Too busy to exercise like you think should? I hear you. Is “lack of time” your excuse for not looking, feeling, or moving like you really wish you did? Join the crowd.1 Is your health unraveling at the figurative seams because of the daunting amount of exercise you think you need? I feel for you, and I can relate. After all, as a committed husband, involved dad, and full-time coach, I understand how healthy habits can easily be challenged by our busy, stressful, and demanding lives. That’s exactly why I wanted to share my personal approach to fitness, the Dad Bod Workout, which is really a guide for busy guys and gals who want to get and stay fit.
Step 1 of Dad Bod Workout: Lift Heavy Stuff
If the Dad Bod Workout plan looked like a pyramid, then the base (at least when it comes to structured exercise) would be resistance training, which is synonymous with strength training and weight lifting. The reason is simple.
When it comes to changing how your body looks, moves, feels, and functions, there’s not a single more effective tool in the exercise toolbox than resistance training. We’ve talked about the tremendous body- and life-shaping capacity of strength training ad nauseam elsewhere here on our blog and podcast.
For example, it’s arguably the most effective type of exercise for slashing belly fat, increasing calorie-burning lean muscle, and boosting metabolism. And to some folks’ surprise, muscular strength is one of the strongest predictors of how long you live.
Since you probably don’t have time to dig down that rabbit hole of resources (and that time would be better spent lifting heavy stuff anyway), let’s summarize the benefits right here. Regular weightlifting:2,3
- Enhances muscular strength
- Enhances muscular endurance
- Increases lean muscle mass
- Reduces body fat
- Decreases visceral (belly) fat
- Boosts metabolic rate
- Enhances functional capacity
- Increases daily physical activity
- Improves risk profile for cardiovascular disease
- Reduces resting blood pressure
- Improves blood lipids (e.g., LDL, HDL, triglycerides)
- Improves insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and glycemic control
- Promotes healthier levels of inflammation
- Enhances metabolic function
- Improves cognitive function and clarity
- Enhances quality of life
- Improves resilience and lowers anxiety
- Boosts mood and self-esteem
- Promotes bone development
- Eases sensations of physical discomfort (e.g., joint discomfort)
Surely there’s more, but simply put, the health benefits of regular strength training are so profound that scientific experts have gone so far as to say that “resistance training is medicine.”3
If you’re not a believer, please comment below and share one reason why. I’ll happily address any issue and help you overcome any barrier. Lifting weights is that important.
Balancing Resistance Training and Time
The tricky thing is time. That’s particularly a challenge if you’re stuck in the old-school mindset that you need to do some sort of bodybuilding routine, which involves training individual muscle groups each day (e.g., chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs, etc.), doing isolation exercises, and sitting around scrolling through social media apps between sets.
That’s a huge, unnecessary waste of time.
Instead, the Dad Bod Workout plan focuses on efficient and effective resistance training workouts built on these principles:
- Lift weights 2 – 3 times per week
- Do full-body workouts that emphasize all major muscle groups
- Focus on basic, compound exercises, like squatting, lifting (from the floor), pressing, pulling, and rowing movements (examples below)
- Vary your sets and reps (e.g., lift heavier weights for 6 – 8 reps; lift lighter weights for 15 – 20 reps; and lift moderate weights for 10 – 12 reps)
- Push yourself—more important than how much you lift is your degree of effort
- Use “progressive resistance,” which means challenging yourself (intelligently and instinctively) over time (e.g., increasing the number of sets or reps or the amount of weight)
- Experiment with slower cadences; in other words, instead of always using the same tempo, try lifting and lowering the weight super slowly—think 10 seconds or longer for each rep.
Practically speaking, workouts for busy people should hinge on efficient strength training strategies like High-Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT), Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT), and Complexes. I’ve discussed each of these methods in more depth in this article, where I’ve also provided specific examples.
Are these methods the best for a competitive athlete, Crossfitter, bodybuilder, powerlifter, Olympic weightlifter, or obstacle racer? No, there are better ways to maximize muscle size, strength, power, and overall performance.
However, in my experience, this is the most effective and efficient strategy for busy guys who want to get and stay fit.
Dad Bod Workout: Resistance Training Plan
For me, each Dad Bod Workout resistance training session followed a fairly similar template:
- Choose movements from the exercise “buckets” (see below)
- Pair 2 – 3 movements together to “superset”
- Set a timer for 10 – 15 minutes
- Perform as many sets as possible (in the specified rep range for the day) of the chosen exercises in the assigned time block
- Rest 3 – 5 minutes
- Repeat another 10- to 15-minute block with 2 – 3 additional movements
Here’s an example of one of my go-to workouts:
Block 1 (15 minutes):
- Barbell Squats – do 15 reps, take a short rest, and move to…
- Neutral-Grip Chin-ups – do 12 reps (or as many as possible), take a short rest, and move to…
- Push Press – do 15 reps, take a short rest, and return to Barbell Squats
Block 2 (10 minutes):
- Romanian Deadlift – do 15 reps, take a short rest, and move to…
- Incline Dumbbell Press – do 15 reps, take a short rest, and return to Romanian Deadlift
Lower Body Squatting:
- Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Goblet Squat
- Step Ups
- Split Squat (think lunge)
Upper Body Pressing:
- Overhead Press
- Push Press
- Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
- Weighted Push Up
- Note that you can choose two: 1 overhead press and 1 bench press
Upper Body Pulling:
- Lat Pulldowns
Lower Body Pulling:
- Romanian Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift
Upper Body Rowing:
- Barbell Rows
- T-Bar Rows
- Dumbbell Rows
- Seated Rows
Step 2 of Dad Bod Workout: Step UP Your Intensity
When we’re talking about efficiency, it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a pillar of my Dad Bod Workout plan. As I’ve written previously, I do tend to think that some of the benefits of HIIT may be overstated.
In my opinion, there’s still a time and place for slow-go cardio. In fact, I still run 2 – 3 miles once or twice a week. It’s just something I feel like I should be able to do. Having said that, there’s no question that HIIT-style workouts are effective and efficient when it comes to getting and staying in shape.
When it comes to HIIT, here are some basic rules for the Dad Body Workout:
- Include HIIT 1 – 3 times per week (on non-lifting days); frequency depends on recovery capacity, stress management, etc.
- HIIT workouts can range from 4 to 20 minutes
- HIIT workouts can be done anywhere and don’t have to involve any cardio equipment; for example, most of my HIIT sessions were bodyweight workouts
Since we’ve outlined the general guidelines for HIIT elsewhere, I’ll simply give you some examples of workouts I include. Remember the most important rule of HIIT: During your “work” interval, WORK. On a scale of 1 – 10 (with 10 being the hardest), your work period should be as close to 10 as you can get. “All-out” effort is where the magic happens.
- Do 150- to 300-yard shuttle run (choose a 50-yard distance and run back and forth 3 – 6 times)
- Rest 1 – 3 minutes
- Repeat 3 – 6 times
- Row for 1 minute
- Rest for 1 minute
- Repeat 5 – 10 times
- Climbing (Use VersaClimber)
- Climb for 20 seconds
- Rest 1 – 2 minutes
- Repeat 4 – 8 times
- Swing and Push
- Swing Kettlebell (as many reps as possible, AMRP) for 20 seconds
- Rest 20 seconds
- Pushups (AMRP) for 20 seconds
- Rest 20 seconds
- Repeat 4 – 8 times
- Bodyweight Tabata
- Squats (AMRP) for 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Pushups (AMRP) for 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Jumping Jacks (AMRP) for 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Burpees (AMRP) for 20 seconds
- Rest 10 seconds
- Repeat 2 – 4 times
Spotify and Pandora are great apps for many reasons, one of which is coaching you through HIIT workouts. For example, Tabata Songs or Power Music Workout work great with the Bodyweight workout above (and other Tabata-style workouts), and you can also find The 7-Minute Workout on Spotify.
Step 3 of Dad Bod Workout: Grab an “Exercise Snack”
Intermittent fasting is an integral component of my Dad Bod Workout, and considering that I tend to implement a pattern of time-restricted feeding where I eat only during a 4- to 6-hour period (sometimes even less), I have no need to “snack”—at least in a traditional sense. What I’m talking about here is exercise snacking.
What’s exercise snacking? Glad you asked.
Traditionally (thanks, in part, to fitness professionals like myself), people think exercise needs to be done in a single block of time—say, for 30 to 60 minutes. Well, an exercise snack is a shorter, “snack-sized” portion of exercise that’s repeated several times daily.
In other words, instead of one continuous workout, exercise snacking involves multiple, smaller chunks of exercise (like 5- to 10-minute blocks) spaced throughout the day.
At least in theory, exercise snacking combats two of our biggest barriers to physical activity. First, the number one excuse for not exercising is not having time. Obviously, it’s easier to sneak in a 5-minute workout here and there as opposed to finding an hour to work out.
Secondly, we also know that a single exercise session—such as those traditional workouts—is not enough to make up for the damage done by sitting and being largely inactive the rest of the day. In other words, regular exercise alone doesn’t combat the harmful effects of an overall sedentary lifestyle.4 Exercise snacking throughout the day, however, breaks up periods of sitting and keeps you active throughout the day.
Research has shown that exercise snacking may be just as beneficial for overall health as traditional exercise, and there’s some evidence showing that exercise snacks may be an even more powerful tool for blood sugar control.
In one study, researchers compared blood sugar responses in participants who exercised for 30 continuous minutes and, in the same group, when they broke their exercise up into multiple brief (1-minute), intense intervals performed 30 minutes before breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This pattern of “exercise snacking” lowered blood sugar for about 24 hours and did so much better than the 30-minute exercise.5
There’s quite a bit more evidence that you can get the same benefits from the little-and-often approach as you can from longer sessions, but I think you get my point. Grabbing movement snacks throughout the day is a foundational component of my Dad Bod Workout.
The Top “Exercise Snacks”
Practically speaking, here are some of my go-to movement snacks:
- A 4- to 8-minute bodyweight workout
- A 5- to 7-minute yoga/stretching practice
- A 15-minute walk after a meal
- A 10-minute walk first thing in the morning
- A 10-minute movement session about 30 minutes before a meal
- A 10- to 15-minute block of time dedicated to yardwork, moving boxes, or doing some sort of active household chore
- A 5- to 10-minute activity period with my daughter (dancing, running, crawling, playing)
- A 5- to 10-minute stair snack (walking up and down stairs)
- A 10- to 15-minute period of work standing up (For what it’s worth, although I work behind a computer most of my days, I work almost exclusively standing up.)
As you can see, the exercise snacks range from 5 to 10 minutes, they encompass a wide variety of activities (not just traditional exercise), they are spread throughout the day (aptly timed before and after meals), and for the most part, they are scheduled/planned (every hour or so) just like any important appointment or meeting.
Overall, I accumulate between 20 and 40 minutes of movement snacks daily.
Step 4 of Dad Bod Workout: Slow & Steady For the Win
As I’ve talked about on the BioTrust Radio podcast, walking is arguably the best type of exercise you can possibly do to get in better shape and live a long, healthy life. After all:
- You don’t have to go to the gym to do it—you don’t even need a gym membership.
- You can do it anywhere—including outside where you can reap even more benefits.
- It doesn’t require any expensive equipment—actually, none at all.
- You don’t have to be super fit—virtually anyone can do it.
- You can even do it with friends—who can keep you accountable and help make it even more worthwhile.
- Walking is a fundamental movement pattern, and it’s an essential component of a hunter-gatherer fitness regimen.
And as Coach Sue has talked about, this simple and highly effective form of exercise has a long list of powerful benefits, such as:
- Better fitness
- Less body fat
- Weight loss and weight maintenance
- Better blood pressure
- Better mood (less depression)
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lower risk of dementia
- And more!
We all “know” that we need to sit less. We all “know” that we need to move more. But as I pointed out, those are only two pieces of the puzzle, and I agree that we need to advocate a more holistic movement message: Walk more, sit less, and exercise.8
Here are some good overall daily targets for walking:
- 30 to 60 minutes of brisk walking (a cadence of ≥ 100 steps/min)
- 2 – 3 miles per day
- 4,000 – 6,000 steps (from walking; a total daily target of 7,000 – 10,000 steps is ideal)
Remember, you don’t need to accumulate all this walking at once (although it’s fine if you do). And while anything and everything counts, for the Dad Bod Workout plan, I try to do my best to walk at certain times of the day:
- In the morning (preferably within 1 – 2 hours after waking to support circadian rhythms)
- Before meals
- After meals
- During the day when I need an energy/creativity boost
- During meetings
- On phone calls
Dad Bod Workout Program: A Recap
If you’re looking for workouts for busy people, chances are you don’t have time to read through the wall of text I just laid in front of you. I get it; I’m a skimmer and scroller myself, and here’s a synopsis for busy guys and gals like you and me:
- Lift weights 2 – 3 times per week. Do full-body workouts that emphasize all major muscle groups by focusing on basic, compound exercises, like squatting, lifting (from the floor), pressing, pulling, and rowing movements.
- Do interval training 1 – 3 times per week. Don’t think you have to go to the gym to do HIIT. You can use bodyweight workouts or simply run outside. It’s easy to both underdo (not working hard enough) and overdo (doing too much) HIIT. Listen to your body.
- Grab movement snacks regularly throughout the day. Break up sedentary periods (e.g., sitting) with “exercise snacking,” 5- to 10-minute periods (or even shorter) of movement, such as bodyweight workouts, walking, yoga/stretching, chores, playing with kids, etc.
- Walk, walk, and walk some more. Walking is one of the most basic and primal movement patterns, and what it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up for in terms of benefits. While walking 30 – 60 minutes per day is ideal, you can also break that up into 5- to 15-minute walks throughout the day. Walking first thing in the morning and before and after meals may offer additional health benefits.
- Table push-aways. Keep in mind that I didn’t even touch on the topic of nutrition (or sleep, or stress management, or social support and relationships, or purpose, or mindset, or…I think you get my point), and we have plenty of resources. If I could sum up my approach to nutrition, it would sound like this: Med-IF-Paleo-terranean.