Best Exercises for a Busy Schedule

If you want to get in shape, the best thing you can do is spend multiple hours in the gym each day, with a carefully designed and executed workout routine.

However, for most of us, we don’t have the luxury of being able to plan our lives around working out. We have busy schedules at work or school, as well as commute time getting to and from our responsibilities, and often don’t have the time to spend 2+ hours in the gym every day.

So it begs the question… is it possible to get your dream body while maintaining a busy schedule?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, if you do the right exercises, and do more to maximize the results you get from each workout.

Keep reading and we’ll explain how.

The Best Exercises When Time is a Factor

Let’s say you only have 30-45 minutes to spend on each workout. Maybe you’re able to squeeze in a session before or after work, or during your lunch break.

If this is the case, it’s not a great idea to try and work each individual muscle group in isolation. You simply won’t be able to get enough done in the short time you have to work out.

You’ll end up missing out on muscle groups, training each group too little to see meaningful results, or worse - rushing, using poor form and skipping warm up, and you end up getting injured.

Instead, focus on efficient exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once, and that can deliver meaningful results in less time.

For this, you want to look at compound exercises and/or high intensity exercises.

Compound exercises utilize the whole body, or close to it, meaning you work out more muscle groups in a single rep, while higher intensity workouts (such as HIIT routines) provide more from each set or rep. That leads to fewer reps needed to get results.

Here are some specific exercises you can try out to maximize results in a shorter space of time.


When it comes to compound lifts, squats are pretty much number one. If you only had 15 minutes to work out, and could do just one exercise, a few sets of squats would probably be the best idea.

Squats strengthen your entire lower body, as well as your core. These areas are incredibly important for functional strength, strength that translates into other lifts or athletic activity, as well as just looking great.

Doing squats is also a very efficient way to burn calories, if weight loss is your goal, and they help increase bone density, which is something that will make you feel better and better as you get older.

Squats scare some people, and there is a risk of injury if you don’t do them right. So make sure you perfect your form before starting. This video gives a great breakdown of how to do squats properly, if you’re a beginner: 


Deadlifts are, alongside squats, the other king of compound exercises.

Deadlifts work essentially the whole body in just one movement. It’s a functional lift, which targets everything from the calves to the forearms - and everything in between.

What you get the most value out of with deadlifts are the muscles along your posterior chain. This is a group of muscles along your back side, including the calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back.

Strengthening your posterior chain will make you feel great, and boost your performance in any other physical task you do.

Deadlifts are not just for athletes or powerlifters. They’re a great metabolism boosting exercise, which means you’ll burn calories much faster by doing deadlifts.

Like squats, it’s important to get your form right with deadlifts. Check out this video for more on how to perfect your form: 

Dumbbell shoulder press

The overhead press is an awesome upper body exercise. It targets your shoulders primarily, as well as the arms, upper back and traps. These areas are great for building visible size - big arms and shoulders generally make you look huge, even if you haven’t had the time to develop other areas as much.

Also, particularly when using dumbbells rather than a barbell, you activate a lot of stabilizer muscles, which leads to stronger joints and better overall movement ability.

The dumbbell shoulder press is a versatile exercise, which is just another reason why it’s awesome if you don’t have that much time to spare. You can do it standing or with a bench, vary the angle slightly to hit different muscles, and go lighter or heavier depending on whether you’re looking to bulk up or lean out.


Rows are a super functional lift, which primarily work the back. You’ll hit a number of different muscles in the back, as well as the arms and shoulders. And that’s not it - you also activate the legs, glutes and core while you stabilize your body in place during the lift.

That’s a lot of muscles worked from one pretty simple exercise.

Better yet, rows are versatile. You don’t need to spend your precious time at the gym waiting for a particular machine to be free. You can do rows with a barbell, with dumbbells, with the smith machine, cable machine, even kettlebells.


There might not be a more efficient exercise than the pull-up.

Pull-ups are convenient - you can do them literally anywhere there is a bar or straight line to hang off of. They’re quick, giving you a huge return from just a few sets or reps. And they’re a functional, compound exercise that works the entire upper body.

You can throw in some pull-ups anywhere in your workout routine. Do a few at the start of your workout, at the end, while you’re waiting for a machine, or anywhere else. Just grab on to a frame and do some reps.

If you’re new to pull-ups or struggling to complete many reps, check out this video for a few pointers:


Sprints/interval training

Finally, if you want to burn a ton of calories but don’t have the time (or attention) to spend an hour on the treadmill, try upping the intensity and shortening the time.

High-intensity cardio workouts are super efficient, helping you burn calories and get in a serious workout in a fraction of the time.

You can do HIIT workouts a number of ways - with kettlebells, bodyweight circuits, or as simple as doing sprints on the treadmill. The key is to go all out for a short time, stop, then go again.

Stop-start workouts like this, as opposed to longer workouts at a steadier pace, offer huge benefits for metabolism, power and endurance, and do so in a fraction of the time. Perfect for when you’ve only got a short time to work out.

Final Thoughts: How to Maximize Your Results

Working out when you’re on a tight schedule is all about maximizing the results you get from the time you’re able to put in.

Part of that means focusing on high-intensity workouts and compound exercises, which work multiple muscle groups and boost metabolism.

You can also help yourself by getting your nutrition right. If you don’t eat well, you’ll need to put in much more time at the gym to get the results you’re looking for. If your time is limited, ensure you eat and supplement right, particularly pre and post-workout.

Supplementing creatine before your workout will help get more energy to your muscles, allowing you to push harder during your short, intense workouts. And when your workout is done, a whey protein shake will give your muscles the fuel they need to grow and recover properly.

Getting your dream body on a tight schedule is not impossible. Just make the right choices with your workout routine, as well as post/pre-workout nutrition.