Training Economy How to Maximize Efficiency in the Gym


by Joe DeFranco
This article originally appeared on

Questions regarding the concept of training economy have indirectly been thrown my way since I first picked up a dumbell. I use the term indirectly because most people have never heard of the term training economy, but I get asked the same question time and time again. It goes like this, “Although I would love to build a more muscular physique, I just don’t have the time. What can I do?” I usually give the following carefully considered answer to this question: “Bullshit!”

Most people think that they don’t have the time because they have the wrong impression of what it takes to build a more muscular physique. Read on and I’ll explain further.

I’m writing this article as I sit on a plane from Texas where I enjoyed a great Super Bowl weekend. Ironically, just before I started writing this article, training economy was indirectly brought up again! During the flight, I got into a discussion with Dan Klecko of the New England Patriots, Frank Ferrarra of the N.Y. Giants, and one of my colleagues. And wouldn’t you know it, the drunken asshole sitting behind us had to chime in on our conversation. He starts rambling on and on about how if he was a pro athlete or he worked in a gym, he would be “buff” just like us. I turned around and let this drunken fool in on a little secret. My colleagues and I work 80-100 hours a week and Dan and Frank only have time to weight train two times a week during the football season.

My point was that everyone is busy. Granted, some people are busier than others, but we’re all busy. Whether it’s your job, family or school, most of us don’t have a lot of time to train. The majority of people reading this article aren’t professional bodybuilders. We can’t spend all day, every day, working out. So how do my clients, my colleagues and I get buff even during the busiest times of year? We all adhere to TRAINING ECONOMY.

When I talk about the training economy, I’m referring to choosing the exercises and training methods that give you the quickest results in the shortest possible time. It’s important to know that ALL EXERCISES WERE NOT CREATED EQUAL! For example, the deadlift is an “economical” exercise because it works a TON of muscle mass at once. Deadlifting works the low back, glutes, hamstrings, quads, forearms, upper back, and traps. This one exercise can literally take the place of a dozen less productive exercises.

Hopefully this example helps you to realize that making the proper exercise selections can drastically cut down on the time you spend in the gym. Yet, time and time again, I see people wasting valuable time by doing concentration curls, leg extensions, triceps kickbacks, and a bunch of other exercises that make me want to puke. These are the same people who look exactly the same year in and year out even though they “work out everyday for 2 hours.” They’re also on a first-name basis with every single member of the gym. These people go to the gym to make friends, not progress.

In order to get the most out of my sample workout, you have to attack my workout like Michael Jackson attacks pre-pubescent boys! Okay, maybe I need to work on my motivational skills, but you get the idea.

Just do my damn workout!

+++++++++++ The Workout +++++++++++

Everyone in our society loves a good bargain. There’s “buy 1 get 1 free” sales at the mall, happy hour at the local bar, “Super Tuesday” at GNC, and coupons that we cut out and bring to the grocery store. Below you’ll find my “workout bargain” to all of the people who claim they’re too busy to get buff. What I’ve done for T-Nation readers is design the ultimate training economy workout. It’s quick, realistic, simple and productive. That is what the training economy is all about. But don’t mistake economical with easy. Even though you’re not going to spend a lot of time in the gym, you must bust your ass for the short time that you’re there.

This program requires less than 2 1/2 hours of your entire week. Anyone can do it. The beauty of this workout lies in the exercise selection and the unique set, rep and rest schemes. If you’re a busy guy who “doesn’t have time to train,” give this workout a try. IT WORKS!

+++++++++ Day 1 +++++++++

A. Dumbbell bench presses on Swiss ball (repetition method)

Dumbbell bench presses on Swiss ball

DESCRIPTION: After a warm-up, choose a pair of dumbbells that’ll allow you do to between 30-40 reps on your first set. Rep out until you’re about 1 rep shy of concentric failure. Rest 60 seconds and then perform a second set of as many reps as you can with the same dumbbells. After the second set is complete, rest another 60 seconds and then perform a third set with the same dumbells until you reach concentric failure. Record the total number of reps that you completed in the 3 sets. Next week, you’ll stick with the same weight but try and perform more reps.

Rest 2 minutes before moving onto the next exercise.

B. Seated cable rows, overhand mid-grip

Sets: 3 x 8, 1 x 15
Tempo: 3011
Rest: 60, 60, 30s

Seated cable rows, overhand mid-grip 1 Seated cable rows, overhand mid-grip 2

DESCRIPTION: Place your feet lower than your hips on the foot plates. Bend your knees slightly, arch your back, and lean slightly forward. Start with your arms fully extended and then row an “E-Z” bar to just below your sternum. Use a 3-0-1-1 tempo on all sets. Rest 60 seconds between the sets of 8 reps, but only rest 30 seconds after your last set of 8 before dropping the weight and performing your 15-rep set.

Rest 2 minutes before moving onto your next exercise.

C. Seated Bradford Presses

Seated Bradford Presses 1 Seated Bradford Presses 2

Seated Bradford Presses 3

DESCRIPTION: Start the movement as if you were going to perform a standard military press. Press the barbell just high enough to clear your head and then lower it behind your neck until it touches your traps. Immediately reverse the movement by pressing the barbell up and over your head and then lowering it to your upper chest. This constitutes one rep. You’ll perform 10 reps on your first set and 8 reps on your second and third set. Never press the bar all the way up on this exercise. You’re always pressing the bar just high enough to clear your head. This keeps the tension on your shoulders. Rest 90 seconds between all sets and use a controlled tempo!

Rest 2 minutes before moving onto your final exercise.

D. Low-pulley swiss ball crunches

Low-pulley swiss ball crunches 1 Low-pulley swiss ball crunches 2

DESCRIPTION: Perform this exercise by attaching a triceps rope to the low pulley. After placing your low-back on the swiss ball, arch your back and grab the rope or have someone hand it to you. Secure the rope over your traps and tuck your elbows. Crunch up until your elbows touch your thighs. Reverse the movement until you achieve a good pre-stretch on the abs. Repeat for 15 reps. Use a 3-0-1-1 tempo on all 3 sets. Rest 45 seconds between all sets.


+++++++++ Day 2 +++++++++

A. Snatch grip deadlifts

Sets: 5 x 5
Tempo: Controlled
Rest: 120s. 120s, 120s, 180s

Snatch grip deadlifts 1 Snatch grip deadlifts 2

DESCRIPTION: Place your shins against the barbell with your feet about 12″ apart. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip about 1″ outside of the rings. Make sure your chest is up and your back is arched. Think about initiating the movement by pushing your feet through the floor and pulling the bar towards your body. Don’t hyperextend your back at the top of the movement. Focus on keeping the bar close to your body and keeping your back arched when lowering the weight.

You’re going to perform 5 sets of 5 reps. For the first set, use a weight that you can handle for 10 reps. Increase the weight gradually each set so that you’re using maximal weights on sets 4 and 5. Rest 2 minutes between the first four sets. Rest 3 minutes between sets 4 and 5.

Rest 2 minutes before moving onto the next exercise.

B. Single-leg “speed-skater” squats

Single-leg "speed-skater" squats

DESCRIPTION: A “speed-skater” squat is a single leg squat performed in a one-and-a-half rep fashion. Start by holding two dumbells and placing one foot about 2 feet in front of a bench. Place the top of the other foot on the bench. Squat down until your back knee is one inch from the ground, raise half way up and pause for a second, lower yourself back down until your knee is one inch from the floor again; then stand all the way up. That is considered 1 rep! You will perform 2 sets of 10 one-and-a-half rep sets per leg. Rest 10 seconds between legs and 2 minutes between sets.

Rest 2 minutes before moving onto the next exercise.

C. Single-leg dumbbell calf raises

Single-leg dumbbell calf raises 1 Single-leg dumbbell calf raises 2

DESCRIPTION: Place the front half of your foot on a box or platform. Let the non-working leg hang off of the box. Hold a dumbell in the same hand of the leg that you’re working. You can support yourself by holding onto a bar or the wall with your other hand. Drop the heel down of the working leg to achieve a full stretch on the calf. Then, raise yourself as high as possible onto your toes. Pause at the top for a two-count. You will perform 3 sets of 8 reps with each leg. Go back and forth between sets without resting. Perform all sets at a 2-1-1-2 tempo.

After you’ve completed 3 sets with each leg, go immediately into your final exercise.

D. Sprinter sit-ups

Sets: 3 x 20
Tempo: Explosive
Rest: 30s

Sprinter sit-ups 1 Sprinter sit-ups 2
Sprinter sit-ups 3 Sprinter sit-ups 4

DESCRIPTION: Lie flat on the ground with your hands at your side. Explode up into a full sit-up by firing one arm forward and the opposite knee up. Simultaneously fire the opposing arm backward and keep the other leg flat on the ground. Lie back down and then immediately fire up again with the opposite arm and leg. Your arm action should resemble a sprinting motion. Every time you sit up counts as one rep. You’ll perform 3 sets of 20 reps. Rest 30 seconds between sets.


+++++++++ Day 3 +++++++++

A. Weighted Chin-ups

Weighted Chin-ups 1 Weighted Chin-ups 2

DESCRIPTION: If you don’t know how to perform a chin-up, you shouldn’t be reading this article. Here’s the catch; Instead of performing the standard “3 sets of 8-10 reps,” you’re going to perform 8 sets of 3 reps. The rest interval is 30-45 seconds between all sets. If you’re strong enough, you can do them with extra weight around your waist. Make sure all reps are super-strict. You’re only doing 3 reps per set so you can’t afford garbage reps! Try to achieve a 2-0-1-1 tempo on all sets.

Rest 2 minutes before moving onto the next exercise.

B. Weighted Dips

Weighted Dips 1 Weighted Dips 2

DESCRIPTION: Dips will be performed by starting in the upright position with your elbows 99% extended. Lower yourself until your biceps cover your forearms on every repetition. Keep your elbows tucked during the lowering and the raising. If you’re strong enough, you’ll do the first 3 sets with extra weight around your waist. Choose a weight that you can complete 6-8 strict reps for 3 sets. You’ll rest 2 minutes between weighted sets. After your third set of weighted dips, get rid of the weight; rest 45 seconds, and then rep out with your bodyweight.

If you’re not strong enough to do weighted dips, simply perform 4 sets of 6-8 reps with your bodyweight. Rest 2 minutes between all sets. If you can’t do 4 sets of 6-8 dips, go consult Tony Little for a new exercise program.

Rest 2 minutes before moving onto the next exercise.

C. Iso-hold dumbell shrugs

Iso-hold dumbell shrugs

DESCRIPTION: Start this exercise by driving your shoulders straight up to the back of your ears. Hold the first rep at the top for 10 seconds. Then, release your shoulders down and perform 7 more reps. Hold each rep at the top for a “one-thousand-one” count. Don’t “roll” your shoulders backward during the lowering of the weight! Keep your elbows straight and drive the weight straight up and straight down! Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Rest 60 seconds before moving onto your final exercise.

D. “T” Push-ups

"T" Push-ups 1

"T" Push-ups 2

"T" Push-ups 3

"T" Push-ups 4

DESCRIPTION: “T” push-ups are a great “finisher” to your workout. They’re also a bitch! Start by getting into a push-up position with your hands on two light dumbells. Perform a traditional push-up. After you push yourself up, perform a rear delt raise with one arm. While performing the rear delt raise make sure you focus on stabilizing the stationary arm. It would be a shame to have the dumbell roll out from underneath you and dislocate your shoulder. This would really hinder next week’s workout.

If your gym has hex dumbells, you can start with them. They’re obviously easier due to the fact that they won’t roll out from under you. The goal is to be able to perform this exercise with round dumbells, though. You’ll perform 2 sets of 4-10 reps each side. Rest 2 minutes between sets. You’ll need it!


Joe DeFranco is one of the country’s leading authorities on performance enhancement and physique transformation. He is the owner of DeFranco’s Training Systems, LLC, located in northern New Jersey. Professional athletes from all over the country flock to New Jersey to train with Joe and reap the benefits of his uncanny ability to improve performance. Joe trains countless NFL football players, major league baseball players, Olympic athletes and hundreds of college and high school athletes. For more information on Joe DeFranco check out his website at


  1. This article had some great info about getting the most out of your workout. I had a guy teaching me a lot of these when I worked for him. He owns a painting company in Covington, La. You can reach him Here, if you want to contact him. His name is Jordan.

  2. 30 minute workouts? Dang. I thought my 50 minute workouts were short! I’ll have to try these on the days when I’m running late (yet again) and don’t have a lot of time to spend in the gym.

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