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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Repasch

The 2 Day Per Week Workout Plan


"I don't have time to go to the gym". Yeah, neither do I.

"I don't have time to go to the gym". It's the most common reason to not work out. Even though the evidence on the benefits of being physically active have been well documented (4), the vast majority of people do not achieve adequate levels physical activity. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends the following:


- Sit less throughout the day.

- At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity weekly

- At least twice weekly resistance training that utilizes all major muscle groups in the body (9).


How can you cram all of this into shortest amount of time possible?

How can you cram as much exercise into the least number of workouts?

Two days per week? Impossible! Or not. When I talked with Dr. Johnson Sullivan, writer of "The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training For Life After 40", he introduced me to an interesting concept: training 2 days per week. In fact, he stated that pretty much all of his older clients who work with him train only 2 days per week.


It's not like I hadn't heard of this before. Some clients who start working with me start with only two days per week, mainly because it's all they have the time and willingness to commit to. I usually suggest that they could, and probably should, be training more than this, but do they really need to? Let's look at the evidence.


Heathy Amount Of Exercise


As stated above, it is currently recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services that you get at least two days per week of "muscle strengthening activities". These activities should work all major muscle groups in the body (1).

2 days per week of strength training may be adequate.

Getting two days per week of strength training may be adequate to cover this base. The preponderance of the evidence on physical activity currently shows that anything is better than nothing. You can incur at least some health, strength, and body composition benefits from doing any amount of exercise. Even working out one day per week is better than working out of zero days per week (2). In fact, training as little as once per week has been shown to incur strength gains in older adults (3). But is once per week really enough?


It maybe better than nonce per week, but if you really want to get good and robust physical activity benefits, I think we can do a little bit better than that. I want to let you know though, if all you can to commit is once per week, absolutely positively literally do one day of this program. It will be better than nothing, and eventually you might find the time for that second day.


We can fairly well cram what we need to achieve into two weekly workouts. In order to do so, we need to try and get the most bang for our buck out of exercises, look for overlapping points in the data, and get adequate cardiovascular physical activity to boot.

Shameless podcast plug.

Going back, Jonathon Sullivan also brings up an interesting idea in the podcast that I did with him. When you are heavily deconditioned (i.e. the vast majority of the population) doing strength exercises, even for low reps, has a similar effect to performing cardiovascular exercises when it comes to cardiovascular health. That is to say, strength training is a form of cardio, and these benefits seem to be more profound in the untrained.


There's data in children to show that strength training has cardiovascular benefits for the very young (5). There's evidence in women of the same (6). And, those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease seem to get heart health benefits from just lifting weights (7). Further, strength training alone has been shown to significantly increase quality of life in older adults (8).


Down the line we can talk about adding in extra cardiovascular specific training once someone has developed a higher degree of fitness, but for now, strength training is where it's at. Lifting weights is absolutely positively going to give you the largest bang for your buck, and that's why this training program is designed around that.

Down the line, we can talk about adding in extra cardio, but for now, forget about it!

For the beginner / novice, that is. I believe that once you get adequate experience in training, there is merit to adding cardiovascular specific exercises, or what we would traditionally consider more in line with "cardio". This would include things like running, cycling, rowing, and hiit workouts. But for now, low rep strength training, and then on top of that some higher rep work to get the heart pumping will be your best bet.


Who Is This Program Good For?


Quick note: what would I define as a novice? You are a novice if you have never been consistent with training. If you train for a bit and then hit a set back and stop, you are a novice. If you have not developed a high level of fitness, you are novice. If you have a large amount of body weight to lose, you are a novice. If you are not physically active at all, you are a novice. If you go to the gym for a couple months, then take half a year off, then repeat this cycle, you are a novice.

Who's a novice? You are.

You are only past the novice phase if you have consistently trained for several months in a row without missing workouts, have a solid handle on your lifting capabilities in a variety of lifts, have developed some baseline level of strength, and have achieved at least 1 significant fitness goal. And even then, you are still likely to get quite a bit of benefit from this program before moving on to something that is more specific.


This program is just that, nonspecific. Is designed to give you the best bang for your buck in terms of minimal number of training sessions, maximal amount of strength development, a decent amount of muscle building, health, and general wellness benefits all while covering all of your bases.


Final note about being a novice. This is an arbitrary distinction that is just made for the purpose of delineating that most people are not professional athletes. And most training programs should be designed as such. Simply put, over 80% of the population will never need anything outside of this program. If you are reading this, that is you.

This program is free because I like you and I'm an idiot.

Why Is This Program Free?


Because I'm an idiot, and I don't know my own value. Next question.


The Workout:


Week 1

Day 1

Main Lifts:

Squats 4 x 3-6 @ RPE 5, 6, 7, 8

Bench Press 4 x 4-6 @ RPE 5, 6, 7, 8

Secondary Lifts:

Plank - Test MAX time

Barbell Row 3 x 5-10 @ RPE 7

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises


Day 2

Main Lifts

Overhead Press 4 x 4-6 @ RPE 5, 6, 7, 8

Deadlift 4 x 3-6 @ RPE 5, 6, 7, 8

Secondary Lifts:

Chin-Ups - Test MAX reps

Single Leg Work 3 x 10-20 @ RPE 7

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises



Week 2

Day 1

Main Lifts

Squats 3 x 3-6 @ RPE 8

Bench Press 3-4 x 4-6 @ RPE 6, 7, 8, repeat RPE 8

Secondary Lifts:

Plank 3 x 1/2 MAX from last week

Barbell Row 3 x 5-10 @ RPE 8

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises


Day 2

Main Lifts

Overhead Press 3-4 x 4-6 @ RPE 8

Deadlift 3 x 3-6 @ RPE 7, 8, 8

Secondary Lifts:

Chin-Ups 3 x 1/2 MAX from last week

Single Leg Work 3 x 10-20 @ RPE 8

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises



Week 3

Day 1

Main Lifts

Squats 4 x 3-6 @ RPE 8

Bench Press 4 x 3-6 @ RPE 7, 8, repeat RPE 8 twice

Secondary Lifts:

Plank 3-4 x +5-10% time from last week

Barbell Row 3 x 5-10 @ RPE 9

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises


Day 2

Main Lifts

Overhead Press 4 x 4-6 @ RPE 8

Deadlift 3 x 3-6 @ RPE 8

Secondary Lifts:

Chin-Ups 3-4 x +1-2 reps from last week

Single Leg Work 3 x 10-20 @ RPE 9

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises



Week 4

Day 1

Main Lifts

Squats 3 x 3-6 @ RPE 8, AMAP on last set

Bench Press 4 x 3-6 @ RPE 8

Secondary Lifts:

Plank 3-5 x +5-10% time from last week

Barbell Row 3 x 5-10 @ RPE 8

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises


Day 2

Main Lifts

Overhead Press 3 x 4-6 @ RPE 8, AMAP on last set

Deadlift 3 x 3-6 @ RPE 7, 8, 9

Secondary Lifts:

Chin-Ups 3-5 x +1-2 reps from last week

Single Leg Work 3 x 10-20 @ RPE 8

Accessories: Pick 1-3 Accessory Exercises


***Quick Notes:

- AMAP = As Many As Possible

- You can substitute lat pulldowns or assisted chin-ups for chin-ups.

- Selected accessory exercises should stay the same for the entirety of the 4-week cycle.

- Single leg exercises can be lunges, single leg press, single leg hip thrusts, etc. or others.

- Sets of accessory exercises are entirely up to you, and reps should be between 3-30 per set.

- Some exercises have additional sets added each week. These are optional.

Let's get to lifting!

Let me explain some things about the program. First, what does the shorthand mean? Example: 4 x 3-6 @ RPE 8. This means that you are to perform four sets of 3 to 6 reps, at an RPE of 8. RPE stands for "rating of perceived exertion". It is your subjective measurement of how hard a set is. You can modulate RPE by adjusting weight, and also the number of reps that you perform. For more in-depth and robust look at RPE, read this article from Barbell Medicine.


Primary lifts - These are the bulk of your program. They are the most necessary, and the largest bang for your buck exercises. Combined, these 4 lifts work about 90% of all of the muscles on your body. They are the top priority, so the most time should be spent on them. If you are pressed for time, skip other exercises instead.


Secondary Lifts - These are, as the name implies, of secondary importance. They should take slightly less time per lift, and progression of these exercises are slightly less important. If you are strapped for time, you may reduce sets.

Secondary lifts are less important. Think of them as the redheaded step child of this program.

Accessory Lifts - these exercises are entirely optional. They can be cardio exercises, isolation exercises, weak point exercises, technique building exercises, yoga, whatever. It literally doesn't matter too much. You may pick exercises that target specific muscle groups if you're focused on growing them, or exercises that address certain technique deficiencies. Quick note: I would spend no longer than 5 minutes per exercise. You can even superset these exercises with each other to save time. A super set is where you perform back-to-back sets without rest of multiple exercises in a row.


Week 1 - The first week of this program, you are performing several sets of each primary lift at varying intensities, in order to get a "feel" for what different RPEs are like. If you cycle this program multiple times, I recommend still doing this on week one. Treat it as kind of a reset and test week.


Repeat this program - you can repeat this program as many times as you like. However, do realize that if you repeat a program multiple times without changing anything, it will be less effective each subsequent time. If you do decide to repeat the program, I recommend shooting for different amounts of reps on primary lifts, adjusting accessory exercise selection, and focusing on hitting personal bests on different exercises for each training cycle. You can also swap reps / exercise position on all of the primary lifts as per your preference. For example, one training cycle you may focus on increasing the max number of reps you can squat for a certain weight, while on the next cycle, you may focus on lifting more weight on the bench press. The choice is yours.

Want to save the most time? Only do the main lifts.

Other Time Saving Tips:


1.) Set a timer for each exercise. Each main lift should take a total of 8 to 12 minutes to perform all assigned sets. Each secondary lift should take between 6 and 10 minutes to perform all assigned sets. Accessory lifts should take no longer than 5 minutes per exercise. This gives you a total workout time of 28 - 59 minutes.


2.) You can remove sets as timing permits. That is, if you don't have time to complete everything on the workout. I would remove sets in this order: accessories, some sets of secondary lifts, some sets of main lifts, all sets of secondary lifts. The core of the program, or the main lifts, can be done in about 20 minutes if you are really rushing and that's all you have the time for.


3.) Perform all the main lifts, and then only one set of all secondary and accessory lifts. There is some evidence to show that single set training can get you comparable results to multiple set training, if you are a novice (10). Even if you are more advanced, it will get you SOME progress. Some is always better than nothing.

This program is largely based off of RPE.

Finally, this program is entirely based on RPE. For everything else, you test your current maxes and minimums within the program. You can do this program regardless of your skill level. You don't need any experience in training. You don't need to know your one rep max on any lift, and you don't need to calculate any percentages. All you need to do is get in the gym and do it. Follow this simple template, and you will get stronger, healthier, and better, quickly.



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