30 Minutes is All You Need to Lift Weights

A friend recently decided to get back into weight lifting after facing the major time crunch of having a toddler, a teenager, and a job. She wanted very much to get back into weights and regain that cut look, but time seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

Lack of time has got to be the number one reason many people get out of the weight lifting groove or never venture in despite the many benefits.

My friend drives past the gym every day to pick up her son from child care, but she couldn’t make herself stop and work out (Mom Guilt is a killer!). I told her all it would take is a half hour – even 20 minutes – to see results. The next time I saw her, she had stopped at the gym and did so several times that week. She is determined to do it and she is doing it. All she had to do was make that stop.

She started off just getting used to lifting again and focused on the large muscle groups. But she realized she’d forgotten the correct form on many exercises and also needed ideas for quick workouts.

Here’s my contribution for anyone who doesn’t have 1-1/2 hour blocks of time to hit one or two muscle groups at a time. You can do these workouts in less than 30 minutes. Lift weights three times a week to see the best results.

The key to quick workouts is (1) using compound movements that focus on one primary muscle but also involve other muscle groups and (2) circuit training (allowing no rest between exercises). For example, compound back exercises hit biceps as well, so you won’t have to spend time doing bicep curls. And if you do your routine in a circuit, you’ll also get a good cardio workout. You’ll get fantastic muscle fatigue and calorie burn if you follow this formula.

Pick a weight you can do for 8-10 repetitions. When you’re done, go right into the next exercise (rest for 30 seconds if needed but the less you rest, the more calories you’ll burn). Do one or two exercises from each muscle group, depending on how much time you have. Remember to change the exercises every four weeks while gradually increasing the weight. Never use the same weight over and over again unless you’re only interested in endurance and not muscle growth and definition.

Here are some examples of compound exercises**:

Legs and Glutes

  • Barbell Squat
  • Barbell Straight-leg Deadlift
  • Weighted Lunges
  • Barbell Deadlift
  • Power Clean
  • Leg Press


  • Lat Pulldown
  • Barbell Deadlift
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Cable or Band Row
  • Bent-over Rows
  • Pull ups and chin ups


  • Bench Press – all variations
  • Pushups – all variations


  • Shoulder Press – all variations
  • Upright Row
  • Dips


  • Plank – all variations
  • Medicine Ball Throw
  • Barbell Rollouts
  • Woodchopper

**To see instructions and videos for these exercises, see the Muscle and Strength Video database and Bodybuilding.com.

Shaking it up

You can also try doing step ups or jumping rope in between sets instead of doing exercises consecutively without rest.

When used judiciously, a variety of weight lifting techniques can be used instead circuit training. With super sets, you do two exercises back to back without rest, such as a chest exercises and a back exercises. Choose two exercises that compliment each other but work in opposite motions. Other techniques that get your muscles burning faster include drop sets, pyramids, forced reps, and partials.

Another idea to save time is to combine exercises like shoulder presses and squats or do calf raises in between exercises. Your options are endless! Isn’t it nice to know you can lift weights in just 30 minutes?

Got any other exercises or ideas to add to this list? Feel free to share!

Password Letter: W. Now go find your next letter from Leanne at Radiant, balanced and fit.

43 thoughts on “30 Minutes is All You Need to Lift Weights

  1. Hey, thanks for the great tips. My schedule is so busy these days that I often just have 30 minutes or so and always want to make the best of it. You asked if we had anything to add, and sometimes I pump up my results with a little interval training…have run a couple of flights of stairs in between different weight groups, or jump on the rowing machine for 2 minutes at a time three or four times over the 30 minutes. Glad Rita sent me to your blog!


  2. Wow. I’m hopping on over from Rita’s giveaway, but I really like the ideas and suggestions in your post! I’ll be back for more! I have limited time, so a quick circuit training workout may be just what I need!


  3. I took off a few months to focus on body weight strength training, and just now getting ready to get back to lifting. Thanks for these examples! And thank you for the “W”.


  4. AWESOME help. So often folks forget that the muscles must exist and you can’t get really healthy on cardio alone. Thanks for the reminder for myself, too 🙂


  5. Well I am off to try out my 7 Day Free Gym Pass and your suggested workout plan!! I have to thank you for it and for Rita showing me the way to your blog. Look forward to the future posts!!


  6. Great advice! Unfortunately I truly don’t have enough time to get to a gym (I solo parent a lot and my daycare has a deadline for when I need to get the kids out of there) – so I do a lot of compound movements using my own body weight as resistance – perhaps you could do an article on that?


  7. Thanks for the ideas. I don’t currently belong to a gym, I just own a pair of 5 pound weights and do a high number of reps. I just ordered a set of resistance bands for an alternative to the weights.


  8. Great tips! It’s funny, I just “discovered” (as in, I finally started doing it on my own – consistently) strength training and it’s changed my life. Literally. I would also recommend the book called Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises. I use it on a daily basis!


  9. I’ve been looking for a blog like you’re for a while now! I too have a sick obsession with working out…as do most people but they don’t admit it like us 🙂 I have thought of creating a simliar blog to meet others interested in lifting and mixing up their routine. Thank you for the inspiration!


  10. After doing Jillian’s Shred, I’m a huge proponent of compound exercises. I would NEVER last an hour+ lifting at the gym – I’d get totally bored. I’d much rather have a 30 minute KILLER workout (no music, no breaks) than be there 60-90 minutes!


  11. Awesome post Suzanne! I’d say that is definitely making the best out of extra traffic! fantastic. I’m finally getting around to reading everything now that I’m checking in on the winner to see that they did ALL the commenting.

    Thanks again for helping out.


  12. Seriously! 30 minutes is GOLDEN for a workout… Here’s stuff I do to compound the compound & add more of a cardio component.
    Walking/Standing lunges w chop, shoulder press, curl or holding plate straight up
    Squats w curl, shoulder press, tricep extension or all of the above
    Wall ball (squat + toss/press the medicine ball HIGH bouncing it against a wall)
    Pushup with side plank 😉
    Rows in a lunge position (to engage more the legs too)
    woooot! Great post – thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks so much for adding these! Compound movements that are “compounded” – probably the best time-crunched workout (and burn) you can get. Love those pushups with side planks – ouch!


  13. Fantastic blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or
    go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally
    confused .. Any tips? Kudos!


    • Hi there, sure, WordPress is highly recommended. My suggestion is to start a simple blog and start following people on Twitter and other social media sites. That’s the best way to spread the word while you start generating content 🙂


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