How many exercises do you do per workout? Four? Six? Ten? More?!
While variety plays a vital part in building muscle size and strength, training your muscles with multiple exercises can be time-consuming. There is also a danger of there being some redundancies in your workouts if you include too many similar movements. After all, a curl is a curl, whether you do it with dumbbells, a barbell, or using a cable machine.
In short, the standard approach to bodybuilding is very time-consuming and may even involve a lot of wasted time.
That’s not an issue for young guys with unlimited energy and very few commitments. But, older, busier lifters may find it much harder to find the time and energy to train with a ton of volume and high-frequency workouts.
So, what if we told you that you can boil your workouts down to just two exercises for your entire body? Imagine how time-efficient and liberating such short workouts would be. Less time training and more time for rest, recovery, and getting on with your out-of-gym life.
In this article, we reveal some two-exercise workouts that are ideal for time-pressed bodybuilders. Use them when you don’t have time to follow a more comprehensive program or need a low-volume workout that’s easier to recover from.
Two-Exercise Workouts for Bodybuilders
How can you train your entire body with just two exercises? The answer is to use movements that engage the most muscle groups possible. That means things like leg extensions and biceps curls are out, and deadlifts, bench presses, and power cleans are in.
It’s also important to recognize that such exercise minimalism means that some smaller muscles may not get much of a workout. However, by focusing on the big muscles, you can still train most of your body using just two exercises.
These two-exercise workouts are not perfectly balanced, but that’s out of necessity. A few weeks of minimalistic training won’t turn you into the bodybuilding equivalent of Frankenstein. Any subsequent muscle imbalances can easily be fixed at a later date.
So, while you probably won’t build an award-winning physique by doing just two exercises per workout, you will end up thicker, stronger, and more powerful.
Try these two exercise workouts to discover how little training you actually need to build muscle and get stronger. Don’t be fooled by their brevity – providing you push yourself hard, they’re still demanding workouts.
Workout #1 – Deadlifts and Bench Press
While deadlifts are often thought of as a leg or back exercise, they actually work many more muscle groups, including your biceps, traps, forearms, and core. Combined with bench presses, which work your chest, shoulders, and triceps, these two exercises provide a pretty comprehensive full-body workout.
Follow the links to learn how to do deadlifts and bench presses.
Workout #2 – Squats and Dips
Squats are the crowned king of leg exercises. However, holding a heavy weight on your shoulders also provides your upper body with a decent workout. Doing dips after squats will develop your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Between them, these two exercises work 90% of your body.
Follow the links to learn how to do squats and dips.
Workout #3 – Power Clean and Overhead Press
Power cleans are almost a whole-body workout by themselves. Working your legs and upper body simultaneously, you’ll probably get bigger and stronger by doing this single movement. Increase upper body training by pairing power cleans with overhead presses. You can do these exercises separately or combine them into one movement, i.e., the clean and press, to save even more time.
Follow the links to learn how to do power cleans and overhead presses.
Workout #4 – Zercher Squat and Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Zercher squats work your legs like regular squats but involve more upper body engagement. You’ll feel this exercise in your biceps, back, and core, as well as your lower body. Pair them with incline dumbbell bench presses to work your chest, shoulders, and triceps, too.
Follow the links to learn how to do Zercher squats and incline dumbbell bench presses.
Workout #5 – Trap Bar Deadlift and Weighted Push-ups
Trap bar (or hex bar) deadlifts are a lot like squats with your arms by your sides. As such, they’re very lower back-friendly and a great way to build bigger, more muscular legs. However, they don’t provide much of a lat workout.
Weighted push-ups are a excellent way to train your pecs without workout equipment. Just pull on a rucksack loaded with a few weight plates and start cranking out the reps.
This workout is ideal for home exercisers and anyone forced to train without a spotter as both exercises can be done to failure in relative safety.
Follow the links to learn how to do trap bar deadlifts and weighted push-ups.
Workout #6 – Deficit Deadlift and Thrusters
Deficit deadlifts involve a larger range of motion than conventional deadlifts, which increases lower body and upper back engagement. Thrusters combine a front squat with an overhead press to work almost your entire body in one movement. In fact, if you are REALLY short of time, thrusters could be the perfect one-exercise workout.
Many exercisers do thrusters with light weights for high reps to develop conditioning and endurance. Still, they can also be done with heavy weights for low reps to build muscle and strength.
Follow the links to learn how to do deficit deadlifts and thrusters.
Workout #7 – Power Cleans and Floor Press
As we’ve already established, power cleans are a great one-stop full-body exercise. Pairing power cleans with floor presses means you can train your whole body with just two exercises. Use a medium-width grip with the floor presses to maximize pec AND triceps development. As an added bonus, floor presses are very shoulder-friendly and ideal for banged up bodybuilders with achy joints.
If you want an alternative to power cleans, try high-pulls instead, which work the same muscles but are a little easier to learn. Or, you could try snatches, but they’re considerably more technically demanding.
Follow the links to learn how to do power cleans and floor presses.
Sets and Reps
While there is nothing wrong with doing the usual 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, you’ll get better results from these workouts if you rotate set and rep schemes from one workout to the next. This will help make up for the lack of variety in the workouts themselves.
For example, if you chose workout #1, deadlifts and dips, a week of training could look something like this:
- Workout 1 – Ramp up in sets of 5 to your 5-rep max.
- Workout 2 – 12, 10, 8, 6, 15-rep pyramid (15 reps done with a light weight for pump/endurance).
- Workout 3 – 8 sets of 3 reps with your 5-RM from workout 1.
Related: Sets vs. Reps: Everything You Need to Know
Can I Add other Exercises to The Two-Exercise Workouts?
The idea behind these two exercise workouts is to get by with the least number of exercises possible. But, obviously, that can leave some developmental gaps. So, while you can train most of your muscles with just two exercises, there will always be some that are left untrained.
So, if you want a more rounded training experience, feel free to add whatever you need to plug the gaps left by using such a minimalist training approach.
However, try to limit yourself to just 1-2 extra exercises to stay true to the spirit of the programs. After all, the aim name of the game is training minimalism.
For example, squats and dips (workout #2) involve very little latissimus dorsi or biceps work. A few sets of weighted chins are all you need to add to balance this program. So, if you do want to add more exercises, use the fewest number possible. Choose movements that involve multiple muscle groups and deliver the biggest bang for your buck.
Such a minimalist approach to bodybuilding is probably not ideal for long-term use. Muscle imbalances are inevitable, and your aesthetics may suffer if you limit your workouts to just two exercises.
But, if you don’t care much about building a balanced physique and are more interested in just getting big and strong, such abbreviated workouts can be helpful. For example, they’re ideal for athletes who need to dedicate time to team practices and conditioning.
Some powerlifter and Olympic lifters use a similar approach, only doing their competitive lifts in training.
However, you should change workouts from time to time to avoid developing some body parts more than others. Alternatively, you could choose three different workouts and do each one once per week.
Either way, you’ll be amazed at how productive such minimalist workouts can be. Providing you work hard, even just two exercises per workout are enough to build strength and muscle mass.
When it comes to strength and bodybuilding training, sometimes less is more!