September 22


How To Workout During a Lunch Break | Tips to Optimise Your Gym Time

Reading Time: minutes

Modern life is busy, I get it. Working professionals, offshore and onshore FIFO workers, young families with kids. We're all pushed for time and sometimes exercise gets bumped down the priority list. However, in the gym, a little time can go a long way. Many people choose to fit in their workout during their lunch break. With that in mind, here are some time-saving tips to make the most of your gym session.


When it comes to building muscle strength and size, the good news is that more time spent in the gym is not necessarily better.

To save time during your lunch break workout - focus on quality, not quantity

How come more time doesn't automatically mean better results?

Well, like many things in life, it's quality that matters over quantity.

If you focus on quality training to really stimulate and stress the muscle fibres appropriately, you'll get growth. Even brief sessions at the right intensity will produce results.

On the flip side, slugging away for hours with poor quality form and improper exercise selection only leads to frustration.

It's stress and stimulation of the muscle that counts.

A common pitfall though is that many people don't know how to generate sufficient intensity.

As a general rule, workout intensity comes from getting the muscles to do more work per unit of time.

Workouts that are too long can actually have the opposite effect. Spend too long in the gym and you may reduce the overall intensity.

Let's now look at the four main principles of intensity. Using these during your next lunch break workout will add that all-important muscle developing stimulation.

Why doesn't more time automatically mean better workout results? Well, the simple answer is it's about training quality

Four principles of intensity you can use during your lunch break workout to make your gym sessions more effective

As the saying goes, there are several ways to skin a cat. Similarly, there are many ways you and generate more intensity during your workouts.

As a general rule, 4 main factors are fundamentally important to produce intensity.

You can apply these regardless of the specific routine you're following.

Furthermore, applying principles 1 and 2 will automatically lead to shorter workouts too.

Four principles of intensity infographic showing ways you can make your workout during your lunch break more effective and efficient

If you want to save time and work out effectively during your lunch break, minimise rest

Pure and simple. Keep the rest between sets to an absolute minimum.

This applies even when you're completing multiple sets for each body part.

An even more effective technique would be to incorporate supersets into your training. That way, when one muscle group is resting, another is working.

Remember, more work in the same time frame equals greater intensity.

Stay focussed and move swiftly

Now to be clear, this doesn't mean rushing through your exercises.

Instead, be mindful of why you are there in the gym. Minimise the time you spend checking your phone or chatting to mates. Aim to move immediately from one machine or exercise to the next.

Obviously, if the gym is busy this becomes more difficult. However, do the best you can and reduce the amount of downtime and dead space in your workouts.

An important way to maximise intensity without spending more time at the gym is to train to failure

Now with you really want intense muscle stimulation, you need to fatigue your fibres.

That is, at the end of each set, you just can't squeeze out another repetition with strict form. No matter how hard you try.

At this point, you've reached momentary muscular fatigue. Or, what we call training to failure.

On the other hand, if you're new to working out, you probably don't want to push this hard at the start. Push yourself to the point you know you've worked certainly. But it's generally better for beginners to keep some reps in the tank rather than going to failure.

Quality training begins and ends with proper exercise technique

Earlier we mentioned moving quickly and efficiently through your workout routine. That being said, maintaining proper form at all times remains a prerequisite.

Generally speaking, we look to avoid rushed and jerky movements. Instead, aim to keep your gym reps smooth, working through the full range.

Remember, you're in the gym to build strength, not demonstrate it.

Other workout tools you can use to boost the intensity of your lunch break gym sessions

If in doubt, seek advice from a qualified trainer about how to incorporate these training techniques into your existing routine:


Supersets take advantage of working opposing muscle groups in pairs.

Effectively, you minimise the rest time as one muscle group works while the other rests.

To put a superset together, just choose an opposing pair of muscle groups. For example biceps and triceps, or quads and hamstrings. Alternate your sets from one muscle group to the other without resting in between.

Giant sets

Here, we focus on one main area or body part. For example, we might do a giant set for shoulder, or chest, etc.

Basically, you perform around 4 to 6 exercises in quick succession without any rest in between.

An example giant set for the chest might be bench press, pec deck, dumbbell flyes, and push ups.

Negative sets

Also known as 'negatives.' These manipulate a specific aspect of muscle physiology. Your muscles can sustain more load when lowering the weight than they can when picking it up.

In other words, they are stronger eccentrically than concentrically.

To perform negatives, you use a weight that is a fair bit heavier than your normal working weight. Your training partner helps you lift the weight into position and assists as you slowly lower the weight. They then help you get it back to the starting position before you repeat.

Be warned though, eccentric contractions produce the most amount of DOMS. Prepare to be sore in the following days.

Drop sets

These work best with pin-loaded weights machines. That being said, they are possible with free weights, but you need to take time to ensure the bar is loaded correctly. And that extra setup time negates the purpose of trying to save time during your lunch break workout.

So we'll focus just on machines for now.

With drop sets, you perform your set of reps to exhaustion as normal. Next, you immediately change the pin to lighten the stack by approximately 20% and perform a set. You're aiming to complete around 6-8 reps at this lighter weight. Alternatively, you'll reach failure before 6 reps.

Next, immediately move the pin again to reduce the load by about 20% and perform another set to failure.

Remember, you're in the gym to build strength. Not to demonstrate it.

Initially, the first rep or two after each weight reduction will feel easy. But then fatigue hits, and it'll hit HARD!

By adding in a drop set, you're effectively reaching a 'triple failure' point. By that I mean you've reached total fatigue, or failure, three times in just one set.

Feel the intensity skyrocket!


With pre-exhaust sets, you work a target muscle in isolation before immediately challenging it again with a compound movement.

For example, you may perform a set of leg extensions for your quadriceps immediately before completing a set of squats. Your quads are already fatigued so the additional muscles in your squat movement will have to up their game to help out.

You'll push more muscles into a deeper state of fatigue with only marginally extra time.

So there you have it. If time is tight and you want to optimise your workout during your lunch break remember the golden rule. Focus on quality, not quantity... and up the intensity.

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Have you tried one of my online workouts yet?