If you had only thirty minutes to spend exercising, what would be the best workout for health, longevity, and fat burning?
This is one of the the questions we asked Tanner Martty, expert trainer and founder of the 34° North gym in Santa Monica, CA. He hardly took a moment’s pause to answer. He knew immediately.
Whether you’re in the midst of the 4-Workouts-a-Week Challenge or just looking to improve your health and physique in the shortest amount of time, this workout is for you.
The 4 Key Movements
Clean: So Tanner, if we only have 30 minutes to workout, what are the exercises that will make the biggest impact on our health?
Tanner: Okay, this is a great question and I’ve got a great routine for you. If you only have 30 minutes to train, you want to do deadlifts, squats, pull-ups, and Turkish getups. If you don’t know what a Turkish getup is, then just do some type of pressing, like pushups or overhead pressing. Those are gonna hit all the biggest muscle groups and you will get the most value out of that 30 minutes that you could possibly get.
Clean: Are these exercises for men and women?
Tanner: Absolutely! I even think that strength training like this is potentially even more important for women because women tend to suffer more from issues like osteoporosis than men. Women also have less testosterone to start with. I'm not suggesting that women want to have massive amounts of testosterone, but testosterone is what helps us build and maintain muscle mass and bone density.
And muscle mass is so important for immune function and upregulating our metabolism. Muscle tissue really is live tissue and it eats up a lot of energy, so the more muscle tissue you have, the faster your metabolism is, so you burn more fat.
The Turkish Get-up
Clean: What’s the Turkish getup?
Tanner: The Turkish get-up is an incredible exercise. It works every single muscle in your body similar to the way the deadlift does. But it’s a very technical exercise and there's a lot of pieces to it. So I would not recommend that anyone try to like pick it up on their own.
It’s best to work with someone that really knows what they are doing. But once you know it well and your form is good, it’s an exercise that you can use your entire life.
If you don’t know how to do it, then in the meantime, do some type of pressing exercise like pushups or an overhead press.
Clean: And that’s it?
Tanner: Yeah! That simple program right there would take you so far that I don’t think I can overstate how fit you could become doing those movements and nothing else.
Clean: What’s so special about the deadlift?
Tanner: Well first let me say that if there was only one lift you could do for the rest of your life, it would be the deadlift. As far as strength and longevity and wellness go, the deadlift is the king movement.
There’s nothing that builds raw strength and bone density more than the deadlift. And it engages pretty much every single muscle in your entire body.
But the real focus of the deadlift is on your entire posterior chain, meaning all the muscles in your back, butt, and back of your legs. These muscles are the most important muscles for posture. So for good posture the deadlift is the best exercise.
Most Americans sit in a chair all day long and they get this Gollum-like posture. When we sit in a chair behind a computer, we pull our shoulders forward and our hips are in flexion all the time. So your pelvis gets this anterior pelvic tilt, which changes your posture. This can cause lower back pain and knee and ankle pain.
The deadlift is basically the opposing movement to sitting down in a chair all day. And we're using all our biggest, strongest muscles. We're using our hamstrings, our glutes, and our back muscles to lift, so it gives us the ability to lift a relatively large amount of weight.
Clean: Why is that a good thing?
Tanner: It’s very useful because lifting more weight makes the stimulus more intense. Our body then releases a flood of hormones, growth factors, and endorphins that actually build muscle, burn fat, slow the aging process, improve immune and cognitive function, and generate a general sense of well-being. In fact, that’s actually the benefit of all the exercises I suggested in this sequence, but the deadlift gets special mention.
The Basic Workout
Clean: What would a beginner version of this workout look like?
Tanner: We’re calling it a “beginner” program but it’s actually an amazing program for all levels. Let’s start with an important concept, superset. It means that you perform two exercises in a row without stopping.
For example, first you'll do a set of five deadlifts then you'll superset five overhead presses. So you'll do three sets of each of those. Here’s a version of the full workout:
- 5 deadlifts + 5 overhead presses X 3 sets
- 5 (weighted squats) + 5 pull-ups X 3 sets
- 3 Turkish get-ups (each side) X 2 sets
That would be such a killer program. It sounds so simple, but it’s a very powerful program.
Getting Strong, Getting Fit
Clean: If we do this thirty minute exercise at least four times a week, how would we increase the difficulty. Would you increase weight or increase reps over time?
Tanner: That’s a great question. So there are several variables that you can increase.
- Intensity or amount of weight
- Volume or number of reps
- Frequency of your training
Over time, you’ll want to increase all those things, but what I would say if you're just getting started is that you want to increase the volume within a period of time.
So within that thirty minutes you want to be able to do more reps first rather than more weight. The best way to do that is not to do more reps per set, but to actually add more sets. For example, if you’re following the plan above, instead of doing three sets, you would work your way to four sets and then five sets.
Now, once you can do five sets of five of everything and you can fit it into that 30 minutes, then I would start trying to go a little heavier with everything.
The cheat sheet looks like this: increase sets, then weight, then do more reps per set.
Clean: Why is it better to increase the number of sets rather than the number of reps?
Tanner: If I’m getting more volume through doing more sets instead of reps, I can handle heavier weight. For example I can lift heavier weight doing five or less reps than I can doing sets of 10 reps.
And ultimately, for both men and women, the intensity of the stimulus from heavier weights is going to create more hormonal and chemical adaptations in the body that are far more beneficial than what I can get doing more reps.
Doing more and more reps is going to build our aerobic conditioning level a little more and there's some benefit to doing that at times, but when we’re lifting heavier weight, which means that we obviously can't do as many reps, we’re going to build more bone density.
My body is going to release more hormones, growth factors, and endorphins that are going to improve my immune function. It's going to slow the aging process. It's going to build more muscle. And probably the one that people like to hear the most is that it's going to burn more fat and up-regulate my entire metabolism far more than just trying to do more and more reps. Or doing endless cardio.
If there is one way to really get the fat-burning ramped up, it’s probably to cut back on steady-state cardio like jogging and treadmills and start doing the thirty-minute workout I outlined above.