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Best Workout Strategy for When You’re Tired (for Bodybuilders)

February 19, 2021

bodybuilding workout when youre tired

You made it to the gym but it’s one of those days where you’re just not feeling your best. You’re tired and can’t seem to get motivated.

It could be that you didn’t sleep well the night before or didn’t eat enough quality food to give you energy. Or maybe your work has been more stressful than usual.

I have the perfect workout solution for these types of day…

There’s a strategy that will help you get an awesome workout, even if you’re tired. And you won’t be just going through the motions at the gym. You’re going to feel the pump!

In fact, I’m going to give you a workout for every muscle using this strategy.

20-10 Workout – Your ‘Tired’ Workout Strategy

wide grip seated rows - back exercises

I call this the ‘20-10 Workout.’ And I’ll share how I got this workout at the end of this post (that’s an interesting story and history!).

In short, here’s the workout strategy for when you’re tired:

  • Do the same routine of exercises you normally do, but only do two sets for each
  • For the 1st set, do 20 reps
  • For the 2nd set, do 10 reps (increase the weight here)

That’s it! It’s that simple.

But how does this work?

  • That 1st set of 20 reps is going to pump more blood into your muscle, which will give you a natural energy boost.
  • The 2nd set will be heavier and since it’s your final set, you’ll have a tendency to go harder and more intense.

Also, you’ll decrease you rest between sets and between exercises so about 20-30 seconds. This is going make your workout go by much quicker.

Now I want to give you examples of this workout strategy for each muscle. I’ll also share some additional methods that will have you walking out of the gym jacked and pumped.

20-10 Back Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Lat Pulldowns1 x 20
1 x 10
Barbell Rows1 x 20
1 x 10
Hammer Strength High Rows1 x 20
1 x 10
Cable Pullovers1 x 20
1 x 10

Back day is your most taxing upper body workout of the week. And as you know, it’s disappointing to be tired on that day because you really want to give your back muscles the full attention they deserve.

However, you will be surprised what this short 20-10 workout can do for your back.

That first set of 20 reps is going to get the blood flowing throughout your lats and will give you that natural boost when it comes to the 2nd and final heavier set of 10 reps.

As you’re going through your back exercises, remember to:

  • Continue to focus on making your muscles work harder
  • Don’t allow yourself to get sloppy on your form

Also, you may find that you have a little more energy towards the end of your back workout. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to add another exercise and pump out another round of 20-10.

20-10 Chest Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Incline Barbell Press1 x 20
1 x 10
Dumbbell Press1 x 20
1 x 10
Cable Flyes1 x 20
1 x 10
Hammer Strength Press1 x 20
1 x 10

A good rule for chest day when you’re feeling tired is to skip the bench press. Why?

Because we all have that tendency to lift heavier on the bench press. Here’s the problem with that…

  • First, you may hurt yourself.
  • Secondly, you’re not going to get much out of that workout, especially with only doing two sets.

This is why I have you doing incline press instead. It’s easier to target your chest muscles on this exercise and that’s your goal.

Focus on contracting your chest muscles throughout each and every rep, both the 20 and 10-rep sets. You may even find that your chest is more sore than usual after this workout.

20-10 Leg Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats1 x 20
1 x 10
Leg Press1 x 20
1 x 10
Leg Extensions1 x 20
1 x 10
Lying Leg Curls1 x 20
1 x 10
Standing Calve Raises1 x 20
1 x 10

Like back day, leg day is another workout that needs more attention than your other muscles.

Because of that, my first recommendation would be to move your leg workout to the next day. Maybe just train arms or another smaller muscle on the day you’re feeling tired (I’m giving you a 20-10 arm workout later as well).

If you insist on training your legs that day, you can certainly benefit from using this 20-10 workout. And you’ll still get a great pump.

The key to making this type of workout (or any shorter workout) effective for your legs is to make every single rep count. This means you need extreme focus, which leads me to one of my favorite pre-workouts: Best Pre-Workout for Mental Focus and Energy.

Here are some more tips to help you on leg day when you’re feeling tired:

  • Slow down your reps and take your time
  • Similar to slowing down your reps, make sure you’re controlling the weight throughout each rep
  • Those first two tactics will force your muscles to work harder, which ultimately leads to more muscle growth
  • Don’t worry about going heavy; instead, make the lighter weight feel heavier by implementing these tactics

Again, it’s not ideal to train legs when you’re tired. And you may even want to skip squats that day. But you can still get a good leg workout with the 20-10 strategy.

20-10 Shoulder Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Arnold Dumbbell Press1 x 20
1 x 10
Hammer Strength Shoulder Press1 x 20
1 x 10
Lateral Raises1 x 20
1 x 10
Bent-over Raises1 x 20
1 x 10

When you’re tired at the gym, I don’t recommend doing heavy overhead barbell presses. You could injure yourself and you won’ get as much out of that exercise when you’re not feeling 100%.

This is why I have you not only starting with dumbbell press but specifically Arnold press.

Arnold press is where you start with your palms facing you and gradually turn your wrists outward as you press the dumbbells.

Like all other major muscle groups, you’ll want to focus on forcing your shoulder muscles to work harder. This means contracting your shoulders at the peak of each rep.

On exercises like lateral and bent-over raises, you can hold the weight at the peak of each rep for a second or two. This means you’ll need to go a little lighter, but that’s okay. Remember, the goal is to make your muscles do the work.

Lastly, if you have more energy at the end of your shoulder workout, considering doing an additional exercise like dumbbell shrugs or another type of lateral movement (ex: front raises or reverse pec-dec).

20-10 Arm Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Cable Pressdowns1 x 20
1 x 10
EZ Bar Curls1 x 20
1 x 10
Reverse Overhead Rope Extensions1 x 20
1 x 10
Preacher Curls1 x 20
1 x 10

If there’s a best day to workout when you’re tired it’s arm day. Why?

Because arms are smaller muscles that don’t require the level of effort as your larger muscles (like legs or back).

This doesn’t mean you should slack off on your arm training. Rather, you may find that this 20-10 workout method gives you a faster pump.

The one thing I recommend is to alternate your arm exercises. As you can see in the workout above, you’re doing an exercise for triceps followed by an exercise for biceps.

You can also take less rest time between sets. Since your arms are smaller muscles, they recover faster between sets. And this will give you an even greater pump, even when you’re tired.

Lastly, you may find it easy to throw in another exercise for triceps and biceps. And since this workout will be much shorter, feel free to end it with another small muscle like calves or abs (or both).

Where Did the 20-10 Workout Come From?

Technically, this strategy goes back to the Arnold Schwarzenegger era of bodybuilding. And it’s been passed down over decades but was never popularized (this is the case with many muscle-building methods and strategies).

I did the 20-10 workout for the first time the morning of writing this article for you. My good friend and longtime bodybuilder Lou shared it with me after seeing that I was looking tired.

He’s had the honor of training at the same gym as Arnold and with several top bodybuilders from that era like Tom Platz and Robby Robinson.

Fortunately, it was arm day. So he took me through the strategy. I was amazed by the pumps and the boost of energy I got from training this way. And I wanted to share this with you so that you can implement this on those days you’re feeling tired because we all have those days!

In closing, it does help to take a pre-workout that helps with your mental focus on these days. You can read about my recommended pre-workout here: Best Pre-Workout for Mental Focus and Energy.

Also, be sure to check out my elite training and nutrition programs here.

Train with Passion,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!