Fitness expert

Christian Finn

You want more muscle and less fat, but you don’t have hours to spend in the gym. What’s the minimum amount of training time required to get into shape? And what should you do in that time to get the fastest possible results?

The first step is to lift weights twice a week – once during the week and once at the weekend. You might think this isn’t enough, but actually it is. Research shows there are very similar gains in size and strength whether you train a muscle group two or three times a week.

Training twice a week won’t take up much more than a couple of hours. That’s less than two per cent of the time available to you over the course of a week, and gives you plenty of time to get everything done.

What if you can only make it to the gym once a week?

I’d suggest using a suspension trainer – two handles connected by springy, weighted rope. This is a light and versatile piece of equipment that lets you use your own bodyweight to perform a full body workout at home. It means you can do your heavy training in the gym at the weekend, when you have more time, and top up your fitness levels with lighter workouts using the suspension trainer during the week.

I should also mention that it takes a lot less work to maintain a given level of conditioning than it does to build it in the first place.

For example, let’s say you’ve improved your fitness by exercising three to four days a week. But you suddenly hit a busy patch at work, and can’t get to the gym as often as you’d like. Rather than giving up completely, just train twice a week instead.

Training intensity (how hard you work) is the key to maintaining your conditioning, rather than frequency (how often you train) or duration (how long you train for).

In other words, if you’ve been used to training at 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate, make sure to maintain that level of intensity when you cut back on the frequency.

Even if you only have 10 to 20 minutes to spare, you can still see results. In fact, short bodyweight sessions can work just as well as longer bouts of exercise when it comes to improving cardiovascular fitness.

In one study, a short workout comprising eight 20-second sets of a single exercise, with 10 seconds of rest between sets, improved cardiovascular fitness to the same extent as 30 minutes of running, even though the body-weight workouts lasted just four minutes.