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A Fitness Guide for People With No Free Time (And Who Can’t Give Up Fast Food)

This installment of The Normal Person’s Workout sees a busy guy with a Taco Bell addiction try to fit back into his favorite jacket

Don’t have three hours a day to spend at the gym? Not interested in bulging like a bodybuilder? Unmoved by promises of “fat-blasting, ab-chiseling monster workouts”? This is the column for you, fellow regular human with very little free time.

The Man

Elion, Marina Del Rey, CA
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 205 pounds
Goal: To ditch the junk food and get lean before his daughter is born

His Time Commitment (or Lack Thereof): “I work about 13 hours a day Monday through Friday as an assistant director for television and film,” says Elion. “Film sets are a tough place to stay focused on the right kind of food, and I’ll admit that fast food gets me sometimes on the way home as well. I’ll say to myself, ‘Just get past the driveway of the Taco Bell!’ But it doesn’t always happen.

“I’m also married with a baby on the way, so my free time is limited as we’re trying to get everything ready to prepare for the birth. My wife goes to the gym and encourages me to do so, too, but by the end of the day, I’m pretty beat, so a workout in the morning is best—ideally 30 to 40 minutes.”

“That said, on weekends, my wife and I do a beach yoga class, and I just started Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s six-week plan for nutrition as well.”

Exercise He’s Actually Willing to Do: “I have an injury to my left knee that I haven’t had checked out yet. The elliptical presents no problems, but running hurts a bit, which is a shame as I used to run a ton and I miss it.”

What He Wants: “I’d like to lose about 25 pounds and be more lean in general. I don’t really care about looking like The Rock. I just want to be able to fit back into my blue Patagonia jacket, and I need to be 180 pounds to do so. I technically don’t have a dad bod yet because I’m not quite a dad, but I will be in four months. So… help!”

The Plan

Remember, Experts Only Get You So Far: “It sounds like you’re taking the right steps by hiring an expert to help you with your diet,” says personal trainer Lalo Fuentes. “Just keep in mind that us experts only account for 30 percent of your success — the other 70 percent is your discipline and determination. Make a commitment to yourself, and draw a plan to get back to the weight you want to be. Set up small weight goals to make sure you’re on track.”

Keep on Rollin’: “It’s hard to say for sure without knowing what caused your knee injury, but if turning and running hurts, you should stay away from it and instead focus on getting it stronger. Practice some myofascial release to restore motion into your knee: You can do this by using the foam roller regularly before your workouts or at home while watching TV.”

Hit the Gym: “Here’s the workout I’d advise you to do,” says Fuentes.

  • Uphill climb (cardio): “Do this three times per week. I like this exercise because it burns plenty of calories without the extra stress to your knee. While going uphill, move your extremities as much as you can and keep your core tight. This will allow various muscles to get engaged, hence burn the most amount of calories.

“Start with a 3.0 walk on the treadmill, and when you feel comfortable, increase the incline to 8.0. Put all the traction on your heels, making big steps while moving your arms. You should feel the work on your hamstrings and glutes — if you feel it in your calf muscles, it’s because you’re pushing from the tip of your toes, so go back to your heels.

“Once you feel comfortable, increase the speed to no higher than 3.5. You can start with a 5-minute abdominal workout [see the plank exerciser below] before jumping on the treadmill to make sure your abs are engaged during your cardio workout. If this workout is easy for you after 30 minutes, increase the incline on your next workout by 2 degrees.”

  • Deadlifts: “If your gym has bumper plates, load a bar with 25 pounds on each side (if not, you can use kettlebells). Start with the weight on the floor and place your feet shoulder width apart. Reach down to grab the weight, putting your body weight on your heels. Let your knees bend slightly while reaching down — you should feel the stretch on your hamstring muscles.“You should do 12 to 15 repetitions of these. If you feel it in your back, check that you’re not curving your back. Or you might need to reduce the weight until you feel stronger. This exercise is going to get your knee and lower back stronger while working big muscles.”
  • One-minute rest
  • Biceps to overhead press: “Grab a couple of 15- to 20-pound dumbbells, perform a bicep curl and then an overhead press. Repeat 15 times, making sure to keep your body straight by squeezing your glutes and abs. When you press over your head, your arms should be next to your ears.”
  • One-minute rest
  • Plank to push-up: “Start in the plank position, placing your forearms on the floor parallel to each other, your body flat and your feet wide (wider than shoulder width). Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders. From there, place your right hand where your elbow was, followed by the same thing with the left arm, so you’re pressing up to push-up position one arm at a time, without letting your body rotate. Keeping your body from moving is going to engage your core by the obliques section.“Bring your body back to plank position using the same hand first. Do 10 repetitions starting with one hand, rest for 30 seconds and do 10 starting on the other side. Once you feel stronger, up your repetitions to 15 on each side.
  • One-minute rest
  • Knee to elbow core movement: “Start at a push-up position with your feet wide. Your chest should be right above your palms. Without moving the upper body, bring one knee to the opposite elbow: Touch your elbow with your knee and freeze for one full second. Then go back to push-up position and repeat with your other knee. Do 10 repetitions with each knee — once you feel stronger, you can increase the repetitions to 15 on each side. This movement is going to work on your core.”

“When you’re done, rest for one or two minutes, then repeat the whole circuit two more times — doing the full strength-building workout three days a week. Ideally, though, you want to move and break a sweat every day: Your metabolism will speed up, you’ll start losing weight quickly and you’ll be able to fit into your Patagonia jacket again.”

The Reaction

With the Time You Have, Does This Workout Sound Doable? “I think so!” says Elion. “Although I’ll be honest, I kinda suck at using free weights, so I might see if there’s a way of doing these same exercises on a machine instead.”

Did You Figure Out What’s Up With Your Knee Yet? Will It Hold Up With This Regimen? “I still haven’t figured it out, but in the meantime, I’ll test it out with this workout and see if it holds up. Fingers crossed…”

Think You’ve Got Enough in the Tank to Keep Up Your 70 percent of the Bargain? “Oh man, I hope so!”