There’s any number of reasons you might want to get fit quickly. Maybe you want to look better for a reunion, wedding, or beach vacation. Maybe you’re in the military and law enforcement and need to bring up your fitness to score well on a PT test (view common fitness test standards here). Or maybe you want to prepare for one of the obstacle course races that are so popular. Regardless of the reason, here’s a look at a simple, efficient way to get fit.
If you want to dramatically improve your fitness in short order, you’ll want to make significant improvements to both your strength, as well as your cardio. The problem with most get fit workout plans is that even if they address both strength and cardio, you’re left doing twice the work because you have to both lift weights and do cardio in a single workout (or do two separate workouts in the same day). On the other hand, should you do only one or the other in a day, then you end up cutting the number of workouts you can do for either during the week in half.
A great solution for most people is circuit training. Now when you read the term “circuit training”, you might conjure up mental images of some older fellow in a velour track suit, doing endless sets on a chrome Universal machine from the 1970s. Or of someone running up and down the line of machines at your gym. Or of someone grabbing an empty barbell to do 10-15 exercises in a row for what seems like countless reps. While all of these are versions of circuit training, none of them will really help you get fit.
Instead, a better approach would be to consider what an otherwise normal strength-based workout might look like (8-12 reps). However, instead of doing all your sets of one exercise, then moving onto the next, and so on as you might normally do, do one set of your first exercise, then immediately move to a set of your next exercise, repeating until you’ve done 3-6 exercises in a row. Take a short rest break, then repeat for 3-4 “rounds”.
This style of circuit training is a perfect choice to get fit because you’re essentially getting a “2-for-1” out of your workout. To improve your cardio, you don’t need to actually do “cardio” – you just need to elevate your heartbeat and breathing. By continuing to lift heavy for the same sets and reps, you’re getting the same sort of strength and muscle building benefits. But because you’re eliminating rest breaks, your heart and lungs are having to work hard the entire time, which leads to better cardio. So your strength workout now simultaneously also acts as your cardio workout.
While circuit training in this fashion is one of the most efficient ways to get fit, its one inherent flaw is that it can require access to a lot of equipment at once. Unfortunately, this isn’t always feasible in most gym settings. However, it’s not hard to get around this with a little creativity. Bring some dumbbells and a free bench near a pullup bar, and you could easily bang out sets of presses, pullups, bench rows, and goblet squats back-to-back with no problem. You can choose to split up your body parts, or focus on a full body workout each time. The latter might help you improve your body composition a little quicker.
Even if you focus on your entire body you can still change it up each time. For instance, if you’re training three times a week then each workout day can focus on the main muscle groups – shoulders, arms, back, chest, abdominals and legs. However, rather than perform the same circuit each time, you can alternate exercises. An example program could be something like the following:
|Back||Pull Ups||Cable Rows||Barbell Deadlifts|
|Chest||Elevated Push Ups||Dumbbell Flyes||Flat Bench Presses|
|Shoulders||Barbell Shrugs||Front to Side Dumbbell Raises||Dumbbell Shoulder Presses|
|Biceps||Straight Bar Cable Curls||Alternating Hammer Curls||EZ Bar Curls|
|Triceps||Overhand Cable Bar Push Downs||Underhand Cable Bar Push Downs||Rope Tricep Extensions|
|Abs||Rope Cable Curls||Hanging Leg Raises||Plank Oblique Tucks|
|Legs||Dumbbell Lunges||Barbell Squats||Single Leg Push Offs|
You could even include some light cardio on Tuesday and Thursday, then take the weekends off.
No matter how the final workout is designed, just consider that you want to stack strength-based exercises together with minimal rest to improve power and cardio at the same time. This will all lead to improved fitness while minimizing your total workout time.