You’ve probably never heard of John Patrick O’Shea. Google him and you may read about how he survived a 60-foot fall into Mount St Helens—and not about how he created one of the world’s most effective workouts.
That workout originated in 1987, when O’Shea, a competitive weight-lifter and an exercise scientist at Oregon State, wrote in the National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal about a training method he’d spent most of the previous two decades developing. He called it “interval weight training,” a high-intensity routine combining strength and cardio that’s done at a blistering pace.
At first the regimen attracted little attention, but it eventually gained a cult following among a handful of strength and conditioning coaches. That’s how the founders of Gym Jones, a Salt Lake City fitness facility, first discovered it.
“We got our hands on a copy of that paper,” says Rob MacDonald, the gym’s general manager. “Then we started sharing the method with our clients, and it soon became the answer for anyone who needed to build endurance, strength, and power in as little time as possible.”
In the Gym Jones interval weight-training workout, you select a lift that works every muscle in your body, a fast-paced cardio exercise, and a high-rep body-weight finisher. You do three all-out circuits of the big lift and the endurance exercise and then cap those off with the finisher. Then you choose three new exercises and repeat. It’s simple, but done right it’s devastatingly effective.
Of course, as with any workout, intensity is the key. In other words, the harder you work, the greater the benefit. That’s why Gym Jones has its clients aim for a specific distance or number of repetitions in each of the intense two-minute cardio bouts.
“That holds you accountable,” says MacDonald. “You know how hard you went because there’s that unbiased, unapologetic number staring you right in the face after you’re finished.”
The structure is what makes this so different from all other interval workouts you have ever done, says MacDonald. It’s one thing to do 10 goblet squats and a 2-minute row three times in a row. It’s a complete other to do 10 goblet squats and then a 575-meter row in 2 minutes three times in a row. Then, you still have to top it all off with a bodyweight finisher.
Twenty-nine years later, interval weight training remains arguably the single most effective way to build world-class endurance, strength, and power in the shortest time possible. Give a shot with the workout from Gym Jones below. Prepare to push yourself, and reap the rewards.
Directions: Select a total-body lift (exercise 1), a cardio trial (exercise 2), and a body-weight finisher (exercise 3). Do 10 reps of the lift; then immediately do 2 minutes of the cardio trial, attempting to reach the suggested distance or numeric goal. Do the lift and cardio trial back-to-back 3 times in a row.
Then do all your reps of the body-weight finisher. Rest 2 minutes. That’s the first round.
Complete 3 rounds. All of that is 1 cycle. Now rest for 5 minutes—you will definitely need it! Then pick three different exercises and complete another cycle.
Exercise 1: Total-Body Lift
Option A: Goblet Squat
Stand with your feet slightly beyond shoulder width. Cup the top end of a vertical dumbbell with both hands or grasp a kettlebell by its “horns” (the sides of the handle). Hold the weight in front of your chest, your elbows pointing down. Keeping your back straight, push your hips back, bend your knees, and squat. Pause; push back up. That’s 1 rep.
Goal weight: 70-pound dumbbell or 32-kilogram kettlebell
Option B: Manmaker
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your hips and knees and squat, placing the dumbbells on the floor. Continue to grip the dumbbells as you kick your legs backward into a pushup position. Now row each dumbbell to your chest, one at a time. Do a pushup. Jump your feet forward and stand, pushing thedumbbells overhead as you do. That’s 1 rep.
Goal weight: 25-pound dumbbells
Option C: Push Press
Hold a pair of dumbbells next to your shoulders, your elbows bent and close to your sides. Brace your abs as you dip your knees so you’re in a quarter squat. Now explosively push up with your legs as you thrust the dumbbells overhead. Pause at the top. Slowly lower the dumbbells, and then return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.
Goal weight: 35-pound dumbbells
Option D: Clean and Squat
Stand with a kettlebell or dumbbell on the floor in front of you. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and grab the weight with one hand. Thrust your hips forward, straighten your legs, and pull the weight in close to your chest. Perform a squat; then push back up to standing. Reverse the move and repeat. Do half your reps on one hand and then switch.
Goal weight: 50-pound dumbbell or 24-kg kettlebell
Exercise 2: Cardio Trial
Option A: Row
Set the timer on your rowing machine for a 2-minute countdown. Row as far as you can.
Goal: 575 meters
Option B: Run
Fire up a treadmill and run as far as you can in 2 minutes. (Or run outside.)
Goal: 600 meters, or 0.37 mile
Option C: Ride
On a fan or stationary bike, burn as many calories as you can in 2 minutes.
Goal: 60 calories
Option D: Rev Up
Do as many burpees as you can in 2 minutes. Try to power through the reps.
Goal: 30 reps
Exercise 3: Body-Weight Finisher
Option A: Pushup
Don’t try to reach failure in your sets. Instead, stop 3 to 5 reps short of failure every time. Reps: 50 to 100
Option B: Pullup
Split this up into sets of 3 to 5 reps. If pullups are too difficult, you can swap in inverted rows. Reps: 25 to 50
Option C: Squat
At the bottom, your knees should be bent at least 90 degrees. Reps: 75 to 150
Option D: Lunge
Break your reps up into sets of 10 to 20. Reps: 50 to 100, splitting the reps between legs