30 Minute Workout/The Break Even Workout

When men say that they don’t have time to lift, they are lying to two people – the people they spout that bullshit to and themselves.

But life does get legitimately busy. Last night I was at the office until 8:45. By the time I got to my yuppie scum gym, it was 9:25. The gym closes at 10. What to do?

I do my Break Even Workout. It’s a workout I enjoy so much that I’ve been trying to persuade my boss let me put one of these in the office. I’d omit the cardio portion of the workout to avoid breaking a sweat. But it’d be pretty dope to do sets of chins and dips during the day.

If you perform this workout when you don’t have much time to train, you’ll maintain the gains you earned when you had time for a proper training session. You don’t progress but you won’t regress. In other words, you’ll stay where you are – or break even.

You can actually have a fantastic workout with only 30 minutes if you keep these principles in mind:

  • Train your major, i.e., large muscle groups;
  • Never stop moving;
  • Be intense.

Here’s what I do:

  • Stationary bike;
  • Dips;
  • Chins.

5 minutes on the stationary bike to warm up my muscles and get blood circulating. The goal is not to feel out of breath after a warm up, but to start breathing deeply and sweating. Squeeze those metal handles on the bike to get your heart rate.

Once you’ve worked your way up to a HR at 150, maintain that pace.

After the five minute warm-up, the workout starts.

Find the nearest pull-up bar. If you can’t do pull-ups, use the assisted pull-up machine.

Start with a wide grip. This is super important. You’re going to be dog-ass tired on your last set. With chin-ups, start with wide grip (where you’re going to be weakest, because the biceps are not engaged) and work your way in to chin-ups.

Shoot for 8-10 reps each set, but really, don’t trip. If you can do more than 10, do more than 10. If you can only do 5, whatever. Just get some reps in.

Move right to the dip machine. If the handles of the dip station flip out to allow for a wider grip, start wide. As with pull-ups, start wide and work you way into a narrow grip.

Do your reps. Again, don’t trip. That doesn’t mean you should be a pussy. The set should be hard. But don’t get hung up on numbers.

Just get some reps in. We’re not trying to break world records. We’re just trying to Get It Done.

Go right to the exercise bike. Pedal at a level until each pedal hurts. That’s your pace. Keep pedaling. Depending on your level of fitness, your pulse should be in the 150-170 range.

Pedal for five minutes.

Get off the exercise bike. Get back on the pull-up bar. Use a narrow grip this time.

Do more dips.

Repeat the above series given your time restraints. You should be able to get 4 or 5 sets in if you’re really hustling.

The Break Even Workout also works well on those days when you don’t feel like going to the gym. Maybe you’re too tired for a full workout. Maybe you’re hung over. Maybe your dog died.

Just show up. Do something. Do the Break Even Workout.

Many times I’ve gone into the gym do to the Break Even Workout. After doing some cardio, dips, and chins, suddenly my spirit was lifted and my energy returned. I then did a longer, more intense session.

Guys, as with many things in life, success is often about showing up. We all have shitty days. We all want to kill ourselves sometimes.

You can’t avoid having down days. Happiness is transient and fickle.

But you will not allow one down day ruin the next day.

Show up today and you’ll eventually feel better tomorrow.

  • http://gravatar.com/atavisticman atavisticmanb

    This workout will get you much fitter than you probably are. It’s only break even in the strength department.

  • B.

    The only reason a short work out like this is break even for you (and not progressing) is because you must already be somewhat beastly. For the average guy, doing compound lifts three times a week for only 30 minutes, and eating a lot, will definitely result in progress. Most of the time that’s all I have time for, and my progress is unbelievable.

  • http://flyfreshandyoung.wordpress.com FFY

    Better to lift something than nothing at all.

    Half the reason I was in no-gain purgatory last year was that I had at least one maintenance lift a week before partying since I didn’t “have the time” to do the full lift I needed to do.

    On the plus side, I didn’t lose anything.

    • http://dangerandplay.wordpress.com dangerandplay

      I go through phases like that, too.

      While I have a nice build, I’m not going to be on the cover of Men’s Health. I’m not a model.

      I don’t live to have a nice body. I have a nice body to make me have a better life.

      So there are times when I prioritize going out/eating indulgent food to training hard and monitoring my diet.

      But I never not lift. I always maintain.

  • samseau

    I want to offer an alternative view.

    Sometimes, it’s okay to miss a workout. If you’ve been hitting the gym for three to four weeks consistently, and you find yourself tight on time, the extra rest you get from missing a workout is actually good for you.

    I’ve injured myself three times lifting in the last 6 years. I’ve since learned to take it easy.

    The rule I follow: If I’ve been hitting the gym nonstop for at least three weeks, and I feel good and sore, and I can’t make it to the gym on time, then I let it slide. I know the one day of rest will be good for me.

    On the other hand, if I’ve missed a workout I refuse to miss another one until at least three weeks have past.

    Furthermore, should I hit the gym nonstop for at least three months and not miss a single workout, then I take a break and miss a workout anyways.

    And if I’m feeling the bad kind of pain – as opposed to the good kind of pain – then I wait a day to workout. Injuries, and then girlfriends, are the fastest way to get out of shape.

    So for the avid lifters out there: Don’t forget your rest. it’s just as important as making it to the gym on time.

    • http://carnivorescave.blogspot.com/ Carnivore

      @s: Good point. A guy won’t fall apart just by missing a workout or two. And the complete week off (once or twice a year, maybe in line with vacation) does a body good. The important point is to not let a break turn into slacking off.

      But to the point of the original post, just doing something helps to maintain. Even on a business trip with a tight schedule with no equipment, simple body weight exercises (most obvious being push ups) help maintain.

    • Ovid


      I agree, but here’a a problem. I have a “bank account” mentality. By that I mean that if I don’t skip a work-out when I want to it’s easier for me to “afford” one in the future when I really need to. Like money in the bank.

      Only prob is that my “money” keeps building up and I never allow myself to “spend” any of it. Does this soud familiar? Any thoughts?

      • samseau

        The problem is that the bank account analogy does not hold. If you do not spend your money, you get rich. But if you do not give your body adequate rest, you will injure yourself.

        I used to follow the no rest rule. I’d lift 3 times a week religiously for nearly a year. One day, while doing a routine overhead press, I heard what sounded like a stack of printer paper ripping inside my trapezius. I put the bar back on the rack and walked out the gym.

        That night, I got no sleep. The pain was so bad I couldn’t move my left arm for two days. The recovery took over three months. I lost 10 pounds and dropped almost 100 pounds on some of my lifts. There was nothing doctors could do to help me except give painkillers, since the injury was muscle related.

        And this was the third time I’ve injured myself. The first two were bad, but nothing like this. Each time I’ve suffered an injury the wound became worse.

        Now ask yourself: Is missing a workout worse than missing three months of the gym?

        A much better analogy is planting a garden. Every time you workout, you’re putting down fertilizer. When you sleep, you’re giving the garden sun, and when you eat, you’re giving the garden water.

        Too much fertilizer, water, or sun will kill any garden. But enough of each is necessary to grow the best garden possible.

        But fertilizer is the least necessary ingredient. Fertilizer must be used in small measured doses or else the garden will be poisoned. Lifting is no different. Too much lifting and you will fuck yourself up.

        Give yourself rest or you’ll regret it. This is knowledge that has also been echoed to me by lifters who are 40+ years old.

      • http://carnivorescave.blogspot.com/ Carnivore

        @s:”Give yourself rest or you’ll regret it. This is knowledge that has also been echoed to me by lifters who are 40+ years old.”

        Yup. From a 50+ year old lifter.

  • bill b

    hey how about this if you’re in a hurry – a set of 20 rep squats, then do 20 wide grip chins…. done in 10 minutes, and you’ve worked your biggest muscle groups to get metabolism and test. production going.

    • http://dangerandplay.wordpress.com dangerandplay

      Sure. Or jump rope, do push-ups do burpee circuits, etc.

      I’m just a meat head. I like lifting weights.

      But there’s no wrong way to go about fitness, and no goals are invalid.

      • bill b

        Sure…. I do 20 reps squats using 235-250 lb+, is that lifting weights?

  • http://humphreyvanweyden.wordpress.com humphreyvanweyden

    I didn’t plan this but when I ordered my chin up bar and had it delivered to my work address all the guys at the office got excited. I ended up putting it up at work and many people used it there. We didn’t use it for a full workout but for breaks from sitting at the computer etc.

    • http://dangerandplay.wordpress.com dangerandplay

      Yeah, man, I feel that. I have a post in the works about undoing the damage working in an office causes.

      Most of us lose an inch of height from sitting.

      Hanging on the chin-up bar gives us that height back.

  • thor jackson

    Same situation last nite..got back to the hotel at 9…after a 1 min each all side plank warm up I set my timer to 20 mins and did 50 double unders, 5 pull ups, 10 pushups and 5 45lb dumbell power cleans…got about 7 rounds in before almost puking….was jacked rest of the nite though.

    • thor jackson

      All you have to do is dips, pull ups, and air squats five times a week and eat a lot of plants and animals,no sugar no dairy no bread you will be a ripped beast…I rarely spend more than thirty mins doing a workout.

  • Ovid

    Any advice on lower abs? I’m ready to take a knife to mine and slice off the excess…..

    • thor jackson

      Drink organic green tea….run ten 100 yard sprints once a week….jog 3 miles once a week…walk for forty minutes four times a week….do met cons…eat plants and animals…don’t consume sugar, grains or dairy. Try a niacin flush once in a while…experiment with intermitent fasting.

      • Ovid

        Thanks for the response Tho.

        I’ve tried inter fasting. Helped my upper, but not my lower abs. (Prob is genetic.) Going to look into niacin flushing, never heard of it before.

      • Ovid


  • http://humphreyvanweyden.wordpress.com humphreyvanweyden

    @thor: why no dairy? not even raw dairy?

    • thor jackson

      Raw dairy yes but don’t make it an every day, every meal type of thing….and no dairy because I’m just following what homo erectus did. Homo ereectus had it right. When I do consume dairy I do full fat greek yogurt or whole goats milk. Dairy. Leads to inflamation. And mucus build up (flem) thngs you want to avoid to be at your best.

      • thor jackson

        Try adding planks as a warmup for your workouts…start at oneminute in each osition than work your way up to two mins. Also run sprints.

  • http://rivsdiary.wordpress.com rivsdiary

    great post man

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  • C1263

    This is an underrated gem of a post. Great quick workout.