Short on time? This three-move workout plan is the fastest way to build muscle

Tri-sets are a time-efficient way to work your muscles and get stronger

Woman holding a dumbbell squat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Life sometimes gets in the way of our exercise plans. We don't always have time for long workouts between work, family, and social commitments. Fortunately, a new study has found the most efficient way to train if you want to build muscle.

Whether you exercise at the gym or use a set of the best adjustable dumbbells to train at home, the tri-set workout technique, where you perform three moves back-to-back before taking a short rest, is an efficient way to work your muscles.

This is backed up by a study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science. The researchers compared the effects of tri-set training against a more traditional approach of completing several single-move sets.

They found that tri-set training was a higher-intensity way to achieve more in a short amount of time and led to more significant muscle swelling. This, they suggest, could lead to increased muscle growth.

If you want to try the technique yourself, check out this 30-minute dumbbell workout from YouTube trainer Caroline Girvan. You'll do three exercises for 30 seconds each, take a short break, then move on to the next activity.

Watch Caroline Girvan's 30-minute tri-set workout

Girvan groups three complementary exercises into each tri-set, starting the round with two dumbbells before dropping to one in the second and finishing the set with a bodyweight move.

There's a lot of variety in the routine, too, with workout staples like squats, lunges, and chest presses making an appearance alongside moves like upright rows, bent-over rows, and curtsey lunges.

It's a time-efficient and very effective way to build muscle. However, according to the International Journal of Exercise Science study, it could have a few drawbacks that you need to factor into your training.

The researchers note that "the high levels of perceived effort induced by this system requires a stricter control of practitioner's levels of fatigue and might also require an eventual larger time needed for increased recovery."

Thankfully, you can promote recovery and reduce post-exercise delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) by spending some time massaging your muscles with one of the best foam rollers.

Your body also needs enough protein to repair your muscles after a workout, which is why it's worth adding some of the best protein powders for weight loss into your diet to help develop lean muscle.

James Frew
James Frew

James is a London-based journalist and Staff Writer at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.


In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.