'm not getting enough sleep. (How to train with no time)

For those who don’t know, I have recently become a father. After a crazy 23 hours in labor my wife delivered our handsome baby boy. As much as my friends, family, and friend/clients tried to warn and prepare me, nothing they could have said would have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that is now parenthood. Nor could they convey the unbelievable love I would feel towards my demanding little tyrant of a son.

I mean, I love him more than my cat (who previously held the place of honor in my heart) and that is saying something!

Now there is one thing I wish people had prepared me for and that is the fact that everyone (even random people at Target) will ask you if you are getting enough sleep. If I had a dollar for every time someone would ask me if I was “getting enough sleep” I would have enough money to buy the real Batmobile replica I’ve had my eyes on. Sure, I always smile and give a polite half chuckle and respond with an answer like, “It’s not too bad” when in reality I want to give them a cold blank stare that says “Really?” or “What do you think, Einstein?”

Beyond mild sleep deprivation, one of the larger challenges for me now that I have daddy status is how do I stay in reasonable shape? As a strength coach and personal trainer, I can’t exactly let myself go, nor do I want to lose the myriad of benefits of being swole.

Obviously, this is a problem that every parent (or people that work long hours) can relate to. Most of us cannot spend three hours in the gym at a time (like I used to; those were the days) with our varied life commitments and families.

So how do you make the most of your time in the gym? I’m glad you asked!

4 Rules for Effective Workouts with Little Time

1. Hit the Big Lifts

This should really be the rule all the time. Your training in the gym should always be built around improving on one of the big 3 lifts (squat, bench, deadlift) and/or weightlifting (snatch, clean and jerk). These lifts are considered the most important for a reason, they give you the biggest bang for your training buck. These lifts all work your entire body at once which saves you time by covering a lot of bases at once. They also build true “functional” strength that is very hard to build otherwise.

Let’s break down the time spent.

Exercise                                  Format                                                         Time

Deadlift                                  5 sets of 5 with 1 min rest in between             About 8 min, no more than 10

Hamstring Curl Machine           3 sets of 10 with 1 min rest in between           About 5 min

Seated Cable Row                   3 sets of 10 with 1 min rest in between           About 5 min

DB Heavy Shrugs                    3 sets of 10 with 1 min rest in between          About 5 min


In the (poorly constructed) table above you see deadlifts performed in a 5x5 fashion with 1 minute of rest in between would take about 10 min to complete. The other three exercises are things you will see your average gym rat performing on machines in your local freak show “Globo” gym. All three combined target (mostly) the same muscles that the deadlift alone covers and as you can see would take more time. Not to mention that you will probably have to battle someone to the death (which takes precious time) to get on the hamstring curl machine at the mega gym. They are also nowhere near as effective for building strength or transferring into any athletic endeavor as the deadlift.

2. Have a plan!

How many people do you see in the gym seemingly zombie wondering around from machine to machine cluelessly “working out” with headphones on that are bigger than the rims on my car?

How many people do you see in the gym keeping track and taking notes of their workout on an old school note book? My guess is almost zero percent. Those rare birds are the people to watch out for. The old adage is true, if you fail to plan you plan to fail and this failure to plan not only gives you sub-par results in the gym but also robs you of valuable time! A lot of time is wasted as you try to figure out what exercises to work on or conjure up a new excuse as to why leg day must be skipped again this week (vernal equinox!).

Go in with a plan and STICK TO IT! There are tons of great plans out there so you don’t need to be a program design wizard yourself to be successful. Just be sure that the plans at their core revolve around the big lifts we talked about before and you will be heading in the right direction.

3. Superset!

You see those gym bros chatting it up like middle school girls in between each set of triceps extensions? Their highly intellectual commentary on “that girl with the fat a$$” takes approximately ten thousand times longer than the actual exercise itself. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT! We’ve gotta keep this gain train moving because we’ve got kids and hot wives to get home to. What’s the solution? The superset of course!

The superset is simply performing one exercise and immediately following it up with another different exercise. These exercises ideally work opposite (or different enough) movement patterns and/or muscle groups. There is certainly an art to getting it right but here are some basic examples

Example 1 A1 bench press, A2 pull ups

Example 2 B1 front squats, B2 Db Rows

Example 3 C1 Deadlift, C2 Push Ups

This saves A LOT of time so we are getting an active rest while working another muscle group. This style of training also has added benefits like burning more fat than just resting and increasing your level of conditioning.

4. Listen to your body

Everyone likes to feel like a beast in the gym. Hitting PRs, doing more reps and leaving with a massive pump are some of the reasons why we train. Unfortunately, I gotta hit you with the reality stick though. When you are only sleeping an hour at a time because of your little bundle of terror joy, you will probably feel like a bag of crap. You are probably not going to be hitting a personal best any time in the near future. Look, I hate admitting it as much as the next guy but you have to give yourself credit for even showing up to the gym. Now is the time to dial in technique and listen to your body.

Let’s say you are warming up for you bench press and the weight just feels heavy today. Your program calls for 3 reps at 235 but you barely manage 2. Its time to switch it up so you can still make progress and feel good about yourself and not die under a barbell.

Immediately flip the script and make it a muscle building day! Go for sets of 8-12 and choose a weight you won’t fail with. This way you will still be making gains and avoid being ridiculed by the other gym bros.

Implementing these 4 rules have allowed me to still make solid gains even though I would rather be sleeping forever like some kind of coffin-dwelling vampire. I hope these rules can help you too.

Oh, and if you have a co-worker/friend that has just had a baby, don’t ask them if they are getting enough sleep. If you do ask give them a dollar and bring them a coffee, or a real replica Batmobile.

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