Most efficient strength and cardio exercises and stretching?

Or, the impatient slacker guide to optimal* fitness.

What exercises could I do if I wanted to exercise the most muscle sets (exercising all the the main/important muscles in the body) at the same time?

The holy grail here, as I see it, would be an exercise that would work all the muscles one should exercise all at once, without under-exercising muscle sets that need more of a workout than others (I hear core muscles are very important, for example), and would require only a few (like, less than 30) repetitions to fatigue. And one could just keep increasing the amount of repetitions without any of this plateau business (I know very little on the subject, as is probably evident). So basically, the most time and exercise efficient.

I can’t imagine that there is one such exercise, but surely we could come up with several that altogether take care of everything.

It would be necessary that these exercises only need to be done at the very most every other day (letting muscles repair themselves and all that), and again, the holy grail would be once a week. Or less, even.

Also, stretches/yoga poses/etc that do the same for stretching out your muscles and improving flexibility with the same sort of efficiency.

As for cardio, I imagine it’s a simpler answer: how long and how often to meet the minimum for being in good shape? I’m assuming it involves target heart rates, right?

Bonus points for combining cardio and strength and maybe even stretching (not sure if that last one’s really possible).

Any ideas?

*For everyday people, not Olympians.

Inspired by the thread regarding too many sets. Might not belong in this forum, for which I apologize in advance.

Deadlift, Power Clean, Squat, Bench Press.
combined with
Treadmill, Elliptical, Stationary Bike.

Or do circuit training, 12-20 stations covering all muscle groups done as fast as possible with as little rest as possible.

Good resource here.

Dunno if you’re into videos or not, but if you want a really efficient, ass-kicking workout, I recommend Jillian Michaels. She does not mess around.

Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism involves a really intense (really intense) cardio with strength training elements. There is never a point through the entire 50 minutes that you are not using some muscle of your body. Good luck getting through it the first time.

No More Trouble Zones, on the other hand, involves really intense strength training (and free weights) with moderate cardio. I only ever did it once. It was extremely challenging but unlike Banish Fat I did not get winded. Your arms will feel like they are going to fall off though.
Can buy them here.

I really can’t understate enough how challenging these workouts are physically. As such, I would hesitate to call them ‘‘fun,’’ particularly the first few times you do them. But eventually something will happen and you’ll start to enjoy the challenge of getting through it all. You want efficient, this is it.

I would say Crossfit. Most are under 30 minutes and they are VERY challenging. The speed with which you do the exercises and transitions are the cardio. The major caveat with Crossfit is that you do it properly. You can really hurt yourself with a lot of those exercises if you aren’t doing it right.

Most major cities will have a Crossfit center, but you can also do it at home if you have the right equipment. You could even set a routine up at the gym with their equipment if there is space.

Finish with 10 minutes of stretching.

For my money, the best and most efficient cardio exercise you can do is the rowing machine - when working hard (~2min/500) it is usually the fastest way to burn calories (compared with cycling/running/swimming), it works major muscle groups, and is low impact. 10-15 minutes on a rower is a massively serious cardio blast.

But the best and most productive exercise plan is always the one you like doing, as long as you keep challenging yourself.


I was going to hem an haw until I saw this. I’d be hard pressed to pick another workout that had provided such an overall workout so efficiently and low impact to boot. You just need to be sure someone shows you how to row properly. I’ve seen a lot of people at the gym who don’t row properly so aren’t getting nearly the benefits they could be.

I agree with this as well. Rowing is a fantastic overall workout.



This is a great workout, but the calories per unit time is low (compared to rowing/running/cycling), and you will generally get a softer body tone from swimming (serious swimmers with really good body tone are generally swimming several hours a day).

I like the idea of kettle bells/clubbells/sledgehammers. They can be used very effectively for a full range of toning, shaping and cardio. But they are somewhat more difficult to use correctly and safely. But not a bad option, especially with some bodyweight exercises as well (pressup/situp/crunch/pull-ups).


I’ve been reading that site a lot, and the problem I have with their central thesis (or at least one of their thesis’s) is the go heavy bit. The reason I have a problem with this is that the gym I currently go to (a free gym at work) doesn’t really allow me to do that (max dumbbells are 50lbs).

Any suggestions?

Do they have barbells or machines?

If dumbbells only, find exercises that work the same muscles or do bodyweight work

Instead of bench press, you can do flys or elevated pushups.
Pullups instead of rowing.

Bodyweight Culture

No barbells, one machine - which I can work my lats on. I guess I can do a machine bench press on it too. I just don’t like how it feels, really, but I’m not used to it.

I was looking over the program and I think I can manage - although I’m nervous about leg day. What is making me nervous is that I don’t know if I have the grip strength to do the low volume squats with dumbbells.

I hadn’t thought of flys, I’m of the mindset that this is a finishing move. On the prior webpage I would be the guy used to lots of sets (not necessarily lots of reps).

I think I can work around, now that I’m looking over the program more - I just wish that my job had a squat cage or a smith machine so that I could do barbells safely.

Thanks for the other link - I think I’ll incorporate a few items from their.

I was also concerned about ‘shrugs’, since the db’s only go up to 50 lbs. I was on the site again and they mentioned cable db shrugs - which I hadn’t even entertained as a thought.

Quick Question Pat (or anyone else who’s interested) - in the GQ thread, I used the link to research some suppliments and I was wondering what you might think of what I’m currently using.

First - my diet is heavy on protein (I read that this helps keep the muscle you have when trying to lose weight).

I’m also taking suppliments of L Glutamine and Taurine and a multi-vitamin, for the health aspect as well as muscle building.

Unfortunately, if you’re limited in equipment it will affect what you can do and achieve. If you can swing a membership to a full gym that would be best.

The bodyweight site will help fill in and also look through ExRx for DB alternatives.