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Fitness Hacks

Breaking down my favorite fitness "hacks" for when you don't have the time or equipment you need for your workouts.

fitness hacks

In a perfect world, you’d be able to train any and all days of the week, you’d have ample time to train on each of those days, and you’d have a fully equipped, uncrowded gym at your disposal.

But fitness doesn’t always happen in a “perfect world” scenario. Some days you only have 30 minutes to train. Some weeks you can only get to the gym a few days because you’re busy with work or family. Other days and weeks you can’t get to the gym at all because you’re traveling or stuck at home.

That’s life—stuff happens. And when it does, you need to be able to think on your feet and make the tweaks and adjustments necessary to still get your workouts in and not lose momentum. Let’s face it, some days you have no choice but to skip your workout, but try to keep those days to a minimum because consistency is the key to results.

Fortunately, none of my programs or workouts here on JimStoppani.com are carved in stone—you don’t have to do them all exactly as written. In many circumstances (like when you have limited equipment available), it may be literally impossible to do a given routine as I wrote it. But that doesn’t mean you need to skip that workout.

You need to be able to troubleshoot and be flexible when your daily circumstances are less than ideal. In this series of articles, I’m going to help you do just that by highlighting common “problems” and offering specific solutions for overcoming them and still getting in your workouts so you can see continued results in size, strength, and fat loss.

Get Fit in Less Time

The Problem: You're Pressed For Time on a Given Day

For example, you’re in the middle of Super Shredded 8 or Fitter, Faster, Leaner. You want to get your workout in for the day, but you only have, say, 45 minutes to complete a workout that you figure will take at least an hour.

The Solution: Shorten Your Workout While Still Reaping Benefits

Shortening the prescribed workout is much better than skipping it altogether. There are several ways to do this, a few of which I cover in the below video.

Option #1—Slash Your Rest Periods

If the program calls for two minutes between sets, cut that down to one minute or 90 seconds. To hit the prescribed rep counts with less rest may require you to go lighter than normal, but that’s okay; reduce the load and get your sets in. This may not be the best method for increasing pure strength, but if your primary goals are gaining muscle and dropping body fat (ie, looking better naked), a lighter weight will be no problem.

Option #2—Do Fewer Sets

Again, my workouts and programs don’t have to be followed exactly as written. This is your workout; tweak it as needed. So, if a workout calls for 4 sets per exercise but you’re short on time, do 3 sets per move instead. If it calls for 3 sets, do 2. This is a better strategy than keeping the sets the same but not doing all the exercises.

Yes, I design programs with a certain amount of volume (total sets performed) for a reason. But generally speaking, you’ll still get most of the results from a program by doing three-quarters or two-thirds of the volume. And just to reiterate: Doing an abbreviated version of one of my workouts is far better than doing nothing.

If you find you have enough time to do the full number of sets on some exercises but not all, take sets away from isolation movements (ie, flyes for chest, lateral raises for shoulders, squats and lunges for legs) and do all listed sets for compound moves (ie, presses for chest and shoulders, leg extensions for legs).

Option #3—Break the Workout up into More Days 

In some cases, you’re short on time on a daily basis but you’re not short on days you can train. For example, some people are only able to get to the gym four days a week, but on those days they have plenty of time to train; others are able to train 5-7 days per week, but they’re limited on time on those days. If you belong to the latter camp, break up your workouts into more days.

For instance, if you’re doing one of my four-days-per-week programs, you can easily make it a five- or six-days-per-week program by rearranging muscle groups. So, if a program calls for chest, shoulders and triceps on Day 1 and back, biceps and abs on Day 2, change that to chest and shoulders on Day 1, back only on Day 2, and then do triceps, biceps and abs on a separate day. (Legs may fall on Day 3 or Day 4; you can do the arms and abs routine either the day before or after that.)

Option #4—Substitute a "One-Off" Workout and Get Back on the Program the Next Day.

So let's say you're in the middle of Down and Up Mass or MED Training but you're short on time on a given day and you'd rather not to try to shorten the day's workout. In this case, squeeze in a short HIIT cardio workout that day, then get back to the regularly scheduled workout in the program the next day. One short workout you can do is my 15-Minute Power HIIT routine. Or, come up with your own complementary workout, even if it's just going for a 20-30-minute run or jumping rope in your garage.

Bottom line, a short workout is better than no workout. Get your training in for the day, whatever it takes, and go the full length the next time you're able to.

Get Fit in Fewer Days

The Problem: You Have a Limited Number of Days Per Week to Train

In other words, you want to do one of my programs that calls for training six days per week (like Super Shredded 8), but with work, school and/or family obligations, you're only realistically able to get to the gym 3-4 days per week. That means you can't do SS8, right? Wrong!

The Solution: Stretch Out the Program to Fit Your Schedule

Here's the thing: Yes, SS8 is a six-days-per-week program, but you can still do it in fewer days. As written, it lasts 8 weeks. If, instead of doing 6 workouts per week you only do four, it then becomes a 12-week program (48 total workouts divided by 4). If you do the program only 3 days a week, it'll take you 16 weeks. That's fine. Will it yield the exact same results as it would with 6 training days a week over 8 weeks? No. But the SS8 program has enough volume and intensity that even doing it 3 or 4 days a week will provide great results.

Just make sure you do every workout in the program in the exact order listed. What I mean is, if by the end of your first week you've only gotten through the Week 1 Day 4 workout, start the next week with the Week 1 Day 5 workout—as opposed to starting with Week 2 Day 1. This way, you're training all muscle groups in proportion with each other instead of doing, say, a chest/shoulders/triceps workout on Friday and then training those same body parts on Monday without having hit legs, back and biceps in the meantime.

So let's use training 3 days a week as an example, which actually works out well with SS8 because the program is a 3-day split. This means every muscle group (the entire body) is trained once every 3 workouts—or every week if you're training 3 days per week. And those 3 weekly workouts can be done on whatever days you want: Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday, etc.

As written (training 6 days per week), the SS8 training split looks like this:

Day Muscle Groups Trained
1 (Monday) Chest, shoulders, triceps
2 (Tuesday) Legs, abs
3 (Wednesday) Back, traps, biceps
4 (Thursday) Chest, shoulders, triceps
5 (Friday) Legs, abs
6 (Saturday) Back, traps, biceps
7 (Sunday) Off

Modifying that to three days per week for your "real world" situation, the split looks like this:

Day Muscle Groups Trained
1 (Monday) Chest, shoulders, triceps
2 (Tuesday) Off – doing other stuff like working, going to school, carpooling kids, etc. ;)
3 (Wednesday) Legs, abs
4 (Thursday) Off
5 (Friday) Back, traps, biceps
6 (Saturday) Off
7 (Sunday) Off

As I mentioned earlier, Days 1, 2 and 3 don't have to fall on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Do Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday if you need to, or whatever.

Just for the fun of it, let's see what the split would like if you trained four days a week on the SS8 program. For this example, I'm just going to say that your available training days are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, even though it may lay out differently for you. And to show you how the muscle groups trained will change days from week to week, I'm extended this training split chart to cover three full weeks.

Day Muscle Groups Trained
1 (Monday) Chest, shoulders, triceps
2 (Tuesday) Off
3 (Wednesday) Legs, abs
4 (Thursday) Off
5 (Friday) Back, traps, biceps
6 (Saturday) Chest, shoulders, triceps
7 (Sunday) Off
8 (Monday) Legs, abs
9 (Tuesday) Off
10 (Wednesday) Back, traps, biceps
11 (Thursday) Off
12 (Friday) Chest, shoulders, triceps
13 (Saturday) Legs, abs
14 (Sunday) Off
15 (Monday) Back, traps, biceps
16 (Tuesday) Off
17 (Wednesday) Chest, shoulders, triceps
18 (Thursday) Off
19 (Friday) Legs, abs
20 (Saturday) Back, traps, biceps
21 (Sunday) Off

Point is, just because one of my programs calls for 6 days a week doesn't mean those people with limited schedules have to pick another program. Not at all. Make any of my programs fit your personal schedule and still reap benefits in muscle size and strength and fat-burning.

Here's a video I shot recently covering this same topic. In the video, I use my Shortcut to Shred program as an example, but the advice is still the same.

Get Fit With Less Equipment

The Problem: You Don’t Have All the Necessary Equipment for a Given Workout

Let’s say your situation is that you’re not able to get to a fully equipped gym to do your workout yet you're following a program that calls for all types of equipment; in other words, you’re training with limited equipment either at home or on the road at a hotel fitness center. From my experiences, “limited equipment” usually means no barbells, machines, cable stations or power racks—just light dumbbells and maybe an adjustable bench.

Of course, sometimes you have exactly zero equipment, but let’s assume you have at least some weights at your disposal—albeit light ones, like dumbbells up to 30-50 pounds. Don’t worry, I’ll address no equipment in a subsequent article.

The Solution: Find Substitutes and More Challenging Variations

There are a couple key issues here: (1) You don’t have all the equipment that a given workout calls for, and (2) you don’t have heavy enough weights to do sets to failure (or at least close to it) in the prescribed rep ranges.

For the first issue, you’re just going to have to do different versions of the listed exercises. If dumbbells are all you have, you’ll need to do dumbbell variations of the movements. In this case, just do the best you can and don’t worry about the exercises not being exactly the same as those listed.

Exercise Substitution Examples

Substitution for Barbell Bench Press (Chest): Dumbbell bench press, reverse-grip dumbbell bench press, even push-ups. If incline barbell bench press is called for, do the dumbbell version on an incline bench. If you don’t have an incline bench, do push-ups with your feet elevated.

Substitution for Barbell Bent-Over Rows and Lat Pulldowns (Back): dumbbell bent-over row, one-arm dumbbell row; in place of pulldowns, do pull-ups or inverted rows. Many hotel gyms have pull-up bars, or find a nearby playground.

Substitution for Barbell or Machine Overhead Press (Shoulders): dumbbell press, handstand push-ups (advanced move, but it mimics an overhead press)

Substitution for Barbell Squat (Legs): dumbbell squat (holding two dumbbells at your shoulders), goblet squat (holding one dumbbell underneath your chin), reverse lunge, one-legged squat (either bodyweight, because this is a very challenging exercise, or a dumbbell), dumbbell step-up.

There are just a few examples. You can do virtually any major movement with dumbbells. Get creative, be resourceful.

As for the other issue (not having heavy enough weights), first of all, don’t worry about the rep ranges listed. If the program you’re following calls for sets of, say, 4-6 or 8-10 reps, feel free to throw that out the window and do a high-rep workout. Just focus on taking sets to failure, or close to it, to make sure intensity is high, even if that means you’re doing sets of 25-30 reps. Trust me, high-rep sets can build muscle, too.

Another way to deal with a lack of heavy weights at your disposal is to make your exercises more challenging; this way, you can come close to the prescribed rep ranges (or even hitting them exactly) in spite of using light weight. Here are two ways to make your sets more challenging:

Do Pre-Exhaust: The pre-exhaust training principle involves doing a single-joint exercise before your compound moves, which, as a result, will make the compound moves more challenging. For example, a dumbbell flye done immediately before a dumbbell press; a dumbbell straight-arm pullback/kickback before a dumbbell row; a dumbbell lateral raise before a dumbbell overhead press; etc. (For more insight on the pre-exhaust principle, read my Pre-Exhaust Primer article.)

When you're low on weights, pre-exhaust sets are ideal. I recommend supersetting the single-joint (isolation) exercise and the compound move, as opposed to doing all sets of the single-joint move and then doing all sets of the compound one. This will make the sets even more challenging. You may not even notice you're using light dumbbells!

Oh, and what if the program you're following doesn't call for pre-exhaust? Who cares?! Do it anyway! Just add it the program, simple.

Choose More Challenging Exercise Variations: Some versions of a given movement are more challenging than others, so you'd have to go lighter on these exercises anyway. For example, you won't be able to use as much weight on standing dumbbell overhead presses as you would on seated overhead presses for shoulders. Likewise, reverse-grip flat-bench dumbbell presses are more challenging than standard dumbbell presses. So if you only have light dumbbells available, opt for the most difficult variation of a movement possible.

This is also a great time to work on certain bodyweight exercises that are extremely challenging. For legs, both pistol squats and Bulgarian split squats are very challenging even with no weight (especially pistols). Being short on equipment is a great excuse to utilize these bodyweight exercises. And as I've already mentioned, pull-ups, inverted rows, handstand push-ups and feet-elevated push-ups are great bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength.

Bottom line, when your equipment options are sparse, get creative, look for more challenging exercises, don't be afraid to add in intensity techniques like pre-exhaust, and feel free to throw prescribed rep ranges out the window. Just get your workout in and train hard—that's what it's all about.

In the below videos, I cover these same issues using some of the examples mentioned above.


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