How to Make the Most Gains in a Short Workout, According to Trainers

USA News


  • Getting fit doesn’t have to take hours of hard workouts, according to top trainers and coaches.
  • You can build muscle in a few gym sessions a week with short, intense sets of exercise. 
  • For best results, focus on compound movements and eccentric exercise to maximize muscle tension. 

You don’t need to spend long hours in the gym to see results.

You can get the health benefits of exercise, like more energy, better mood, and lower risk of disease, in as little as 5 minutes a day, according to recent research. 

Building muscle, and maintaining it, takes a little more strategy, but it’s still possible to do in a few hours a week, according to personal trainers and strength coaches. 

To make the most gains in the shortest time, focus on the right volume (amount of reps), intensity, and movements for your goals.

Cut out “junk volume”

More exercise doesn’t necessarily mean more gains — in fact, it could backfire. “Junk volume” refers to exercise you do in the gym that goes beyond what you actually need to make progress building muscle and strength. 

A 2017 study found that a majority of strength gains happen in about four sets per week, per body part.

To build muscle size, a good goal is two days a week in the gym, with about three sets of 10 reps per muscle group each session, strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle previously told Insider.

“If anyone is lifting for more than an hour, they’re probably doing way more than they need to,” he said.

Even for a beginner, 45 minutes a session is plenty, elite powerlifter Chris Duffin previously told Insider. 

Doing more work can actually make it harder for your muscles to recover and can slow your progress over time if you’re overtraining. 

Doing less makes it easier to gradually increase the intensity over time to keep making gains, a foundational fitness concept known as progressive overload. 

Pick the right exercises

Exercises like bicep curls and leg extensions are popular for building muscle because they isolate a single muscle group to focus on gains in one area. 

But to get the most bang for your buck, personal trainers recommend compound exercises that tap into multiple muscle groups at once. 

Examples of compound exercises for muscle-building include deadlifts, pull-ups, shoulder presses, and squats. 

Prioritize eccentric exercise

Eccentric exercise, in which muscles contract while lengthening, is ideal for gains because it creates a lot of muscle tension, the needed stimulus for growth. 

To pump up the eccentric work in your routine, take a page from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s gym sessions.

His strength and conditioning coach Dave Rienzi swears by techniques like negative reps (focused on the lowering portion of the movement) or adding a tempo (slowing down the movement) to pack on muscle. 

Try the 2×2 rule

If you want more time away from the gym but don’t want to lose gains, functional bodybuilder Marcus Filly recommends doing just two sets of two exercises per workout, called the “2×2 rule.”

The technique leads to “max results” with “minimal time,” Filly said on his YouTube channel

The key point is that is you need to really push the intensity to see benefits in such a short window of time, getting near muscle failure (the point where you physically can’t do another rep with good form). 

Don’t skimp on protein or sleep

One of the biggest mistakes people make trying to build muscle is not resting or eating enough, personal trainers and sports dietitians previously told Insider. 

Working out breaks down muscle, and without enough rest and calories to build it back bigger and stronger, you’ll just be wasting your time in the gym.

You’ll also need to eat enough protein, the specific macronutrient that helps repair and grow tissue, including muscle: about 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day is ideal, research suggests. 



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