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After a year of strength training and cardios, I'm fit and well built. Starting next year I'll be very busy due to work and family and I won't have time to properly exercise. But I don't want to lsoe the muscle I built.

I'm trying to figure out what would be the minimum exercise to maintain muscles?

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    This is a complicated question and varies significantly person to person. I doubt anyone can say without at least knowing substantial details about your training. I am not convinced that we can answer your question even if we did have that info. Note also that it's not just exercise but food that is relevant. – Dave Liepmann May 14 '15 at 15:59
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You can definitely maintain and even get stronger muscle wise in 80 minutes a week. After taking a managerial role at my company while having two young kids I started a "different" workout to maintain. I noticed that I didn't gain a lot of mass but didn't lose any and definitely gained strength and composition (slowly).

I hit each major body part 1 day a week for 20 mins. Back, Legs, Chest, Arms. The routines were BRUTAL but only lasted 20ish mins - never going past 25 mins.

Really I had one main objective in the first 7-8 minutes of each session. Kill the biggest muscle from the group you are working out. This meant squats/deadlifts, pull-ups (weighted)/t-bar rows/cleans, preacher curls, bench press - were first. After I finished that 7-8 minutes I could actually quit and have had a decent workout.

Now the first 7-8 minutes were handled in one of two ways. The first was to do some 90% lifts right away. Maybe sets of 4-5 within the first two minutes then taper down. So if it was leg day I might warmup, then hit 500 the hit 550 and then throw in a few sets of 10 at maybe 350-400. At 7-8 minutes my legs would be shaking. The other way is to rep out with almost zero rest. This is QUITE EFFECTIVE. No matter how strong you are 5 sets of 15 at 250 in 7 minutes will kill your legs.

So step #1 is hit the major muscle group hard. After that you have 12-13 minutes left. This allows you enough time to perform 4-6 other lifts with times 3 sets. You might not think so but you can superset them in. And you have to get used to dropping weight, doing perfect form, and getting the work done.

My workouts before this were 50-80 minutes long. Doing tons of weight and lots of rest between sets. After the change over I noticed no negative effect on how my body looked or strength. The changeover wasn't instant though. Using the squat example... The first time I did 250 x 15 reps I was laughing after the second set... simple. After the third I was like hmmm this is pretty hard... After the fourth I couldn't walk - the fifth never happened. The other things never happened that day.

After the first week of shock I let the routine take 30 minutes so I could get it done. It took about 2-3 months before I could do it in 20 minutes and walk out alive. I still follow this routine somewhat. It is much much higher intensity and much hard psychologically (to me). It was easy sitting around for 5-6 minutes waiting to squat heavy. Still very hard for me to jump to next set in 10-15 seconds and I still get sore from what I believe is very low weight.

So yes it takes about 80 minutes a week for a full muscular workout. Now on the cardio side that is a different story. This depends on how active you are outside of working out. If you aren't at all you will need 20-30 mins times 4 days a week.

  • Great and informative answer! Curious though: how much time do you spend on squats in a session and what were the sets and volumes? – Kneel-Before-ZOD May 14 '15 at 17:40
  • @Kneel-Before-ZOD - I can get 5 sets of 15 at 250 in 7 minutes on a good day - 8-9 on a bad day. I can also do 550x5, 500x5, 350x10, 300x8, 250x8 in 7 minutes. The 15-20 seconds between sets was not an instant thing the first 20 times doing the routine. This took getting used to. Many times I got a sharp pain/muscle lock where the butt meets the leg... you know what I am talking about if you squat right. On a side note I definitely found the no rest routine helped my bball game. More endurance, jumping faster. – DMoore May 14 '15 at 17:52
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    @Kneel-Before-ZOD - I could put an example week in here if you think it would help but then it becomes a really long answer. – DMoore May 14 '15 at 17:56
  • 20 seconds rest? Interesting! But on the other hand, you're squatting 550 lbs! That's holy crap for me! How long have you been squatting? – Kneel-Before-ZOD May 14 '15 at 18:05
  • @Kneel-Before-ZOD - ha - 25 years or so. – DMoore May 14 '15 at 18:18

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