Is This The Most Effective 20-Minute Workout For Building Muscle? This Elite Coach Thinks So

Man holding dumbbells by his shoulders
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Building muscle isn’t easy. If it was, a lot more people would look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But there are techniques you can use to make the most of the time you spend in the weights room. 

Take myo-reps, for example. It’s an approach created by top trainer Borge Fagerli and it delivers the same gains as a lengthy lifting session in a fraction of the time. 

Myo-reps can be used by anyone, Fagerli tells me. He’s seen success with bodybuilders, powerlifters, everyday gym-goers and himself, with all parties reporting improved strength and muscle mass. But it’s a particularly handy tactic for busy people to have in their back pocket. 

“It will have people in and out of the gym in 15-20 minutes,” Fagerli says. “I’ve had personal training clients who would come in for a lunch training session and get a good workout in. And they kept gaining and gaining off just two workouts per week. 

“Whereas before they were doing three to four workouts per week, lasting 60 to 90 minutes each, and not getting the same gains.”

But for myo-reps to be effective, you have to push yourself.

“Some people spend a long time in the gym without pushing themselves,” Fagerli says. “If they’re doing a 20-minute workout that’s really tough, much harder than they’re used to, then they will make great gains from it.”

How To Do Borge Fagerli’s Myo-Reps Workout

Complete one myo-reps set of each exercise below, resting two minutes between moves.

  1. Leg press
  2. Leg curl
  3. Incline bench press
  4. Dumbbell shoulder press
  5. Lat pull-down

A myo-reps set involves multiple sets. Begin with an activation set of eight to 15 reps, using a weight that leaves you with two reps in reserve. After this, put down the weight and take three to five deep breaths.

Now choose a target number of reps from three to five. Fagerli says getting the right number of target reps here can take some trial and error, but as a rule of thumb, strength-oriented lifters tend to favor three reps while muscular endurance-minded athletes prefer five. After you complete the deep breaths, pick the weight back up and complete a set with your chosen number of reps. 

Put the weight down again, take another three to five deep breaths, then attempt another set of three to five reps. Once you can no longer complete a set of yours  target number of reps, the myo-reps set is done. Rest for two minutes and move on to the next exercise. 

How To Train Using Myo-Reps

Fagerli says your training frequency will determine how you should use them as they can be demanding on the body. 

“If you’re doing two workouts per week, I would do full-body sessions,” he says. “If you’re doing three or four, you’re more likely looking at some sort of alternating upper/lower or push/pull split. This would have a slightly lower training frequency [per muscle group] so you have a better chance of recovering.”

If you want to follow a two-day workout split and you’re on the hunt for a second weekly myo-reps workout to cycle with the one above, Fagerli has some suggestions there too.

“To train the legs, you pair either a compound exercise for quads and an isolation for the hamstrings, or the opposite,” says Fagerli. “So another combination is a straight-leg deadlift, or other deadlift, and a leg extension.”

He also suggests including a row variation, like a seated cable row, as well as one chest exercise and one shoulder exercise

“If you wanted to, you could also add in a biceps and triceps exercise, but at that point you’re already training those muscles indirectly with the compound lifts,” says Fagerli.

See more tried-and-tested options in my guide to the best protein powder.

Harry Bullmore
Staff writer

Harry covers news, reviews and features for Coach, Fit&Well and Live Science. With over a decade of training experience, he has tried everything from powerlifting to gymnastics, cardio to CrossFit, all in a bid to find fun ways of building a healthy, functional body.