You might think that to get an effective weight-training workout you need to be in the gym for a long time. That certainly is not the case, as just 30 minutes of weight training can be an awesome strength-building, fat-burning workout. The shorter session duration may even help you maintain focus so you get even more out of your time in the gym.
You can divide your training either into full-body workouts, which involve training all major muscle groups in one session, or split routines in which you train one or two body parts per session. Neither choice is better, but full body workouts are superior for burning fat and calories and are also the best option if you can only train two or three times per week, claims strength coach Marc Perry, author of the "Get Lean Guide." Split routines are more suited to muscle building and sculpting, or if you can make it to the gym at least four times per week. (See Reference 1)
Base your workout around compound exercises that hit multiple muscle groups, such as squats, lunges, pushups and rows. These force you to integrate your entire body into the lift says Tony Gentilcore, trainer at Cressey Performance in Massachusetts. Focusing on compound exercises ramps up the metabolic cost of your workout, so you burn more fat and calories, adds Chad Waterbury, author of "Body of Fire." Performing compound movements means you can hit all your muscle groups with fewer exercises and be done within half an hour. (See References 2 and 3)
While you might usually perform all your sets for each exercise before moving on to the next, with one to two minutes between sets, you can't do this in a 30-minute workout. Keep your rest periods under 60 seconds, advises Charles Poliquin, owner of the Poliquin Performance Center; this elevates your metabolic rate and increases production of growth hormone, which burns more fat. You may wish to superset exercises, too, which involves performing one exercise, immediately switching to another, resting and then going back to the first exercise. Supersets are extremely time-efficient, according to Nick Nilsson, author of "Specialization Training"; plus, they aid fat loss and muscle building. (See References 4 and 5)
Whether you go for a full-body routine or a split workout, the guidelines you follow should be the same. Pick four or five compound exercises per session. Start by performing one to two very light warm-up sets of each exercise before getting into your working sets. Aim for three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each using a weight that is challenging but manageable. Each week, try to increase the weight slightly, or do an extra few reps. Should you plateau on a lift, find another exercise that works the same muscle groups. For example, back squats could change to front squats, pushups to dips or dumbbell rows to seated cable rows.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.