Once I'm asking a question on behalf of someone else who isn't comfortable to write on an English site:

My wife wants to get in shape, i.e. lose some fat, gain some muscle, increase stamina, increase overall fitness.

Now there's a problem: She currently has only 90 minutes per week to go the gym, which is a lot less than normally required to get good results, but it's still better than doing nothing.

My question is: How to make the most out of these 90 minutes in the gym?

There are some obvious aspects, split training for example is out of the question.

But here are so many more aspects to this, where I'm not sure what's best here:

  • More cardio or more resistance training?
  • Low or high weights?
  • Low or high number of repetions?
  • Ultra-slow or explosive movements?
  • How often should the workout routine be changed?
  • Other aspects I'm not aware of?

There's tons of information on these aspects on the internet and on this site, but all in context of multiple training sessions per week, which I apply on my own training sessions (3-4 times a week) but I'm not sure how they apply to a single and mostly isolated workout session.

  • 2
    I question the priority of fitness here. If you/they can only spare 90 minutes a week, that isn't a high priority. We're all busy; I get that. But, I know of people who wake up very early to get a quick workout in or find other means. Jun 10, 2011 at 12:38
  • While I understand everyone may be very busy at some point in time, your fitness has a large influence on your life expectancy. Its nice you invest in your financial or social future, but you might not have one without sufficient exercise!
    – Ivo Flipse
    Jun 10, 2011 at 12:40
  • It's not a matter of finding the time: My wife and I recently had a baby which is now 4 months old. We can't take him to the gym, we can't let him stay home alone, I work almost 12 hours per day, we don't want a babysitter just yet, her parents are now close to 80 years old and are not really capable in watching such a young child, my parents aren't very interesting in baby sitting. Also he doesn't want to stay away from mommy more than 30 minutes, so I think this all are valid reasons :) There are other people with a lot less stressful lifes which can't lift their butt of the couch. Jun 10, 2011 at 12:57
  • The only possible time window is sundays from 9:00 to 11:00 when he normally sleeps and we can get a family member to watch at the same time. Right now there are no other possibilities for my wife to train. Jun 10, 2011 at 13:03
  • @Ryan,@Ivo: Just to be sure: I'm not dismissing your points, in fact I totally 100% agree, I just wanted to explain, that laziness or procrastination is not a factor in this special case. In fact we both are very motivated and visited the gym regularly two years ago. But right now there's no way of going back there, at least not during the next months. Jun 10, 2011 at 13:16

7 Answers 7


After our son was born, gym time dropped like a rock. We found it easier to do 15-20 minutes a night of training at home than driving to the gym two or three times a week. I did a combination of strenght training using body weight exercises and some light dumb bells with some nights doing short 7-minute HIIT routines of things like pushups, burpees, russian twistc, etc. The routine was changed every 6 weeks by removing and adding new exercises and rearranging the rest.

My wife used the same time to do yoga and pilates videos.

Mine was much more effective in terms of raw strength gain and weight loss (I had put on some sympathy weight), but hers was better for getting her head into the right space that some new moms need.

She needs to determine what her top priorities are for working out.

  • +1 Awesome. I have always been a big fan of bodyweight exercises but haven't taken up a strong HIIT routine yet. If you take a look at youtube.com/user/charliejames1975 (and get over initial shock of how smokin hot the host is) there are some really great exercises like you described. I immediately thought of it when you mentioned burpees. I'd upvote this answer more if I could. Jun 10, 2011 at 15:45

There's a few things to consider considering the current situation:

  • 90 minutes concentrated on one day isn't a whole lot, but at least the new mom is not giving up completely
  • There are other things you can do that don't require being at the gym to keep fit
  • She'll have to be creative to keep active while not at the gym

For the 90 minutes at the gym, I would focus on things you can't do at home such as strength training or a fun but challenging class like Zumba or something else she may enjoy. In fact, the class might help with the wife's need to be with people who can form complete sentences after they've been with a baby all this time.

At home you have the following options available to you:

  • A brisk 20 minute walk pushing the baby in a stroller. As long as it's not too hot for the baby (summer days can be really hot so be careful), and the baby has some shade, that's about as long as they can handle.
  • A good stretch routine at home will also help regain some flexibility. Again we're talking a 20 minute investment of time.
  • Invest in a running stroller so she can jog with the baby. Babies get board easily so it won't be a long distance thing.
  • Plyometrics or body weight resistance training can also help. We're talking crunches, pushups, pull ups, etc. Add some resistance bands and you can get a lot of mileage out of it. Just set up a routine and stick to it.

Babies will sleep off and on during the day, and it is all to easy to take your nap with the child. By investing 20 minutes a day, you can do things at home that will boost your energy and make you stronger. Some of those activities include the child being with you. Some of those activities require the baby either sleeping or playing in the bassinet. You may alternate the walking/jogging with the plyometrics every day.

Do remember, the baby doesn't need to be held the whole time, but you do need to be aware of the baby. If you start the workout in front of the baby they may start crying at first because they are jealous that you aren't paying all your attention on them. Just make sure there aren't any other needs (diaper changes, hungry, or hurt). It's actually good for the child to learn that you don't jump just because they cry. Besides, crying is a form of exercise for the baby. If the wife hasn't already learned the differences in the way the child cries, she will soon. Let the child cry for a bit, they'll stop when they get tired of waiting and eventually will be OK with it. Just make sure to spend time doting on the baby afterwards and both mom and child will be happy.


I would go for a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) at home. I recently discovered BodyRock.TV and it really is a great page, the girl has daily work outs that are easy to follow, and short, only 12-15 minutes long but REALLY exhausting, don't feel bad if you cant keep up the first few weeks. (I'm 25yo guy who was a little out of shape and I had trouble doing all the reps she does).

It really is a nice page with a nice community, it takes almost no time, and its mostly self body exercises, no weights. The fact that she posts different routines every day keeps it fresh and varied, and the only things she uses are jumping ropes, swiss/pilates ball, and a dip station.

Check it out!



Take a look at Body By Science. This workout consists of perhaps 20 minutes of high-intensity resistance training around once per week. Then your wife will have to figure out what to do with the rest of her 90 minutes, maybe take a nap! :-)

In a nutshell, BBS examines both muscular growth and aerobic conditioning at a cellular level. It turns out that what we think of as "cardio" isn't as effective as we've been led to believe, and aerobic conditioning is a localized cellular phenomenon and not actually tied to the heart muscle per se; it's more about how efficiently the cells in your body can absorb the oxygen (a catalyst for processing stored energy) that the heart delivers to it. While trashing steady-state low-intensity cardio, BBS recommends a workout that does the minimum necessary to stimulate growth in that efficiency as well as in muscular strength.


You already have lots of good suggestions, so I’ll just add a caution. Since your wife’s primary language is not English, make sure she has clearance from her doctor for exercise and understands whether or not she has any restrictions. Depending on the type of delivery and her level of activity during pregnancy, her doctor may have specific recommendations. In the first few months for example, she may need to be careful of high impact activities like jogging. And doing abdominal exercises will depend on the amount of separation or gap between her abs. Also, her exercise program should include specific pelvic floor muscles exercises.

You say she only has one window of opportunity to exercise, but with a baby carrier or a stroller, she can strap the baby on her, or put the baby in the stroller and go for a walk which is something she can do everyday.

Also, a lot of postpartum exercise classes are baby friendly. Your wife can take a class geared to new moms, meet other moms and have a safe environment for the baby all at the same time. These classes may not be at your gym, but may be offered thru the YMCA or yoga studios. Holly Rigsby, CPT has a good online program for busy moms that is home based 15 minute workouts comprised primarily of compound resistance circuit training. Your wife’s language limitation may not work for the forum and support, but the video workouts should be easy to follow.

By doing the walking and a home based workout on a regular basis, she can go to the gym once a week and enjoy whatever she feels like doing!

As for the 12 hour work days, that is something else to think about :)

  • @DR01 - I just read your profile - skip the part about your wife's lack of English and understanding of her doctor's recommendations :) Jun 13, 2011 at 8:58

This is what I do (more frequency and time but same principal).

Split body in 3 days:

Day 1 - Chest and triceps, usually shortest day for me so can include some cardio Day 2 - Back and biceps Day 3 - Shoulders and legs

Because of the restricted time, most exercises will have to be performed in super sets (a form of cardio) while the weights will be moderate to heavy (increase a tad of weight after each set).

On back day, I do so much back work that I only do one bicep exercise since your biceps are being used in pulling exercises.

Same principle for chest and triceps, your triceps get used in pushing exercises so no need to really target them.

Some exercises work on your core and abs at the same time so no need to waste time on those as well! Standing shoulder press, squats, dead-lifts, standing triceps work.

Nutrition is key if you want definition but the above will keep you in shape and add muscle. Going heavy works on your VO2 max which in turn is like doing cardio.

In addition, avoid using machines, compound movements (movements that work many muscles at once) are the best when short on time or want general strength (which is this case).


I often only get to swim 90 minutes a week, sadly. I maintain pretty good swimming fitness on that.

So let her try swimming. But it is continuous, 100% aerobic swimming. No rests, rapid turns at each. Even if tired and out of breath, switch to breaststroke or kick board, but use the time as effectively as possible.

It will be tough for the first few weeks, but I can assure you, it will pay handsome (or is it beautiful in this case) dividends.

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