We all have days where our schedules have fallen apart. Something we planned to spend 5 minutes on ends up taking 2 hours, the alarm clock never goes off, we hit a hitchhiker on the road and ended up having to bury their body with 5 of our friends and then spend the afternoon rehearsing our story so that, when the cops question us, the details all line up, what have you.
"Man, today was squat day"
In these times, some may feel compelled to just skip training, putting it off for another day, and considering this an unscheduled “rest day”. However, there are other ways to cope with lost time, in the form of improving the efficiency of your training. One must keep in mind that this is ultimately a salvage operation, and not an attempt at the most optimal way to train, but with some tweaks, one can still manage a very effective training session.
Many of the strategies I have developed for this situation are extracted from programs like 20 Rep Squats and Dogg Crapp, where the idea is to cram as much intensity and volume one can in a very short amount of time. These programs and the strategies they employ are very taxing on the body, and tend to require a rotation out of training in order to maintain one’s ability to recover, but used sporadically to damage control inadequate training time, they can be a boon.
Introductions aside, I will now discuss some of my favorite strategies.
GENERAL PHILOSOPHYThe name of the game when it comes to a salvage workout is getting the most bang for your buck. This means cutting out the stuff that isn’t immediately valuable to your ability to get stronger. Prehab/rehab work is going to have to be saved for another time, now is the time to just get stronger. Additionally, the work you do keep is going to be pretty limited. After the heavy/prime movement for the day, you’re pretty much going to hit single sets of your assistance/supplement work. However, just because you are doing one set doesn’t mean it can’t be one badass set, and that is where the following strategies come into play.
REST PAUSEThis is one of the classic tools of volume manipulation. Joseph Hise made use of it with 20 rep squats, and Dante has built big men using these principles. The idea is simple to execute. Rather than taking 2-5 minutes between sets and waiting to recover completely from your efforts, take 12-15 deep breaths and then start your next “set”. You will not be able to do as many reps as you had previously, but should still be able to eek out a few more. Using 2-4 rest pauses with one weight is a great way to still get in some heavy volume with your assistance work in a much shorter amount of time, while completely blitzing the muscles involved. If you are not used to short rest times, you will feel like you got hit by a train the next morning. You’re going to want to use a weight that you can get at least 8 reps on in the first “set” here in order to be able to get any sort of meaningful reps in on later work.
STRIP SETSThis is going to work in a similar fashion as the rest pause, but you should manage to get some more reps into your lifts at the expense of less weight. Again, set up for a weight you can hit about 8 reps for. Once you hit your set, take some weight off the bar, and then start your next set. Continue until you can’t. Matt Kroczaleski hit an immortal set of these in his 40 rep squat video.
Using a similar protocol as this, you can achieve similar results (mainly of being on the floor and wanting to puke). The set moves quickly, while still giving you a ton of muscle and strength producing volume.
SUPERSETS/CIRCUITSSupersets and circuits are another great way to get in all of your work in a fraction of the time, but require either a home gym set up or a very forgiving commercial environment. Instead of training 1 movement for multiple sets with rest in between each set, you will move from movement to movement in your training. This can either be done with opposing movements (like bench and chins) or movements that recruit similar muscle groups (squats to glute ham raises to reverse hypers). If you choose the latter option, note that doing the smaller/isolation work first will limit your ability to use heavier weights for the compound movements, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Dante and John Meadows both have great success with this approach, and some may consider it a form of “pre-exhaust), while using the heavy work first means that the isolation work is more of a “finishing” movement, meant to really pump the bodypart to the extreme. You can combine this approach with the above mentioned methods to get an insane amount of volume and intensity in a very short period of time.
REP/TIME GOAL TRAININGThough this isn’t something done in a single set, it can still be accomplished rather quickly. With this approach, instead of training a weighted compound movement, I’ll pick something bodyweight like chin ups, dips, or glute ham raises. From there, I’ll set a rep total to reach (like 100 reps) with a goal to accomplish it as quickly as possible. This will get you a great deal of volume while still keeping an eye on the clock, and the lack of weight will also be easier on the joints, allowing you to take some time to recover from your more brutal sessions.
Alternatively, you can portion out your training for a certain movement by time, and work to see how many reps you can accomplish in this period. If you can only spare 5 minutes of training, then see how many reps you can possibly accomplish in this time. If you are uncreative and looking for an insane conditioning program, apply the tabata protocol to a compound movement. This will not only improve your heart rate and get in some volume, but will also teach you how comfortable the gym floor can feel.
Hopefully, with these strategies, you can make the most out of a bad situation. Whenever I am short on time, I make sure to at least get in 1 assistance/supplemental exercise on top of my primary work by using one of these methods. You may even be able to regularly utilize them in your training, but remember that they are brutal and intense, and regular use may require some heavy eating and sleeping to facilitate.