Practical Advice for Designing On-the-Go Workouts

When shit hits the fan, there’s still time for a workout.

Sometimes life doesn’t go to plan.

Maybe you’re short on time. Maybe you’re a busy parent. Maybe your meeting ran over and you have to get to a cousin’s wedding. 

Last week this happened to me a couple of times. 

There were days I had to let it go, but most days, I found a way to get in a little fitness.

The difference between getting a 20-minute workout and no workout at all is massive. Too often we feel like if we can’t get in an hour at the gym, there is no point. 

But that is not true.  

“Hold up! Last week you made a big deal about the difference between training and exercise.” 

Yes, ultimately, I want to train several times per week according to a well thought out, logical program that leads to specific, measurable outcomes. I want to take my sweet time warming up and I want extra time to mobilize after a workout.

That's the ideal. But unlike my wardrobe, life is not black and jeans.  

Last week was a blatant reminder that when things don’t go to plan, I’ve got choices.  

One choice is to give up. 

A second is to get angry and perhaps also give up. 

A third is to shift my mindset. 

The scenario: I was visiting family in Minnesota. Despite having a full schedule and limited transportation, I was convinced we’d get to the gym a couple of times. Mentally, I was banking on it. Short story, it didn’t happen. 

Perhaps this has happened to you. 

Your day gets busy and you run out of time for a full hour in the gym. Or you're traveling and the hotel gym is closed. Or you meant to get up early, but you didn’t and now you only have 30 minutes at lunch. Or whatever. 

Don’t let it halt you in your tracks. 

Normally, I write my training program out for 6-8 weeks and make slight modifications, mostly to accessory work, every week. Last week, I assumed I would be able to do everything in my plan so I didn’t have a back up plan ready. 

When I realized I wouldn’t be able to get to the gym, I evaluated what equipment and time I had and wrote out workouts to get me by on the fly.  

When I write up a no equipment or low equipment workout, I usually go for a full body approach. 

I combine squatting, hinging, pressing, and pulling movements to the best of my ability. If you have no equipment, that’s fine. There are plenty of body weight exercises. 

Take two minutes to dream up your workout. Going into whatever time you have with a plan will help you get the most out of it. 

It’s helpful to know a few different ways to organize a workout and manage your time. 

Here are some of my go-to formats with sample workouts from last week. 

EMOM 

An EMOM stands for every minute on the minute. Pick a couple of exercises and do a certain number of reps of each one every minute. 

You can also work for 40-50 seconds and rest/transition for 20-10 seconds between movements. 

For example, last Wednesday I had 18 minutes and no equipment so I did this: 

18 Minute EMOM

  • Bodyweight Squats 

  • Pushups

  • Situps

  • Leg Lifts

  • Right Leg Lunges

  • Left Leg Lunges

This workout consisted of 3 rounds of 6 exercises. I did each movement for 50 seconds. I spent 10 seconds resting and transitioning between movements. The result was a jam pack 18 minutes of movement I wouldn’t have otherwise done. 

You can see this workout in action on Instagram. 

AMRAP 

An AMRAP stands for as many reps (and rounds) as possible. With an AMRAP, you pick your exercises, reps and time and cycle through them. 

For example, on Friday, I had 25 minutes and not a second longer. 

For the first 5 minutes, I flowed through some warm up moves including runner’s lunges, downward dogs, up downs (burpees with no push ups), and body weight squats. 

Then, I set a timer for 20 minutes and cycled through as many reps and rounds of this as possible. 

20 Minute AMRAP

  • Kettlebell Swings: 20 reps

  • Double Unders: 50 reps

  • Single Side Deadlift: 10 reps per side

  • Double Unders: 50 reps

  • Push-ups: 20 reps

  • Double Unders: 50 reps

  • Kettlebell Cleans: 10 reps per side

  • Double Unders: 50 reps

If I didn’t have a jump rope, I would have used burpees, jumping jacks or a short run sprint in place of the double unders. 

Target Reps & Rounds

You can also choose a set number of rounds and reps. 

This can be tricky if you are not sure how long something will take you, which is a benefit of an EMOM or AMRAP since the “finish line” is predetermined by how much time you have. 

Most often you will see something like 3 rounds of 3-5 exercises with 10 reps of each movement. But you can have a lot more fun with these. 

When I’m in these low equipment situations, I like to push my muscle endurance and work with bigger sets. 

For example, on Saturday, I had about an hour. I broke up my time into a few parts. 

Part A was jump roping for 5 minutes. 

Part B was three rounds with a descending rep scheme. 

The first round was 50 reps of all three movements, the second round was 40 reps of all three movements, and the third round 30 reps of all three movements.

  • Kettlebell Goblet Squats

  • Sit Kicks

  • Gorilla Rows (split reps per side)

Part C was one round of the following, finishing all 100 reps before moving on to the next movement. 

  • Duck Walk: 100 steps

  • Kettlebell Swings: 100 reps

  • Crunches: 100 reps

I love lifting heavy weights and the benefits of resistance training are extraordinary, but if you don’t have the time, can’t get to the gym or just prefer to start off with some bodyweight and / or dumbbell only workouts, you can absolutely create a meaningful program with very little time and equipment. 

A review of 25 scientific studies found that doing a minimum amount of physical activity was negatively associated with risk of depression. Put differently, doing 20 minutes of activity three times per week can significantly impact your mental health. 

I’ve worked out with minimal equipment in tiny hotel rooms on carpet (a pet peeve), on a balcony, at a farm, and in a field

Some of my favorite things to have on hand are glute bands, longer resistance bands, jump rope, kettlebells and dumbbells. I’m a huge fan of the Rep Fitness adjustable kettlebell. (Not sponsored, no affiliate links.)

But don’t let zero equipment hold you back.  Even if I have 15 minutes, I will make it work. 

This goal here is to get your heart rate up and maintain (or build) consistency.

And when it comes to succeeding in fitness and nutrition, consistency is king.

👩‍⚕️ You should consult a medical professional before starting an exercise routine.

🙏 Thank you for reading. If you have questions, please ask. 

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