What’s the Best Workout for Me?


When it comes down to it, how you approach your fitness is a combo of goals and priorities. If you want the mass of The Rock or the washboard abs of Matt Bomer or to have the speed or agility of Usain Bolt or Cam Newton, you have to put in the work. If your goals are less lofty—you want to feel good, maybe lose a few lbs or just maintain where you’re at—you still have to figure out how workout sessions will fit into your life. Not to worry, with these strategies, we’ve got everyone covered, no matter which fitness “guy” you are.

Click through the following pages to find out which one you most identify with—the Guy Who Has No Free Time, the Guy Who Can’t Motivate, the Guy Who Needs to Lose 30+ Pounds, the Guy Who Wants to Bulk Up, the Guy Who Wants to Get Cut, or the Guy Who Wants to Get Faster—and how to maximize your training strategy to fit your persona. 

For the Guy Who Has No Free Time

We get it, you’re busy, and sometimes the gym falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Sorry to say, if you’re serious about being fit and healthy, that can’t happen. When it seems that all the hours of your day are already be spoken for, you have to find ways to be more efficient. For example, bring your lunch so you can spend half your break working out and the other half eating. Or consider becoming a morning person so you get your workout in before life happens and suddenly you’ve worked through your workout session.

Keep it short

The good news: Workouts don’t need to be hours-long sessions to be effective. “The minimal effective dose of exercise is 4 minutes—the length of time of one tabata,” says Josh Holland, a trainer in NYC and founder of Zoomtion Fitness. So why not start your day with a tabata session of squats or pushups (20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest, 8 times through) while the coffee brews?

Go hard and go home

That’s not to say that longer workouts don’t have more benefits, though Holland says that 20 to 30 minutes is all you need, particularly if you hit it hard. His favorites for best-bang-for-your-buck include slow-rep high-intensity strength training, cardio sprints, and isometrics to failure for endurance.

For strength: Choose 5 to 7 multi-joint movements (like front squats, overhead presses, bench presses, low rows, and pulldowns), each done for about a minute and a half of slow reps—5-6 second on concentric and eccentric, respectively. “The weight should be heavy enough that it wears you out,” Holland says.

For cardio: Choose your cardio modality (running, cycling, rowing, even jump rope). Go full-out as fast as you can for 12 to 15 seconds. No really, as fast as you can—this is not the time to half-ass it. Recover fully, a minute up to three, before going again, for 6 to 10 reps. “When your distance covered starts to shorten, that’s when you know it’s time to call it quits,” says Holland.

For endurance: This quick workout that can be done in your living room using your own body weight. Create an isometrics circuit using moves like wall sits, planks, handstand or pike holds, and lunge holds. Do each move for 1 minute in succession, completing as many circuits as you can until your form fails. Make it harder by going longer.

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For the Guy Who Can’t Motivate

For whatever reason, you seem to drag your feet when it comes to getting your butt to the gym. It’s not that you dread it, exactly, it’s just that it’s so much easier to procrastinate or let yourself get caught up in work—or Netflix or aimless websurfing or a coworker’s invitation to happy hour—and suddenly you haven’t worked out for a week.

Set a goal

You’ve heard it before, but if you don’t have a specific intention it’s a lot harder to measure progress—and you have little incentive to even try. Put numbers on it, such as a specific weight loss you want to achieve in a specific time (keeping in mind that 2 pounds per week is considered healthy and sustainable). Or consider goals of skill or strength: Perfecting the double-under in jump rope, lifting your body weight (or 1.5 times or twice it) on the bench or deadlift, pulling off 10 or 20 pullups, mastering the muscle-up, running a mile in a certain time frame, etc. “Employ the test and retest model,” Holland says. Set a baseline, and then gauge your progress by testing yourself every week or two.

Get someone else to hold you accountable

A workout buddy who is already a gym rat could be your new best friend. Butter him up by asking for his advice, offer to provide a spotter, or level with him that you need someone to whip your ass into shape. Or even just promise to pay for the post-workout smoothies for picking you up and dragging you there—and don’t let him take no for an answer.

Make fitness harder to ignore

Put the gym into your calendar as an appointment or use an app like MyFitnessPal in which you can set goals—and reminders—suggests Holland. Set out your gym clothes or bag so you’ll literally trip over them if you don’t put them on/take the bag with you. Set your phone wallpaper to something that reminds you to work out—like an old photo of yourself when you were fitter, or an image of something that reminds you of your fitness goals—so it stares you in the face every time you go to waste time on Facebook.

Find workouts you really like

Maybe you’re not motivated because the traditional modes of fitness don’t speak to you. Rather than forcing yourself to lift weights, go running, or do some other less-than-stimulating-for-you gym activity, find something that appeals more. To consider: boxing, martial arts, rock climbing, cycling…

Put your money on it

Pay for a trainer or classes or splurge for that membership to the fancier gym—and then get your money’s worth. “Sites [like dietbet.com and stickk.com] let you wager cash and win it back for hitting your goals,” Holland says.

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For the Guy Who Needs to Lose 30+ Pounds

When you have a significant amount of weight to drop, what you eat is arguably more important than how you move. That said, a well-structured workout plan will facilitate fat loss faster, and help retain muscle mass for a healthier body and faster metabolism as you slim down. “The program must be structured so that the body expends as much energy as possible during each movement and the rest intensity reflects a program designed for fat loss,” says Chicago-based coach Darin Hulslander, CSCS, the owner of DNS Fitness and Nutrition.

Move more muscles

If you want to burn max calories, you gotta get your entire body into the act. Choose exercises that use as many joints as possible. “Make sure that every movement pattern [vertical push and pull, horizontal push and pull, and hip and knee-dominant lower-body exercises] is covered so that there are no imbalances created,” Hulslander says. Squats, step-ups, lunges, pushups or chest presses, overhead presses, lat pulldowns, rows and the like will do the trick.

Make your sets super

“Alternating a lower body and upper body movement promotes blood flow throughout the entire body and thus creates a higher calorie expenditure while gaining strength at the same time,” says Hulslander, who recommends three supersets of 8 to 10 reps done three times through as a good start.

Respect your body

Carrying extra weight can affect your strength, range of motion, and flexibility. When you first start, you may find that bodyweight is enough for a great workout. “Until the weight begins to come off, I would be careful with loading any weight on the back and doing a knee based movement (ie loaded back squat) until some of that pressure can be removed,” Hulslander says, pointing out that for every pound lost, there’s 4 pounds less of force on the knees during impact movements, such as running or plyometrics, so you may want to wait until you’re lighter before including those in your routine.

Don’t become a gym rat (yet)

Hulslander recommends beginners start with three sessions a week—two strength and one cardio, done in interval form (such as 10 rounds of 1 min of higher intensity, such as incline walking, followed by 2 min of recovery) “to promote fat loss, enhance conditioning, and allow the muscles and joints to recover,” he says. As you see progress, you can increase the weight lifted, the reps or sets completed for strength workouts, and increase the effort intervals and decrease rest for cardio. You can also add a fourth cardio day as your weight drops.

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For the Guy Who Wants to Bulk Up

Ready to make a commitment to the weight room? Good, because beefy muscles don’t come easy. Get ready for pyramid sets, split routines, heavy weights, and careful eating, says Smiley Elmore, a Tulsa-based personal trainer and professional natural bodybuilder and a featured expert on livestreamingfitness.com.

Exercise major control

Putting on mass doesn’t happen rapidly, and your weightlifting sessions shouldn’t be raced through, either. After a light-weight warmup of 15 reps, increase to a weight that’ll challenge you for 10 reps. Add more weight and go for 8, add and go for 6, and add for 4-5 more. Each set should be heavy but controlled, says Elmore, who recommends having a spotter on hand. Take your time on each rep, both on the exertion and on the return. “Fight the urge to let the weight drop uncontrollably,” Elmore says. “The desired bulky look will come from controlling the weight on the way down; i.e. fighting the negative.”

Split it up

With this kind of weight scheme, you’ll be good with four sessions per week, following a two days on, one day off routine as your schedule allows. Elmore’s suggestion is Day 1: legs, Day 2: chest and triceps, Day 3: rest, Day 4: back and biceps, Day 5: shoulders, Day 6: rest; repeat.

Fill ‘er up

“The saying goes, ‘To get big, you’ve got to eat big!’” says Elmore. That means 4-5 meals a day, spaced out every 3 to 3.5 hours. He recommends a carbohydrate/protein/fat ratio at 50%/40%/10% for every meal, but avoiding too many simple carbs, to keep your mass gains lean. “Within 30-45 minutes of each training session, get your protein shake in your system, because your body can use it quicker and will begin to rebuild your muscle tissues you recently broke down,” he says.

You snooze, you gain

When you’re putting yourself through all of this, your muscles need time to recover in the form of quality sleep, what Elmore calls the secret ingredient. “Get 6.5 to 8 hours nightly so your body goes through optimum protein synthesis for muscle repair,” he says.

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For the Guy Who Wants to Get Cut

Once you’ve slimmed down to a certain point, getting that lean sinewy look requires a more nuanced approach to whittle down your body fat percentage and let your muscles pop. You’ll also likely have to mix up your routine. “To get lean, your goal is to produce a cardio/aerobic-type of atmosphere for your body,” Elmore says.

Increase reps, drop weight

Sessions that use a low to moderate weight for 15 to 25 reps are the secret to cutting, Elmore says. “Avoid using heavy weight,” he says. “This is counterproductive to cutting up, because the repetition range of 15-25 is very difficult and dangerous to adhere to.” He also recommends shorter rest periods of 60 to 90 seconds, to keep up the calorie-burning quality of your workout.

Modify your split routine

Three weight-training sessions per week is enough for ripping it up, alternating days on and off. Do legs and shoulders together, back and biceps together, and chest and triceps together. If you want a fourth day, add in a cardio interval workout, one minute on, two minutes off for 10 cycles.

Eat to win

Clean up your diet, filling up mainly on lean protein and fiber-rich complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruit. “Keep sugar-concentrated foods to a maximum of 2 -3 items a week,” Elmore says. “Let these items serve as a reward for your psyche for your clean-eating discipline.”

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For the Guy Who Wants to Get Faster

If your fitness goals are more sports-oriented—improving your game when it comes to running, tennis, basketball, etc.—your workouts should focus on building strength, power, and skilled movement for the ultimate in speed and agility gains.

Hit the weight room

“A properly designed speed training program should contain a few strength training sessions a week,” says Jair Lee, C.S.C.S., a performance specialist at EXOS training center in Phoenix. “You cannot be fast if you are weak.” That means both traditional weight lifting using multijoint actions as well as functional training that mimics the movements you’ll do in your chosen sport. Two sessions per week is a good bet.

Jump around

As in, incorporate plyometrics into your routines for one short (10 to 20 minute) session a week. “At EXOS we like to say that it’s the transfer of the weight room to the field,” Lee says. “Plyometrics help a person increase his ability to produce and transfer force in the shortest amount of time possible and in the most optimal direction.” For running, this could mean bounding, skipping, or drills such as stair sprints. For other sports, you’ll include drills that train acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, jumping, bounding, cutting, and landing.

Condition yourself

If you want more speed, you have to do some work at higher velocities. For running, this will mean interval or track workouts, steady runs done at a tempo pace, and hill workouts—all done linearly in a forward trajectory. For other sports, you’ll want to work on similar skills, though typically at shorter intervals to better handle the bursts you need to chase a ball around the court or field. One to two such workouts a week will satisfy the need for speed, without overdoing it. “Speed training can be highly demanding to the nervous and muscular system,” Lee says. “Therefore, it’s recommended to keep the training to the minimal effective dose.”

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