How do I get a great holiday workout in 30 minutes or less?

December 7, 2013

Q: The month of December has always been the most difficult month for me to stay in shape and find time to work out. Do you have any suggestions on how I can get in and out of the gym quickly so I have a better chance of not skipping workouts and gaining weight over the holidays?

A: December is arguably the most difficult time of year to stay in shape, but with the element of speed, it can be done. Here are five different ways to get in and out of the gym in 30 minutes or less without sacrificing the quality of your workout.

Drop sets

Drop sets are a great way to increase the intensity of your workout with the added bonus of getting done in half the time it takes to do traditional sets. A drop set means doing a particular amount of repetitions of an exercise and then dropping the weight and repeating the process for several sets without a rest period. An example would be doing leg extensions with 80 pounds for eight reps, 60 pounds for eight reps and finishing with 40 pounds for 10 to 12 reps. The key is to have little to no rest in between, and each set should be very difficult. Repeat this technique for eight to 10 different exercises, and you’ll get an intense workout in half the time.

Triple sets

A few years ago I began using triple sets - grouping two different body parts and a core movement back to back - with no rest to increase the intensity of my workouts as well as make them faster when time was short. The result was a fast-paced, fat-burning routine that could be done in 20 to 30 minutes, and it has been a staple of my program ever since. A good example would be on chest and bicep day, I would do incline dumbbell chest press times 10, bicycle crunches times 25 and straight bar curls times 10, and then rest for 45 to 50 seconds and repeat for two more triple sets and then move on to another exercise grouping.

Cardio-infused weight training

If you don’t have extra time to spend on the cardio deck, try injecting high-energy exercises into your weight training routine. Exercises such as mountain climbers, burpees, squat thrusts, sprints and jumping rope are sure to get your heart pumping and your body sweating without spending an extra 30 to 45 minutes on the cardio deck. A good example would be doing a set of squats, doing 15 burpees and then finishing with a set of dumbbell rows. Rest and repeat for three to four sets and then try a different grouping.

Bar complexes

A bar complex is an intense circuit of exercises - five to six movements - with little to no rest, performed in consecutive order. In most cases, the bar or set of dumbbells never leave your hands until the last exercise is complete and sweat is dripping on the floor. This technique is an advanced training method and should not be attempted by beginners, but it can be an excellent change of pace for seasoned lifters. To perform a bar complex, do one set of five to six different exercises in a row for the desired number of reps and then rest and repeat for three to four sets. A good example would be dumbbell squats times 10, standing overhead dumbbell presses times 10, standing dumbbell rows times 10, dumbbell chest press times 10 and then finish with dumbbell hammer curls times 10. Bar complexes can be repeated for three to five sets depending on your fitness level.

Body weight home workouts

Let’s face it, sometimes the hardest part of working out during the busy holiday season is actually getting to the gym. For occasions like this when you are traveling or too busy to make the drive, preplanned home body weight workouts could be just what you need to stay on track. To make this happen, all you need to do is plan six to eight different challenging body weight exercises that can be done in consecutive order without rest, and you have yourself a winning routine. A good example for an experienced lifter would be pushups, burpees, bench dips, mountain climbers, bird dogs, walking lunges and planks for three sets to failure with a 90-second rest in between sets.

So if time is an issue, make your workouts short, intense and to the point, and use the above techniques to stay on track during the most difficult month of the year.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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