Use Minimal Space and Less Equipment: How To Build Strength and Burn Fat in a Busy Gym

Pairing exercises and building circuits is a great way to elevate the heart rate, burn more fat and get stronger more efficiently. That’s all well and good to know, but there’s an issue there when it comes to big gyms, and no one’s really talking about it.

How do you do it without taking up too much space.

In today’s article I’ll give you some principles on how to build your own pairings, and at the bottom of the article I give you a whole bunch of examples. So, you’ll get some ideas to take away and use immediately. You might even be able to start coming up with some of your own.

You may think that a personal trainers job is to coach exercises effectively, write great programs and even coach the nutritional side of a client’s fitness goals.

And you’d be right.

But at the core of it all, a personal trainers job is to be a specialist with exercise. Not just with programming and coaching, but also with how to use different spaces effectively. I’ve coached people in commercial gyms, smaller studios, semi-private settings, hotel/condos, their own house, and even a jail. All of them come with their own challenges.

                              Hahaha, no no, I was training a guard.

It’s my job to fit a client, and their goals, to the equipment available. Or not available. Some jobs are easier than others.

Putting exercises together, in series, is great for fat burning, muscle growth, and overall efficiency with your workout time. It also cuts out that awkward time between sets where you aren’t doing anything.


For those that just want some examples. Slide downward. The videos are below.

Note: training for strength is best done without pairing – just one exercise at a time. But when it comes to fat loss, maintaining (and building) strength is the #1 component when it comes to training. However, #2 is revving up the metabolism. So you can combine the two by pairing exercises that work opposite body parts, so one gets fresh while the other works — and vice versa.

Overlying Principles

One Station Maximum

Stations include:

This is key. And it’s not like you can’t have 2 or even 3 stations in a pairing or circuit, but you want to minimize it for the sake of your sanity in a crowded gym.

  • bench press
  • adjustable bench
  • squat rack
  • 6 by 6 foot space
  • cable station
  • machine

Max 2 sets of Equipment


  • Little things like bands (they barely count)
  • Barbells…probably want to avoid bringing two barbells to a station and may want to avoid bringing a free barbell to lay beside a bench press. All depends on how your gym is set up.

In the examples below, I made it work with only 1 piece of equipment. But it’s not a big deal to have a couple pairs of DBs or a few small pieces of equipment around a station.

Stuff you can bring to a station:

  • barbell
  • dumbells
  • kettlebells
  • stability ball
  • ab wheel
  • bands

Stick mostly to 2-3 exercises 

Mostly just because we’re sticking with the theme of the article, which is to make it simple. Four or five exercises put together can work – especially for improving the rate of fat loss – but it gets a little trickier making it all work in busy gyms.

By the way, I’ll be drawing up 52 FREE fat loss workouts for you and many of them will require minimal equipment – so keep an eye out.  Coming soon. 

Manipulate reps, grips, tempos, and exercises choices to make it fit


All this means is that you can change reps to avoid the need to change weights between exercises. For instance, you’re probably stronger in a 3 Point DB Row than a One Arm DB Bench Press, but it’s a really simple pairing for strength/fat loss. You could just grab 3 dumbbells (a pair, and one for the One Arm Press) OR you could do 8 Presses and 10 Rows with the same weight.

Either way.


This is really just manipulating biomechanics to avoid needing more equipment (or stations).

You may be (much?) stronger with a normal Incline DB Bench Press compared to a Chest Supported DB Row (which is done on a low incline bench). By turning the hands to face eachother (neutral grip), you bring it back to equal. That’s another option.

A1. Neutral Grip DB Bench Press 3×8

A2 Chest Supported DB Row 3×8

Tempos (how the rep is performed)

Whether, 1.5 reps, slower lowering (eccentrics), constant tension, pauses, you can use all of these to limit equipment needed.

Lets say one exercise is with a given weight is way harder than another, but the pairing is nice and convenient. You can give that exercise a harder tempo to equal them out.

As a general rule, ALL of these tempos will make exercises harder — especially 1.5s.

A1. Incline DB Press 3×10

A2. 3 Point DB Row 1.5s 3×8

Chances are, with this pairing, you could use the same dumbbells. You might be a little weaker in an Incline DB Press then you would be with a 3 Point DB Row. But if you give it a really tougher tempo, like a pause at the bottom, you probably even it out.

Exercise choices

And of course, some pairings just aren’t going to work. Lat pulldown with bench press – two stations. Not that you can’t do it, just that you run greater risk of losing your spot.

Fat Loss/Strength Principles

Opposing/unrelated body parts/movements worked — mostly.

For no other reason than we want to maximize the work done all over the body. Pair a chest supported DB Row and an incline DB press together and you’ll be stronger for each. Your back gets a break while you press and your chest gets a break while you row.

So for upper body, pair pushes with pulls, and for lower body you can think squat variations with deadlift variations or just lower body with core/mobility exercises.

Part of this is exercise economy and part of this is just saving energy for more strength.

Almost exclusively, consists of large movements that use multiple points at a time (bench press vs bicep curl, Squat vs Leg Curl Machine)

Not that you can’t do bicep curls and tricep kickbacks during a fat loss phase – if you like to, go for it (I included a few examples at the bottom). But you’ll want to prioritize bigger movements in order to create a bigger metabolic boost, make better use of your limited energy, and better maintain (or gain) strength.

Use Bodyweight Exercises To Your Advantage

An extra bodyweight core exercise or mobility exercise (like the yoga plex) on the end of any pairing just adds to the metabolic effect without adding any bulk to your station.

Stick mostly between 5-10 reps (exceptions do exist)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my 4 Bottom Lines of Fat Burning and if there’s one thing I wanted to make really clear on the training side of things is maintaining (and ideally gaining) strength during a fat loss phase is the key.

It’s not sweating and jacking up your heart rate. That’s definitely useful, but it isn’t priority number 1.

So for strength, we typically stick with lower reps. And you can certainly go lower but for now we’ll stick between 5-10. This probably isn’t what you’ve been told or have just come to “know” about fat burning workouts. You’ve probably been told to work between 10-15 reps per set. You can, especially near the end of workouts. But you’re best spending most of your time with heavier weights and that’s done with lower reps.

The goal of a fat loss training program is to keep muscle, while the diet drives weight loss. Combined with protein, you burn fat. 

Not my opinion, it’s literally how it works.

Okay, okay…time for the workouts.

Before you get into it, please note, I chose examples that use as little equipment as possible. If you’re like “well, I really don’t mind taking two full pairs of dumbbells to a bench”, then do that. If it makes more sense or makes it easier and it works in your gym – do your thing.

In most cases the programs I build around fat loss and strength are split between upper body and lower body where core work is done on the lower body days. That’s not a rule, it’s just how I often do it. So feel free to use the principles above and the examples below and create your own.

As you’ll see, there are several push/pull combinations, some lower body and core combos and a few isolation combinations as well.

Upper Body Pairings

One Arm DB Press and 3 Point Dumbbell Rows 3 sets x 10 reps for each.

For the 3 Point Row, on one hand I used a 3 second lowering phase, and on the other a 1.5 rep tempo. It’s an example of what I was talking about in the tempo section. Could have easily just grabbed a heavier weight too. 

Push Ups and Inverted Rows – 3×10 for each

I went narrow grip with a 1.5 because I’m way stronger at push ups at that height than inverted rows. Usually I’d have just done some some sort push up off the ground. You can also adjust the rack. 

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press and Bent Over DB Rows – 3×10 for both

Split Stance Landmine Press with Meadow’s Rows and Landline Rotations – 3×8, 3×10 and 3×8/side

The landmine is a great tool and you can use it creatively for presses, rows and deadlift and squat variations. Plus these landmine rotations are great too (make sure to turn your hips and belly button with the bar and use your hips/obliques to get out of the bottom as much as possible)

Lat Pulldown and Tricep Pressdowns 3×10-12 and 3×12-20

Lower Body Pairings (except the T-Bar Row…that one just made sense)


Landmine Reverse Lunges with T-Bar Rows – 3×8/side and 3×12

Lots of things you can do with the landmine.



Stability Ball Leg Curl and Stability Ball Stir the Pot – 3×8-12 and 3×6-8/side

Here’s a nice convenient pairing between two great, but little used, exercises for the hamstrings and core. Just try and use a ball that’s actually inflated…oops.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats and Long Lever Plank

A lot of the lower body options can be pretty simple if you’re pairing with core. This is just one of an endless number of options. 

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift to Reverse Lunge Combo with Dumbbell Assisted Leg Lifts

My camera guy – a 5 pound dumbbell laid on a bench – really failed me here. And forget the pairing for a second, these Single leg RDLs with Reverse Lunges are killler…and you can “combo” them with walking lunges, forward lunges and come up with other combos too. 

And some pump stuff, because it’s fun

Low Incline Chest Flyes with Chest Supported Rear Delt Flyes

You can do chest flyes on a flat bench or even more of an incline, but it works seamlessly with how you’d want it for Rear Delt Flyes. So there we put it. 

Seated DB Hammer Curls with Lying DB Tricep Extensions

You’ll probably be stronger with one of these over the other, so you can definitely vary rep ranges somewhere between 10-20 for either. Or just bring two pairs of DBs. Either works. 

Cable Tricep Pressdowns and Cable Curls 3×12-20 each

This one works seamlessly and you can use all kinds of different handles and rep ranges to keep it fresh.

Once your exercise library starts to grow, you’ll see all kinds of different ways you can efficiently put multiple exercises together, without clogging up too much space. Use that growing library with the principles above and you’ve got an endless amount of options.

In a busy gym, it’s a really under-appreciated skill to have.

Thanks for reading.

PS. If you’ve got any questions, drop me a line HERE














Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s