The Complete Working Man's Guide to Building a Workout Program

Mike Wines
Written By: Mike Wines
February 24th, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
23.9K Reads
The Complete Working Man's Guide to Building a Workout Program
Does life seem to continuously get in the way of your fitness goals? Utilize this complete guide to build the perfect workout around your busy schedule.

For some folks, working out is like showering - everyday, whether they need it or not, they’re in the gym doing something.

However, for others it isn’t always that simple. While I’m sure they maintain good personal hygiene, the gym isn’t always the first thing on their mind.

Now, before you whip out your iPhone and hit them with your entire album of #fitspo quotes, let’s take a step back and consider what’s really beneath the surface.

Maybe this has nothing to do with external motivation. Maybe this is simply a question of whether or not there are enough hours in the day.

Meet Travis.

Travis is a neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Most weeks he routinely works 70-80 hours, not to mention the time spent on call. However, once he clocks out, the work is not over as he’s happily married with 2 kids and a dog name Bruce.

So, while his buddy Jason is cruising to the local LA fitness as soon as he gets off work, Travis chooses to make time for his family to ensure that his work/life balance is maintained.

Jason being the independent, young bachelor that he is has the capacity and the means to train 5 days a week without giving it a second thought. 

Travis on the other hand doesn’t have that luxury but still manages to sneak in 3 sessions of 30-45 minutes per week.

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So, while he may not be able to match Jason’s overall volume load, he’s still doing his part to ward off the impending dad bod, which tends to pervade society these days.

Focus and efficiency are the name of the game; there isn’t a minute to waste.

Simplicity is the Key to Fundamentals

Doesn’t matter where you look, pretty much every social media platform is invaded by Pubmed scouring keyboard warriors who are quick to ask questions and slow to provide answers.

“Are you sure you should be using reverse linear periodization? What about conjugate or daily undulating periodization?”

“Olive oil? Well, what about the role of MCTs (coconut oil) in energy production relative to the Krebs cycle and beta oxidation?”

“Going to be using intra workout carbs? Hope you checked the molecular weight.”

What are you, a rocket surgeon?

The short answer to most of these questions is that any improvements or statistically significant differences will be markedly small for the average individual and realistically only relevant for the more advanced trainee.

As in Travis' case, he doesn’t need to determine the osmolality of his periworkout nutrition; he just needs to figure out how to fit in some quality work in a short period of time. As such, that will take a little planning and a hefty dose of ingenuity.

M&S Female Model Warming Up for her Workout

1. Warming Up

More often then not, this is the first component to go when someone encounters a time crunch. Why warm up when you can just knock out a set of 10 with the bar and then jump straight into the lift?

Read this: Warming Up For Dummies: A Lifter’s Guide to Injury Prevention

Warming up accomplishes much more than most folks realize. However, if you got bored with all of the scientific jargon in the article linked above, don’t sweat it. Most people don’t care about the ‘why’, they just want to know the ‘what’.

So, rather than spell out a specific warm-up, which might sound complicated and drawn out to some, I’m simply going to propose the idea of a barbell only warm-up. If you’ve ever watched Olympic lifters training (Lu Xiaojun, Dmitry Klokov, Max Lang, etc.), you’ll see quite the variety of barbell complexes for warm-ups.

Aside from a little variety, barbell warm-ups can also be highly specific relative to the corresponding session. For example, if you’re warming up to deadlift, you have the chance to engrain your hinge pattern with a variety of movements (sumo/conventional good morning, sumo/conventional RDL, etc) rather than just rely upon bodyweight movements or specific joint mobilizations.

Think integration rather than specialization.

Want to devise your own? Here are some ideas on what to include:

Lower Body
  • Split Squat
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Lateral Lunge
  • Lateral Lunge w/Hip Shift
  • Step Through Lunge
  • Ankle Stretch (bar resting on knees in deep squat)
  • RDL
    • Sumo
    • Conventional
    • Single Leg
    • Bilateral
    • Split stance
  • Good Morning
    • Sumo
    • Conventional
    • Single Leg
    • Bilateral
    • Split stance
  • Jefferson Curl
  • Front Squat
  • Back Squat
Upper Body
  • Front Rack Hold (Focus on driving elbows up and exhaling)
  • Lateral Flexion
  • Controlled rotation (Half kneeling and standing)
  • Bent Over Row
  • Overhead Shrug
  • Bradford Press
  • Overhead Press
Full Body
  • Snatch Balance
  • Push Press
  • Overhead Squat
  • Mid Thigh Pull
  • High Pull
  • Snatch
  • Hang Clean

Don’t know where to start? No worries, I felt the exact same way when I first started. Here are a few warm-ups that I’ve put together which might give you some ideas and help you to understand the concept.

Consider what exercises pair well together and think about how you can get the movements to “flow” together.

For example: RDL > bent over row > high pull > hang clean > front rack reverse lunge > push press > good morning > sumo good morning > lateral lunge.

Notice the flow? Bar started in my hands at the front of my body and worked its way onto my shoulders behind my body in a fairly seamless fashion. That’s what you’re looking for.

2. Fillers

Most wasted time in the gym comes in the form of social media or text messaging. If you want to maximize your time spent with the iron then you need to look for practical ways to utilize rest periods in a productive manner that doesn’t promote additional central or peripheral fatigue.

Originally I came upon this concept reading some of the older work of Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore. The idea is to superset corresponding strength work with mobility “fillers” sprinkled in. I’ve mentioned this before, but more often then not, the toughest aspect for most folks is not understanding the concept, it’s implementing it in a logical fashion.

M&S Athlete Performing Front Squats

This isn’t just a simple plug and chug approach. The mobility work should be specific to the movement and allow for improvements in either proximal stability or distal mobility.

For example, you might utilize a pairing such as this:

A1. Straight Leg Lowering
A2. Trap Bar Deadlift


B1. Posterior Hip Capsule Mobilization
B2. Front Squat

Those are just two simple examples but you get the idea, it’s not as simple as cranking on your pecs after every set of bench or smashing your hamstrings with a foam roller after some RDLs.

3. Exercise Selection

Given that time is of the essence, we want to ensure that each exercise is something, which allows our friend Travis to remain in a solid biomechanical position despite moderate fatigue due to shortened rest periods. As such, it is imperative that exercise selection gives precedence to technical execution.

Related: Muscle & Strength's Complete Database of Exercise Videos

Just to give you an idea, if you want to piece together your own program, here are some of the choices for the basic fundamental movement patterns:

  • Primary - Safety Bar Squat
  • Secondary - Front Squat
  • Tertiary - Goblet Squat
  • Primary - Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Secondary - RDL
  • Tertiary - KB Swing
  • Vertical
    • Primary - Seated Arnold DB Press
    • Secondary - Bradford Press
  • Horizontal
    • Primary - Incline Dumbbell Press
    • Secondary - Close Grip
  • Vertical
    • Primary - Neutral Grip Chinup
    • Secondary - Close Grip V-Bar Pulldown
  • Horizontal
    • Primary - Chest Supported DB Row
    • Secondary - DB Row
  • Primary - DB Split Squat
  • Secondary - Rear Foot or Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
  • Primary - Single Arm DB Farmers Carry
  • Secondary - Front Rack KB Carry
  • Primary - Sled Drag
  • Secondary - Sled Push
Core Stability
  • Primary - Anti-Extension Variations
  • Secondary - Anti-Rotation Variations
Core Hypertrophy
  • Primary - Weighted Hanging Knee/Leg Raises
  • Secondary - McGill Sit-ups

Now if you’re thoroughly confused and unsure of how to combine all of this information, don’t sweat it. As I’ve said before and one of my mentors instilled in me, “Some people just want the Kool-Aid and other people want the recipe for the Kool-Aid.” My goal is to give you both.

Anyone can read an article and follow a program blindly but my goal is to provide you with the knowledge and skill sets to become independent and make your own decisions. Until then, here’s a simple template, which should get you started:


Exercise Sets Reps
A1. Bench T-Spine Mobilization 4 5
A2. Front Squat 4 5
B1. Incline Dumbbell Press 3 6
B2. 3-D Band Pullapart 3 8
C1. DB Split Squat 3 8 (per side)
C2. Split Stance Pallof Press 3 8 (per side)
D1. Sled Push 3 25 Yards
D2. Single Arm DB Farmers Carry 3 25 Yards


Exercise Sets Reps
A1. Trap Bar Deadlift 4 5
A2. Straight Leg Lowering 4 5 (per side)
B1. Neutral Grip Chinup 3 6
B2. World's Greatest Stretch 3 4 (per side)
C1. DB Row 3 8
C2. Physioball Rollout 3 8
D1. Arms* 10 Mins* *

*Get after it, 10 minutes of whatever you want.

FAQ: Solving Complex Problems With Simple Solutions

Q: How long should I rest in between sets?

1-2 Minutes for A1/A2 and B1/B2 supersets. For all others, limit yourself to a minute or less. If you feel recovered on the accessory work before a minute is up, go for it. You will need to stay on the clock and ready to roll to make sure you get everything in.

Related: Use Micro-Progressions For Non-Stop Growth & Gains

Q: How do I progress week-to-week and workout-to-workout?

Once you complete 2 additional reps for an exercise, increase the weight 5lbs. Alternatively, you could work to add 1 set per week for each exercise which would increase the total and cumulative volume load for the week. Once you’ve added 2 additional sets to a movement (aka at the end of two weeks), then increase 5lbs and restart the process.

The first method is primarily geared toward more of a linear strength progression where as the latter is more hypertrophy driven given the incremental volume alterations.

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Q: Why are the set and rep schemes the same for both days?

Remember, one of the key tenets of this program is simplicity to foster adherence. The set and rep schemes will remain the same and after 1-2 you’ll have them memorized. That way, if you leave your sheet at home or delete the template from your phone, you only have to remember 7 or 8 exercises and not worry about complicated programming alterations.

Q: Where’s the 3rd day of training?

We’re going to keep things really simple (noticing a trend yet?) - push/pull setup and A/B days that alternate. One week will be ABA while the next will be BAB. When you’re as busy as our friend Travis, the fewer variables you have to track or remember, the better off you’ll be.