Folding a fitted sheet is complicated. So is the Dallas Cowboys’ Flex defense. But exercise shouldn’t be.
That’s why seven years ago, I implemented a 30-minute system at my performance facility, The LAB, in Fairfield, New Jersey. It’s for the busy man or woman whose number one excuse is, “I don’t have the time to work out.”
The system works. Since I started offering it at The LAB, I’ve doubled my clientele and seen a 60 percent increase in business year over year. People enjoy working out again and they’re in the best shape of their lives. It’s this system that helped me earn IDEA’s 2017 Personal Trainer of the Year.
Before my 30-minute system, my clients would rush into the gym after work and train for an hour. They would barely last a couple months on this schedule. Carving out an hour multiple times a week was nearly impossible. There were late nights at the office. Kids to take care of. Laundry to be done. Sports to be watched. Sleep to be had. Tweets to post! I decided to make things simple for them. I turned a complicated 60-minute workout into a concise 30 minutes.
The best part: They still achieved incredible results. And now, with The Men’s Health 30-Minute Shred, you can, too.
As a society, we think we have to do more and work longer to get the results we want. The truth is, duration doesn’t necessarily matter.
Here’s what a typical 60-minute session with good personal trainer might look like:
- Stretching and foam rolling
- Dynamic warmup and activation moves (ex: butt kicks and glute bridges)
- Speed, agility, and quickness drills (ex: ladder and cone drills)
- Power training (ex: box jumps)
- Resistance training (ex: pushups, squats, curls)
- Cardio (ex: interval sprints or steady jogging)
And here’s what my 30-minute workout looks like:
- Dynamic Warmup: 3 to 5 minutes
- Circuits/Intervals/Resistance training:20 to 24 minutes
- Cooldown: 3 to 5 minutes
I want to make one thing clear: Shorter doesn’t mean easier. Just because I’m cutting your exercise time by half doesn’t mean you’re getting any less effective of a workout. That’s because the workouts found in The Men’s Health 30-Minute Shred are based on the following core principles.
The Principles of The 30-Minute Shred
Principle 1: Work Harder, Not Longer
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise—like brisk walking—per week. That shakes out to about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week to get the major benefits. And if you’re overweight or obese, that recommendation jumps to 300 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Basically, 60 minutes per day, 5 days a week.
Work out more vigorously, however, and you can dramatically decrease those numbers. The Men’s Health 30-Minute Shred utilizes high-intensity interval training (or HIIT), which is an effective method for improving sports performance and stripping away body fat. In fact, studies show that when it comes to fitness, the training effects of HIIT are equal to traditional endurance training—and in a fraction of the time.
Case in point: Canadian researchers found that a group of exercisers who did four to six 30-second sprints on a bike 3 days a week improved their fitness by about 30 percent. That’s nearly identical to the improvements made by another group that pedaled for 90 minutes at a moderate intensity.
How is this possible? Think of high-intensity intervals as a disruptor. Generally, your body strives for homeostasis, or what you might think of as the “status quo.”
But super fast workouts disrupt homeostasis, thanks to a chemical called lactic acid. When your exercise intensity increases—that is, you go harder—lactic acid builds up in your blood faster than your body can remove it. This sparks a surge of human growth hormone into your bloodstream, which stimulates muscle building and fat loss, and skyrockets your metabolism.
Your body torches calories long after you finish your last rep as it tries to get back to equilibrium. What’s more, turning up your intensity taps into your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which require more energy to contract and improves your power. This effect would never happen with ordinary steady state exercise on the treadmill or a slow marathon gym session.
Principle 2: Max Out Your Muscles
HIIT doesn’t have to be just traditional cardio exercises like running or biking. All of the workouts I design for my clients involve resistance exercises. Your body doesn’t know the difference: Any time you alternate high-intensity levels of work with lower-intensity work, you’ll get the same fat-burning effect.
But there’s an upside to resistance interval training compared to traditional cardio: muscle. While more muscle will make you look and perform better, it’s much more important than that. Starting around the age of 30, most men lose 5 to 10 pounds of muscle each decade. This decrease of muscle mass and strength is linked to slouched posture, a decline in your immune system, the onset of diseases like diabetes and cancer, and weaker bones and joints. Weight training helps prevent all of these problems.
Principle 3: Make it Personal
HIIT is all-out exercise. It’s meant to be hard—but don’t be nervous about that. In my program, the intensity level is personal. It’s what you can do that day. For each workout, I give you a “Rating of Perceived Exertion”—or RPE—target with which to gauge your training intensity.
RPE is a scale from 1 to 10. And in this program, you’ll use two different versions of that scale. The first is for workouts where I want you to focus on the amount of weight you’re lifting. This is your “Strength RPE.” For example, an RPE of 10 means that you’re going to give your maximum effort. So if you’re prescribed 10 reps, you’ll choose a weight in which you can barely get that tenth rep, and couldn’t perform another. An RPE
of 8, on the other hand, means that when you hit your last repetition, you should still feel like you could pump out a couple of more reps.
The second RPE scale is for work-outs that are more cardio-based, and really challenge your conditioning. This is your “Cardio RPE.” Working at a 10? You should charge up the AED machine because you’re hitting the floor after the next rep! (Just kidding.) But think of this way: You shouldn’t be able to hold an 8 or above for more than a minute or two.
RPE is subjective. That’s the whole point. It works well for almost everyone. But if you prefer a more objective number to follow, you can also use a heart rate monitor to measure your intensity during your conditioning workouts. For that reason, I’ve provided a heart rate range that correlates to the Cardio RPE.
Next to your Cardio RPE is your Cardio MHR (or maximum heart rate). In the range, there’s a percent of your maximum heart rate that corresponds to any given RPE. For instance, if your target Cardio RPE for a workout is 8 to 10, you’ll be want to get your heart rate to average between 80 and 100 percent of your MHR for the entire routine.
- 10. This is my max effort. I can’t do 1 more rep.
- 9. I could probably complete 1 more rep.
- 8. I could have done 2 more reps.
- 7. I have 3 to 4 reps left in the tank.
- 6. I can easily control the weight and move it at a high speed.
- 5. I feel like this is a light warm up.
- 4. I hardly have to move muscle to lift this.
- 3. I’m stretching.
- 2. I’m lying on the couch lifting the remote.
- 1. I’m lying on the couch.
To calculate your maximum heart rate, take 225 minus your age. So if you’re 45, your MHR would be 180. Use that number to determine your heart rate target. (In this example, 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate would be 144 to 162 beats per minute.)
For both your Strength RPE and Cardio RPE, don’t try to go above the target ranges. Over time, you’ll be able to handle more weight and crank out more reps at that same RPE.
Your RPE may feel different from day to day. Say you’re fighting off a cold. Today’s target RPE may be less intense or require lighter weights than the previous workout. That’s okay—that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Principle 4. Strip It Down
The Men’s Health 30-Minute Shred removes the “non-essentials” from longer workouts. You won’t spend long chunks of time doing corrective exercises, mobility work, activation, cool downs, sun worship, and so on.
I’m not discarding these elements; I believe they totally have their place. Mobility drills and dynamic stretches enhance the communication between your mind and muscles. Corrective exercises can keep your body young and injury-free. I think people should do all of the above.
However, I just haven’t seen the evidence that you need to spend tons of time doing them every single day. Throughout my program, I sneak these “non-essentials” into your routines through quick dynamic warmups. These warmups are only five moves each, but they turn on the power to your muscles and lubricate your joints, while improving your flexibility and posture. You’ll also see corrective exercises, agility drills, and mobility moves sprinkled throughout your workouts. Plus, I provide an optional bonus mobility routine that you can do before or after any workout, or on “rest” days.
The workouts in a 30-Minute program are short, tightly packed with exercise. That means there’s no time to text! You can’t just show up and dial it in. You must work hard and make every second count.
Do that, and you’ll torch fat, build muscle, and watch your waistline shrink—all in just 30 minutes a day.
Want more than 20 of Piercy’s 30-minute plans? Check out The Men’s Health 30-Minute Shred.