How to Create an Effective Workout Routine for Your Busy Schedule

In our previous post, we discussed the central concepts of exercise and training as well as the best kind of exercises to perform. If you haven't read it yet, it is best if you read that post first. You can find it at 3 Essential Principles of Exercise Routines.

This post will cover the actual exercises that you must include in your workout routine, along with the optimal sets and reps you should perform based on your goals. As busy professionals, we need to design quick and effective workout routines to maximize the little time we have to train.

Here's what you need to know...


At least 80% of your training should be comprised of functional exercises. Of all the exercises available, there are 6 that produce the most benefit when it comes to training.

All 6 of these exercises have a large range of motion, utilizing many large muscles group, and as a result, they burn a lot of energy.

The 6 patterns are...


Squatting is the best way to train the majority of your leg musculature. It also trains your ability to rise from a seated or crouched position. So many individuals have lost the capability to perform this basic pattern through neglect.

Your exercise program MUST include some variation of the squat. If you could only do one exercise, this is it. Check out our squat tutorial here to learn the basic barbell squat.



The deadlift trains the hips, hamstrings, glutes and back muscles simultaneously.  No other exercise trains more muscles than this movement pattern.  

The deadlift also teaches you the correct way to pick up an item off the floor without throwing your back out. Strengthening this movement pattern will yield numerous benefits. Check out our deadlift tutorial here to learn the basic conventional barbell deadlift.



The unilateral leg pattern is a key functional exercise that allows individual training of each half of your body. Due to the nature of our work, we tend to have asymmetries between the left and right side of our bodies. By including single leg training into your regimen, you can identify and address any potential imbalances you may have, while improving your body's balance.

The best single leg exercises are lunges, split squats, step ups and romanian deadlifts.

You can find a good example here, and here.


The large muscles of the anterior torso primarily function to push things away from you. These muscles are- the anterior shoulders, the medial shoulders, the pectoralis muscles, as well as the strong triceps muscles behind your arms. The push pattern is critical as it strengthens the shoulder joint in a stable position, helping to decrease shoulder dislocations and other shoulder injuries.

Upper body push patterns can be broken up into horizontal exercises; such as push ups, dumbbell pressing, and all bench press variations, and vertical exercises such as overhead pressing and incline pressing variations.



The corollary to pushing is pulling. The back is comprised of many different muscles, all of which can be trained through a variety of pulling exercises. Most people tend to ignore the pulling muscles as they cannot be readily seen in the mirror.

Unfortunately, almost everything we interact with is in front of our body, therefore our anterior ‘pushing’ muscles get much more stimulation than the posterior pulling muscles.

Therefore, it is very important to train this pattern to iron out any muscular imbalance that exists between your anterior and posterior torso.

Pulling exercises also help restore the natural posture of your shoulders and upper spine.

The best pulling exercises include dumbbell rowing, barbell rowing, and machine rowing.  Like the upper body push, you can also pull in a vertical plane.  These exercises include pull-ups, chin-ups and pull downs.

Upper Body Pull Exercise


The last functional movement pattern is core stabilization. When we move throughout the day, our spine isn't flopping around front to back, or side to side. We walk with an erect posture, we carry groceries with an erect posture, we carry our kids with an erect posture, and we sit with an erect posture.

Without realizing it, we rely heavily on our core muscles to keep our spine neutral and stable.  

Our core training should mimic patterns that ingrain stability, NOT mobility. Useful core exercises include planks, farmer carries, rollouts, and leg raises.


Your exercise program should include some variation of all 6 of these movement patterns. I will call these the non-negotiable exercises.

If you only performed variations of these 6 exercises in your workout routine, you would be set.

In combination, these 6 exercises will train almost every single muscle group in your body while teaching important human functionality.

Now that we have the foundational exercises selected, let's talk about how much of each you should perform.


The beauty of exercise is that we can perform different amounts of repetitions to obtain different effects.

If you were to ask most personal trainers, they would recommend 3 sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise. While this is an excellent starting point, you will miss out on the benefits of using all of the other rep ranges.

Here are the general guidelines...

If you are a beginner, the majority of your training should be in the Hypertrophy range. While doing sets of 10 repetitions is fine, you can also vary the weight you're using by performing sets of 8 or even 12 (lighter weight will allow you to do 12 reps, whereas heavier weight can be used to achieve 8 reps).

If you are more of an intermediate athlete, dipping into the Combination Rep Range from time to time will be prudent.

It should go without saying that the more weight you are using, the less reps you will be able to perform. Therefore, you should ensure that your technique is better than average before hitting weights in the 4-6 repetitions.

Lastly, the Maximum Strength range is generally restricted to advanced athletes. However, once good technique has been established, learning the maximum weight your body can handle can be both fun and self motivating.

Do not practice in this range until you have been training consistently for at least 8-12 months.

For doctors and other busy professionals, I recommend sticking to the Hypertrophy range to accomplish a lot of work in as little time as possible. 


Now that we have basic understanding of the amount of repetitions you should perform, let's talk about the optimal number of sets. As with any training related endeavor, the number of sets you need to perform varies depending on your goals.

For the most part, you should aim to accomplish anywhere between 20-40 total repetitions per exercise, in approximately 3-6 sets.

For example, If you are performing 8 repetitions, you can do anywhere from 3-5 sets to be in the 20-40 rep range.

Here are the general guidelines

  • 40+ Reps- Very High Volume: Burns the most calories. Works best with the Endurance and Hypertrophy rep ranges
  • 30+ Reps- High Volume: Burns less calories but induces muscular growth and toning. Works best with the Hypertrophy rep range
  • 20+ Reps- Moderate Volume: Burns even less calories but induces strength and muscle development. Works best with Combination Rep Range
  • <20 Reps- Low Volume: Suitable mainly for strength development. Works best with the Combination and Maximal Strength rep ranges

Generally, sets and repetitions are inversely related. But keep in mind that these are simply guidelines.

You can mix and match the number of sets and reps to accomplish any desired volume.

For example, you can get 24-25 repetitions by doing 3 sets of 8, or 5 sets of 5 reps.

More weight can be handled with the second option but it will take longer and induce a different training effect.

For doctors and other busy professionals, I recommend sticking to 3 sets for efficiency.

We covered a lot in this post.

Take home messages:

  • All training programs should incorporate some variation of the 6 non-negotiable movement patterns.
  • The number of sets and reps can be altered to suit your training goals.
  • Higher reps will build endurance and hypertrophy, while lower reps will lead to strength development.
  • Stick to 3 sets of 7-12 reps for the vast majority of your training to maximize efficiency in your workout routine.

In Part 3, The Best Workout Template for Doctors and other Busy Professionals, we discuss how often you should exercise, the optimal amount of times you should train each muscle group, and a template to help you develop an effective training program.

How many sets and reps have you been taught to perform?

Post your comments and questions below.  


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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here