Thirty minutes—that is all it takes to get a great workout. If you think it takes hours of grueling gym time to see real change, then think again. These five 30-minute workouts created by Adam Friedman, a Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute expert and celebrity trainer, will help you maximize your exercise time and increase your strength and stamina. This plan works for anyone—from pure beginners to seasoned athletes—because you can gauge the intensity to match your fitness level.
Four days of the plan are devoted to serious circuit training, moving from one exercise to another with one-minute cardio bursts (or what we call active recovery) between each set. That active recovery can be jumping rope, running in place or doing jumping jacks—just something you can do close to your workout area. By keeping your heart rate up, active recovery helps you burn more calories. One day of the plan is just pure cardio.
The other important part of this plan is to keep increasing the intensity. Each week you’ll have to step it up and push yourself a bit harder. Here’s the week-by-week breakdown.
Start with two sets of eight to 10 reps on each machine, at a weight that is comfortable for you.
Add two more reps, for a total rep count of 10 to 12.
Add three more reps, for a total rep count of 13 to 15.
Transition back to eight to 10 reps, but increase the amount of weight. If you were using eight-pound barbells, for example, try 10-pounders.
If you’re joining the Gold’s Gym Challenge, this is a perfect roadmap. It will let you optimize your gym time and still get visible results. If your schedule can handle more, ask a Gold’s Gym trainer to help you add on to this plan.
Now let’s get started!
Day 1: Upper Body
Lie facedown on a mat. Push off from your chest, resting on your forearms and toes. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels. Hold for 30 seconds.
Begin facedown with your elbows resting on the floor or a mat. Rotate to the right side, then push up so you are resting on your right forearm and outer right foot, with your hips and back in alignment. Try not to let your hips sag. Repeat on left side. Hold for 30 seconds on each side.
• Do one set of planks and one set of side planks, then do a minute of active recovery.
Dumbbell chest fly:
Lying on a bench, hold dumbbells in each hand, palms facing in, and bring your arms straight above you. As you exhale, lower both arms out to the sides, to about shoulder height. Hold momentarily, then slowly raise to return to start position.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, and lean forward so your back is flat at a 10-degree angle. In each hand, hold a dumbbell in front of you. With your elbows straight, lift the dumbbells until your elbows are parallel to your shoulders, then lower your arms back down.
• Do one set of dumbbell chest flies and reverse flies, then do a minute of active recovery.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and have a dumbbell in each hand. Lift your hands so they are at your shoulders, then lift the dumbbells straight up. Bring them back down to your shoulders, then repeat.
Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, arms straight up and palms facing forward. Pull the bar down to your chest, elbows out. Return slowly to starting position, arms straight.
• Do one set of shoulder presses and lat pull-downs, then do a minute of active recovery.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Let your arms hang at your sides, and keep your head back and slightly looking up so that your neck is relaxed. Slowly curl your arms up, squeezing your biceps when you reach your shoulders; then, even more slowly, uncurl your arms. Sticking to a slower tempo (or the time the muscle is under tension) will build your biceps more effectively.
Position your hands shoulder-width apart behind you on the edge of a secured bench. Walk your feet out in front of you until you are resting on your heels. Lower your upper body toward the floor by bending your elbows. Slowly press off with your hands to push yourself back up to the starting position.
• Do one set of bicep curls and bench dips, then do a minute of active recovery.
Grab the handles of the machine and sit with your back straight, shoulder blades back. Keep legs slightly bent and abdominals pulled in. Pull the weight toward your body until the handles touch your abdomen. Return to the starting position.
Side lateral raise:
Standing, hold dumbbells with your palms facing each other. Let the dumbbells hang down in front of you. With your elbows slightly bent, raise dumbbells up and out to the sides until they are parallel to the ground. As you lift the weights, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly return to the starting position.
• Do one set of seated rows and side lateral raises, then do a minute of active recovery.
Day 2: Lower Body
Start on all fours, with your back straight. Lift your right knee out to the side, keeping your knee bent. Lift until the knee is parallel to the hip, then slowly lower it back down. Repeat on the left side. To increase difficulty, wear ankle weights.
Lie on your back, with arms comfortably at your sides and knees bent. Press your heels into the floor and raise your hips, shifting pressure to the upper shoulder. No pressure should be felt in the neck or back. Hold for 30 seconds. For advanced-level positions, try touching your fingertips to the back of your shoes or clasping your hands behind your back and drawing your shoulder blades together. For added difficulty, place a Pilates ring between your knees and squeeze your legs to hold it in place.
• Do one set of fire hydrants and bridges, then do a minute of active recovery.
Dumbbell dead lift:
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, keeping a dumbbell on the floor between your legs. Choose a dumbbell weight that is challenging but doable. Squat down and lift the dumbbell off the floor with both hands. Move from the squat position to a standing position, then return to the squat and touch the dumbbell to the floor.
• Do one set of dumbbell dead lifts, then do a minute of active recovery.
Leg press machine:
Sit on a leg press machine with feet hip-width apart. Set the weight on a challenging yet doable resistance. Bend your knees 90 degrees, keeping your feet flat against the foot plate. Extend your legs until they are straight but not locked. Slowly return to the starting position.
• Do one set on the leg press machine, then do a minute of active recovery.
Stand with feet together, hands on your hips or down at your sides. Step back with one foot, landing on the ball of your foot. Bend the back knee until it almost or barely touches the floor. Stand back up.
• Do one set of split squats, then do a minute of active recovery.
Leg curl machine:
Set the machine to a challenging but doable weight. Lying stomach down on the bench part of the machine, hook your ankles behind the padded leg rests. Draw your ankles toward your buttocks until your legs form a 90-degree angle. Slowly return to the starting position.
• Do one set on the leg curl machine, then do a minute of active recovery.
Standing cable rotation (cable wood chop):
Put a cable on the high position. Stand sideways with your right shoulder close to the machine so that you can pull the cable down and across your body. Grab the cable with both hands. Your left hand should be on top, and your right hand should be on the bottom. Keeping your arms straight, pull the cable down toward the outside of your left leg. Switch sides and repeat.
• Do one set of cable wood chops, then do a minute of active recovery.
Day 3: Cardio
Today you devote all 30 minutes to cardio. Remember that you need to increase your intensity each week on this day as well. Try to up your resistance or speed—or both! The harder you work, the sooner you’ll see results.
Day 4: Upper Body
Pushups: Lie facedown with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart and your feet together. Keeping your body straight, push up. For less effort, lower your knees onto the ground.
Inverted back row:
Using a Smith machine or a power cage, secure the straight bar at hip level if you’re intermediate to advanced, or at waist level if you’re a beginner. Starting position: Grasp the bar with hands at shoulder distance, then walk your feet forward until your body is inverted with legs straight and your mid torso is able to touch the bar. Movement: Fully extend your arms to lower a straight body position toward the floor, then pull up to touch the midsection back to the bar using your upper and mid back muscles.
• Do one set of pushups and inverted back rows, then do a minute of active recovery.
Dumbbell front raise:
Standing, hold dumbbells in front of you with your palms facing your legs. Keep your elbows and knees slightly bent as you raise your arms straight in front of you to shoulder level. Slowly return to the starting position.
Straight-arm lat pull-down:
Standing in front of the cable with a straight bar attached, place your hands about shoulder-width apart on the bar. Pull the bar down toward the floor while you squeeze your shoulders together.
• Do one set of dumbbell front raises and straight-arm lat pull-downs, then do a minute of active recovery.
Grab a straight bar and add barbells that are appropriate to your fitness level. Sit down on a preacher bench (a bench with a padded seat and a slanted pad that sits in front of your chest). Resting your upper arms on the slanted pad, curl the bar down for four seconds, then pull it back up in three seconds.
Take a dumbbell in your left hand. Place your right hand and your right knee on a flat bench. Keeping your upper left arm close against your body, pull the dumbbell up to your shoulder, then move the dumbbell back until your arm is straight and parallel to the ground. Switch sides and repeat.
• Do one set of preacher curls and tricep kickbacks, then do a minute of active recovery.
From the crunch position, lift your knees in a smooth arc toward your head and contract your lower abs. Then lower your knees back down, making sure not to touch them to the ground. That way you’ll maintain abdominal tension.
• Do one set of reverse crunches, then do a minute of active recovery.
(if you have time): Lie on your back with your legs bent, your hands behind your head and your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your neck relaxed, roll your upper back off the floor. Then slowly return to the starting position.
• Do one set of crunches, then do a minute of active recovery.
Day 5: Lower Body
Romanian dead lift:
Stand upright, your feet hip-width apart. Hold dumbbells in front of your thighs as you lower them, keeping your back straight and your chest out. Then stand back up.
• Do one set of Romanian dead lifts, then do a minute of active recovery.
Place your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your chest high, draw in your abdominals and slowly squat down until your butt is parallel to the floor (never farther). Have a firm foot plant, and put emphasis on your heels. Make sure to keep your knees directly over—never in front of—your ankles. For the more advanced try a back squat: Same movement as above, but place a weighted bar across your back along your shoulders. Hold it in both hands with your fingers facing forward.
• Do one set of squats, then do a minute of active recovery.
Stationary side lunge:
Start with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Step sideways two to three feet into a lunge, keeping your planted leg straight. Bend your knee at a 90-degree angle. Press back up with your bent leg and return to the starting position.
• Do one set of side lunges, then do a minute of active recovery.
Stand in front of a box. Step up with your right foot, then with your left. Step down right foot first, then left. Repeat, this time starting with your left foot. Hold dumbbells for added difficulty.
• Do one set of box step-ups, then do a minute of active recovery.
Leg extension machine:
Sit down on the seat and hook your legs behind the padded bar. Adjust the bar so that it rests on your lower leg. Select a weight and slowly lift the bar until your legs are almost straight, then lower your legs back down. Make sure to keep your back straight and grip the handles on each side of the seat.
• Do one set on the leg extension machine, then do a minute of active recovery.
Medicine ball trunk rotation:
Hold the medicine ball out in front of you, shoulder-high. Slowly twist to the right, then back to the center, then to the left.
• Do one set of medicine ball trunk rotations, then do a minute of active recovery.