Q and A: Probably the Only Time an Astrophysicist Will Ever Ask ME a Question.

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Q: First let me say that I think your blog is fantastic. I’m a long time reader, and I find your approach to fitness both entertaining and infinitely informative as I always look forward to reading it. My question is a brief one. I’m a PhD student in astrophysics, and things have really been ramping up lately as I get close to my thesis. My overall goal is just to improve my strength in the bench press, squat, deadlift, and chinup which are at 1.25x, 1.25x, 1.5x, and +40 lbs respectively. If I only have 30 min. three times per week, how would you approach this? Thanks Tony, and keep up the awesome blog!

A: First off, thank you so much for the kind words, I really do appreciate it. Secondly, and don’t lie, do you drop the “I’m an astrophysicist” line at the bar whenever you’re out? I totally would.

I can totally picture it now: You’re sitting there minding your own business talking with your boys about stellar dynamics, dark matter, or I don’t know, large-scale structure (see picture of Kim Kardashian below), when you spot the attractive brunette across the bar. That’s when you bust out the A-game: Aristarchus’ heliocentric theory y’all! Jesus, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Okay, in all seriousness, I think you may be the only astrophysicist that reads my blog, and I totally take that as a compliment. If you’re ever stationed at NASA, I want a tour! Now, to answer your question.

You stated you want to namely focus on the “big 3” (squat, deadlift, bench press), as well as chin-ups. Cool. I can tell you right off the bat that what’s NOT going to work is following some inane bodybuilding split (arm day, chest day, back day, tibialis anterior day) – particularly given your time restraints. Given that you already stated that you DO squat, deadlift, and bench, I don’t think we have to worry about that. Moving on.

Here’s how I would structure things. You have three days during the week to get after it, so I would try to assign a specific “main” lift to each day. Something like this:

Monday: Deadlift

Wednesday: Bench Press

Friday: Squat

I’d dedicate the first 15-20 minutes of each training session to JUST that lift, utilizing a undulated scheme amongst the different days. So, for example, on Monday it may look something like this:

A1. Conventional Deadlifts 4×5

A2. Some form of “filler” exercise that’s going to help counteract the endless hours you’re going to be studying. So, I’d include stuff like Scapular Wall Slides, Quadruped Extensions-Rotations, Wall Hip Flexor Mobilizations, or maybe even some Supine No-Money Drills (see video below). I’d probably pick 1-2 exercises and do both of them, then go on to my next set.

All in all, that should take you roughly 15-20 minutes, and the rest of the time can be spent doing the something similar to the following:

B1. Band Resisted Push-ups 3×8

B2. DB Step-ups (deadlifts are more hip dominant, so it makes sense that if you’re going to include a single leg movement, it should be more “quad” dominant in nature) 3×8/leg

B3. TRX Rows (or any kind of horizontal row variation) 3×10

B4. Pallof Press 3×8/side.

Complete the above in circuit fashion (B1-B4) without stopping, resting for 30-45 seconds at the end of each.

Wednesday may look something like this:

A1. Close Grip Bench Press or Chin-Up variation: 3×8

A2. Filler exercise

B1. Goblet Squat w/Pulse 3×6

B2. Seated Cable Row 3×10

B3. 1-Legged DB Romanian Deadlift 3×8/leg

B4. Stability Ball Roll-Outs 3×10

Again, perform in circuit fashion (B1-B4) with no rest between exercises, resting only at the end of each circuit for 30-45 seconds.


A1. Front Squats 2×15

A2. Split Stance Cable Lifts 2×10/side

B1. DB Reverse Lunge 3×8/leg

B2. DB Floor Press 3×8

B3. Face Pulls w/ External Rotation 3×12

B4. 1-Legged Hip Thrusters 3×8/leg

Now, from here you will just “rotate” the set/rep scheme on a week by week basis with the main lifts (undulated periodization).

Week 1:

Monday: Deadlifts 4×5

Wednesday: Bench 3×8

Friday: Squat 2×15

Week 2:

Monday: Deadlifts: 2×15

Wednesday: Bench 4×5

Friday: Squat: 3×8

I think you get the idea. As well, you can also change the set/rep scheme structure every month if you wish.

Instead of 4×5, do 6×3

Instead of 3×8, do 4×6

Instead of 2×15, do 3×12

The possibilities are endless. Also, and I think this goes without saying, you can play around with the accessory work. I just gave some general examples, but you can certainly tweak things based off your needs and equipment availability. All in all, I think this approach will bode well for you because you’re going to get your strength training in, as well as some conditioning work as well. Is it perfect? No. But I think it’s a great starting point.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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