The challenges of staying in shape during college can seem daunting. Limited time with classes and possibly working a job. High levels of stress and lack of sleep. Depending on the school, you may not always have access to a great gym either.
Is all of this to blame for the “freshman 15,” or are these merely minor obstacles to be overcome with a little ingenuity?
Despite being pretty busy and broke in college (and my school gym constantly closing for events), I still managed to get in the absolute best shape of my life during that time.
You’re about to discover my “ninja” strategies on how to stay fit in college. Discover which exercises and workout routines will get and keep you in shape even if you’re busy, broke, and don’t have access to a gym.
For those who find the healthy eating aspect of college to be the biggest challenge, I highly recommend you check out my other article on eating healthy with a busy schedule as well as my free fitness survival guide which has tips for eating healthy on a budget.
Workout Routines For Busy College Students
High Intensity Resistance Training Workouts
I highly recommend everyone, guys and girls, do some form of heavy resistance training. The reason being is that more muscle helps keep your metabolism high and body fat low.
While some women (and a few guys) shy away from heavy training for fear it will make them “bulky,” it is very difficult to get too bulky from resistance training without eating a lot of extra calories on a consistent basis. Just look at how many guys try to bulk up and struggle to do so despite their best efforts.
For busy college students, I recommend following a program that only requires you to workout 2-3 times a week at most. Even if you think you have more time, I’ve found there are so many unexpected things that can come up in college that it’s better to be cautious.
I also recommended full body routines or upper / lower body splits instead of working out each body part on its own day. While each way is effective, full body or upper/lower routines seem to maintain fitness better if you happen to miss days at the gym.
Finally, a weekend only weight training routine works great for college students who may be too busy with classes during the week.
Quick and Effective Resistance Training Routines
- 3 Day Minimalist Workout – PDF, right click and save to computer. Courtesty of fitnessblackbook.com
- 3 Day Weekend Training Routine
- Starting Strength 3 Day Routine
- 2 Day A Week Minimalist Program
No Gym Routines
Supersets and Circuit Routines
Let’s say you’ve already got an exercise plan you’re following, but you’d like to cut it down from 45-60 minutes to something under 30 minutes.
A great way to do this is alternate between exercises for different muscles in a “super-set” fashion.
For instance, if your plan calls for 3 sets of squats, with 2 minutes rest between sets, followed by 3 sets of calf raises with 2 minutes rest between sets, you can simply go back and fourth between squats and calf raises in a circuit fashion only resting momentarily between each set.
Another way to think of this is “active rest.” Rather than resting between sets, always be doing some exercise. This works particularly well with smaller muscle groups likes calves, abs, and forearms which are easy to incorporate between sets for larger muscle groups.
Rather than spending 20 minutes at the beginning or end of a workout working your abs (keep in mind six pack abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym), simply mix in your sets of ab exercises while resting up between your exercises for other muscles.
As a bonus, by cutting down rest time, you’re taxing your cardiovascular system and are getting cardio benefits as well.
Complexes are similar to circuit training in that you’re doing multiple exercises in succession with no rest between them. The difference is complexes utilize the same barbell or dumbbell weight throughout.
For instance, you may take a 45 pounds barbell and do a set of 6 reps for squats, then go to overhead presses for 6 reps, to lunges for 6 reps, and then finish with rows for 6 reps. Each exercise is done one right after the other with no rest between each exercise. Each cycle through the exercises is one “complex.”
Complexes allow you to burn fat, enhance your conditioning, and even can spur on a little extra muscle growth all around the body. This makes them the perfect option for time crunched students who need to get in and out of the gym in 20 minutes and want to get everything taken care of. The downside is… they’re brutal.
Complex Workout Routines
Do you need to spend hours on the treadmill punishing yourself for a weekend of partying and desparately hoping to prevent the after effects from showing up on your midsection?
Not at all!
From both a fat loss and conditioning standpoint, shorter and more intense workouts tend to be more effective so long as they don’t interfere with recovery from other activities.
Here are a few simple things you can do to keep your body fat down and conditioning high. Note, you only need to do a total of 2-3 cardio sessions a week when they’re high intensity. So pick one of these things and do it 2-3 times a week, or pick 2-3 different workouts and do each one once a week.
If you only had 10 minutes to spare a week to exercise and could only do one thing, just do these. 10-20 minutes a week is all you need when done right. Kettlebell swings are on of the best exercises for a better butt, and more power for men in sports. Plus, they can even be done in a dorm room.
Aim for 75 total reps in a session. Rest around 60 seconds between sets. Do this 2-3 times a week.
You can do intervals by either sprinting on land, using a treadmill, or cycling on a bike.
After a 5-10 minute warmup, apply all out effort for 30 seconds. Then go at a low intensity slower pace for 1:30 to catch your breathe, then do another 30 seconds of high intensity. Repeat the cycle of high intensity and low intensity for 4-6 cycles total. Do this 2-3 times per week.
Walking As Fast As Possible
Believe it or not, this is how some of the world’s elite athletes keep their conditioning high. One problem with aerobics is that as your body becomes more efficient at doing the movements. Over time they are less challenging and don’t burn as many calories.
Attempting to walk as fast as possible is by its very nature inefficient. This makes it very demanding without adding stress to the joints like running. The other benefit is that it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to achieve maximum benefits.
How to do it? Just walk as fast as possible for 15-20 minutes. Next time, attempt to beat the distance covered in the previous session in the same time period. Repeat 2-3 times a week.
Incline walking is a low impact way to get in a great cardio workout while also working the calves and glutes extra hard.
Set a treadmill incline to 15-30 degrees, and walk at 2-4mph for 15-20 minutes 2-3x per week.
Rebounding, more commonly known as jumping on a trampoline, is considered by many to be the best form of exercise. NASA even uses rebounding to train their astronauts.
The reason? Rebounding increases gravitational forces on each cell of the body causeing a flush in the lymph system and a literal strengthening of every cell in the body. Your lymph system requires movement to keep it flowing (perhaps one reason why exercise is needed for good health) and nothing I’ve come across does a better job of this than rebounding.
It also burns more calories per hour than jogging making it very time efficient. Not only that, but you can rebound in a dorm room (even while watching TV) on a mini-trampoline making this quite possibly the perfect exercise for college students.
Rebound for 20-45 minutes as many times per week as you want. Great to do while watching tv, listening to audio lecture notes, or just when you want to clear your mind.
Dorm Room Friendly Exercises
If you can’t get to a gym, that doesn’t mean you can’t get in a good workout. Your bodyweight, and perhaps a few accessories are all you need to get a great workout in the comfort of a dorm room.
Here are some great bodyweight exercises.
Pushups – Hands against the wall as the easiest variation all the way up to handstand pushups as one of the hardest variations.
Pullups – An inexpensive pull-up bar can be purchased that doesn’t need to screw into your door. If you’re not strong enough to do pullups, you can use a chair or a partner for assistance. If you want to make pullups more difficult, try adding a backpack with some books for extra resistance.
For the really hardcore, you can add some gymnastic rings to the pullup bar for the best upper body workout of your life. Even if you’re one of the strongest guys in the gym, the various bodyweight exercises that can be done on rings provide endless challenge.
Lower Body Exercises
- Single Leg Squats
- High Step Ups
Inexpensive Dorm Room Exercise Equipment
If I had virtually no budget, than just getting a couple 1 and 2.5 gallon water containers would be all I need to get in a good workout. Water jugs make the perfect alternative to dumbbells. You can simply buy a handful and fill them up to various weights.
- 1/2 gallon = 4 pounds
- 1 gallon = 8 pounds
- 2 gallons = 16 pounds
- 2.5 gallons = 20 pounds
- 3+ gallons = You’re the college student, figure it out.
Just about every single exercise can be done with resistance bands making these perfect for getting a total body workout in a dorm room. Resistance bands with door anchors also allow you to set up resistance bands at various heights using your door to keep them in place.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the only piece of exercise you equipment you need for your abs. They are brutal, but that’s what makes them effective.
You don’t have to have 30-60 minute blocks of time to get in a good workout. 2-3 minutes here and there is all you really need to drop down and do a set of pushups or bodyweight squats. You can carry a set of resistance bands in your backpack and whip them out on breaks to do a few band rows and arm exercises.
These “mini workouts” start to add up throughout the day and week. Remember, something is better than nothing. So don’t let a busy schedule keep you from keeping active and keeping yourself in great shape.
These tips are only scratching the surace of how to work out on a busy schedule or without a gym in college. Be sure to check out the Excuse Proof Fitness Survival Guide and newsletter where I share tons more healthy living fitness tips for people on a busy schedule and budget as well as the other things I did to stay in great shape in college. Also be sure to check out my youtube channel for quick healthy recipes perfect for college students.
What are you favorite ways to stay fit in college?