6 Ways to Maximize a Short Workout

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You only have 45 minutes to spare for a workout. By the time you change your clothes, get outside or to the gym, and get moving, it’s really more like half an hour of sweat equity, though. Is it really worth the effort and energy if you can’t invest a full hour?
The short answer: absolutely! It’s a myth that there’s some magic at the 60-minute mark when benefits start kicking in. In fact, many experts believe that the one-hour workout is dead. Even just 10 minutes of movement can go a long way toward burning calories, strengthening muscle and improving cardiovascular health.
“Workouts are getting shorter, because people are getting very efficient with their time these days,” says Ashley Pitt, trainer and fitness blogger at A Lady Goes West. “One-hour workouts might stick around for classes and studios, but I think we will see the addition of 45-minute and 30-minute shorter sessions. You can get a lot done in that timeframe.”
The key is maximizing your time, even if you only have a little to spare. Get the most out of your every workout minute—whether you have five minutes or 50—with these tips from professional trainers.

1. Prep your space.

By laying the groundwork ahead of time, you’ll be able to hit the ground running and use every minute of your workout time for, well, working out.
“If possible, set up your spot at home or in the gym with all of the equipment you'll need for your workout before you start,” suggests Sarah Ann Kelly from MomTrainer.com. “That way, you won’t have to waste time fumbling around and looking for the weights you'll need for your next set.”
If your workout space happens to be the wide open road or a trail in the woods, you can still prep by setting out all the gear you’ll need for your run, walk or hike before the workout clock starts ticking.

2. Try Tabata.

Pitt says the key to shorter workouts is going as hard as you can in intervals and using recoveries to regroup and restart. She likes making use of Tabata, a tough cardio sequence in which you work hard for 20 seconds, take 10 seconds off and then repeat for a total of four minutes.
You can do any type of exercise during a Tabata—burpees, squat jumps, high-knee runs or whatever you prefer—as long as you work to your absolute max during each 20-second stint. Then, take the recovery and go hard again. If you do two rounds of Tabata, that's just eight minutes of work, but you’ll definitely feel the burn.
Another short and simple interval workout Pitt recommends is alternating walking for one minute, then running for one minute until you get to 10 minutes. If you're on the treadmill, add some incline for an extra challenge to ramp up the calorie burn. Just remember that it's important to pump your arms and legs to power up the hill—refrain from holding onto the bars for support.

3. Try the P.A.U.L. Method

Dani Singer, fitness trainer and director of Fit2Go Personal Training, specializes in helping busy working professionals exercise more efficiently. He created the P.A.U.L. method to help maximize the effectiveness of any 10-minute workout. It is named for the types of exercises it includes.
Step One: Choose one exercise for each of the following four categories:
  • P - Plyometric cardio (e.g. jumping jacks)
  • A - Abs (e.g. plank)
  • U - Upper Body (e.g. pushups)
  • L - Lower Body (e.g. squats) 
Step Two: Set a timer or use an online interval timer to alert you every 30 seconds.
Step Three: Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, switching every time you hear the timer beep.
Step Four: After performing all four exercises, rest 30 seconds and start again. Continue with this circuit four more times until you’ve reached 10 minutes.
“The beauty of this 10-minute home workout is that you can count on doing it every single day,” says Singer. “And since you’re performing strength exercises back-to-back without rest, you’re strengthening your muscles while also burning fat. It kills two birds with one stone.”

4. Focus on the functional.

When you’re short on time, fitness trainer Rui Li recommends targeting specific muscle groups that maximize your functional fitness, such as the glutes, hip flexors, lower abs, back and shoulder girdle. “There's no sense in targeting a muscle that ultimately doesn't help much with getting you functionally stronger, so if you have less time, be selective with your focus, and choose one or two muscle groups each time,” she suggests.
As Coach Jen points out, functional fitness is training specifically designed to improve balance and power as related to your everyday routines. It incorporates movements designed to mimic real-life activity. For instance, if you often reach up to put things on a shelf or retrieve them, incorporating a dumbbell press into your workout will help strengthen your shoulders and prevent injury from those repetitive motions.  

5. Rock the circuit.

Circuit training is a type of workout that combines multiple exercises, each of which trains a different muscle group. You rotate from one circuit to the next, interval style, with a short period of rest between each exercise.
Lui often uses circuit training to help her clients get the maximum benefit from their sessions. If you’re really tight on time, she suggests creating a circuit and cutting out or shortening the breaks if it's safe to do so. “One of the reasons why workouts can take so long is because people take extended breaks in between sets,” she explains. “Cut that out and just go straight through. You'll get the bonus of some peripheral cardio [this way], too.”

6. Crank up your music.

Ever notice that when a motivating, up-tempo song comes on during a workout, you tend to ramp up the intensity without even realizing it? If you’re running or walking, your pace will likely go up a bit, or you might squeeze in a few extra reps when lifting weights.
Kelly points out that studies have shown music is linked to improved exercise performance. “By finding a playlist that gets you pumped, you'll likely work harder and faster,” she says. “If you've only got a short amount of time, you can use your music to make it worthwhile.”
By incorporating some of these time-saving tricks, you can cut some of the “fat” from your exercise sessions, streamline your sweat schedule and get the most out of your designated workout window.

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As long as we get the pulse elevated, focus on the body part we are working on.. Report
As long as we get the pulse elevated, focus on the body part we are working on.. Report
Great article. Nothing wrong with shorter workouts as long as you can plan well and know what to do. Report
thank you Report
This is a very useful article--How times have changed! Report
Good tips even if you’re not short on time Report
Thanks. Report
Are there PAUL method exercise videos to follow along with and get the idea? Report
Thanks for the tips Report
Thanks for the tips! Report
thanks Report
Seems like a good idea! Report
Great information Report
Thanks for sharing! I certainly will be trying a few of these. Report
going to incorporate these suggestions! Thanks Report
Great advice Report
good article Report
Very useful ariticle!!!! Report
Very useful ariticle!!!! Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Don't wish it were easier. Wish you were better. - Jim Rohn ~ 3/8/18 Report
Shorter workouts, great tips! Report
I agree with the with this. I have a trainer 2 days per wk and he uses a lot of these. I am 67 yrs old and I can really tell that these are helping me. He switches off on different exercises and I have been doing these for almost 2 yrs. I feel so much better now! Report
Thanks for the tips. I try to make the most out of all the time I have. My husband accuses me of turning everything into a workout or exercise. Report
30-45 minutes for me works best! I do an hour or more twice a week (once with my trainer and once in yoga class). I find it so much more enjoyable to work harder and smarter for a shorter period of time then commit to a long time in the gym... Report
I liked this article very much. I take inclination while doing treadmill, dont hold on to handles and try to do interval training too!! Report
I'm in the gym almost evry day for at least 60 min if not 120...(that is the limit how long may kids can stay at the kids stuff). Report
Two years ago I made a New Year resolution to exercise 30 minutes a day JUST FOR ONE MONTH. Now, two years later, I not only made that happen, but I do at least double that nearly every day. I have also lost 58 pounds! Not setting my goals too high initially kept me from being discouraged. Report
The less I do the lesser I start doing. But yes starting off too fast and too much hasn't helped me in the past. Now I have a routine in which I exercise two times per week for sure. These moments are fixed and planned in my calendar. Nobody can touch those. If my schedule allows me, like today, I hit the gym again. So at least twice a week and if possible more. Are there results? Yes and now. I also need to focuss on the intake. But at least I am not gaining as massively as before. So no for the scale yes for keeping up my exercise streak. Report
I have mostly done short workouts since starting Spark. 30 min of cardio 5-6 days/week and adding strength training for approx. 30 min 3 days a week. But lately I feel like that is not enough. I plateaued for a long time and lately I've regained some weight. There are other reasons contributing to that which I won't go into here, but I do feel like I need to ramp it up either the intensity or length of my workouts. Unfortunately when I try to do that, I always seem to injure something. So I'm still trying to figure out how to get to that next level. Report
I have certainly experience the all-or-nothing mindset. The 10-Minute Challenge has made a world of difference for me and now I am exercising a lot more consistently. Report
I agree. I know that for myself, I have been able to stick with shorter workouts. To most beginners, 60 minutes seems quite daunting, so starting with 20 minutes is more managable. Report
I like the idea of several shorter workouts - just cos I know I can manage atg least 1, probably 2, 10-minutes' each day. And more is a bonus.
Also - on days I'm feeling good to go - I can do several different lots of 10-minutes.
But - I do like to keep to the SP idea of different parts of the body on different days. So if I'm going to do lower body, one day, and feel inclined to do more than 1 video - I look for other lower body things to do.
That gives me more variety than just doing the same thing every day or every other day. Report
Thank you for the information. I do both long and short workouts. I'm flexible to that time I have. If I have less time to work out I still go and get in what I can. I don't decide not to go. I'll have to add some of the suggestions for making more out of the shorter ones. At lunch some times I go work out. When I tell my coworkers that I got in 15 min they ask if it's even worth going. But it gets my heart rate up, I can burn up to 200 calories depending on what I do and it gets me out of the office for a little while.
Thanks again Report
I must agree with the strong/false start theory. This is my 3rd time "starting". The first 2 false starts were a result of trying to do way too much at once. I have completed my first full month of working out, which is a fete since my 2st two false starts only lasted maybe 2 weeks (okay, really a week and a half..). I'm excited to go to the gym because I've broken down my workout routine so that I can spend the necessary time working out and not be rushed.. Report
I must try some of these Report
I have actually found what the activity is matters more than the time! If I really love the activity, I make every effort to get there, even if it is a 60 minute class. Whereas I don't like going to the gym so I only go there for 30-40 minutes. Report
I've made it a firm habit since joining sparks to get straight into my workout gear when I get out of bed and exercise everyday- be it strength training or cardio or a mix.
I feel tons better for it and have energy levels I never imagined.
I started with just 10 mins........which was knackering........now I can workout for as long as like AND be active all day"

I love long ST (45 mins) and get at least one 1 hour cardio session in a week Report
I have a hard time finding the time to read the paper everyday. The tread mill is boaring & troucher to me. I use my time on the treadmill to read my paper. The next thing I know my 30-60mins are up & I have walked 1.5-3+ miles & don't even notice it. Report
I haven't missed a day of exercise in a year since I started doing a short workout of 30 to 40 minutes. My weight is down 25 lbs. I do aerobics, jump on a mini trampoline , do 100 crunches a day now and use small weights. I'm 65 and feel the best I have in years...even after having a double mastectomy. I can't handle working out for an hour. Report
I honestly think placing an explicit limit on exercise has been one of the best things I could do for my weight loss. I used to try by working out an hour every day, and then I would get obsessive, going for 2 hours, and I was exhausted all the time, my body hurt, I didn't feel good, and I would just quit. Now I am scheduling no more than 1 hour of exercise 3x a week... this week I did it in 30 minute bursts first thing before breakfast and I feel great - not tired, not totally amped up, just grounded and in control of my body. Report
I've done both longer and shorter workouts, and learned that, for me, shorter is better for a reason I don't think I've seen here--I'm more efficient, don't waste time/energy. If I'm spending 45 minutes exercising, I don't exercise for 45 minutes, but if I've only blocked in 20, that 20 is used entirely for exercise--better intensity, better focus. So, 20 is actually better than longer for me. Report
I agree that it is easier to start with the shorter workouts I find that at the end of the day it doesn't seem so difficult to stick to exercising if I only have 10-15 min workouts. I have also noticed that i have slowly been adding more exercise as time allows or better yet as my energy allows. Report
Sure glad I read this article! The timing is perfect, and it reflects my reality. I enjoy doing Leslie Sansone's 1, 2 & 3 mile DVD. The 1-mile is so easy to fit in. But I often "put it off" until I can do the 2 miles, and often end up not doing anything. From now on, I plan to do that 1-mile walk in the morning before work, and if I can fit in more exercise later on during the day, so much the better. But if not, at least I'll have gotten those 15-20 minutes in. Report
An hour of exercise, especially if it is something you dislike or find boring, can be daunting. Add in a need to do all those little things in life and it is easy to push those huge blocks into tomorrow and ultimately stop exercising entirely. At least that is what I discovered when I was doing an hour on the elliptical. As it became more and more of a struggle to get the hour in, I changed my routine to half an hour and found it much easier to actually exercise. I am currently running for 40-70 minutes 4 times a week and loving it, including the variable time schedule. It helps that it is outdoors-I saw two sets of deer while out yesterday.

I am also doing weight training at the gym 5 days a week (alternate body segments so nothing gets over worked) for 20 minutes a session. I have always followed the 2/4 rule and wondered about those who do quick jerky movements as it seems like a good way to get injured. Report
The only to make my manual treadmill go is to hang on to the handles! Report
Nope, sorry. Sure, a short workout is better than nothing, and that probably fits into most people's schedules better, but it didn't work for me. For years I was working out 3-5 days a week for 25-45 minutes and it wasn't cutting it. It wasn't until I went to a cardiologist who said the older we get the harder we have to work that something finally clicked for me. For the past year I've increased my workouts in intensity and duration and finally dropped the 35 pounds that have been hanging on for years. I use kettlebell workouts, lots of circuit-type routines with dumbbells, step workouts, whatever I can find. On my light days I'll do just cardio and it feels like a breeze. I'm feeling better than I have in years. I love to mix it up and like to wear a pedometer to remind myself to get up and move some more. I'm accepting that this is just what it is going to take for my life. I love it! (It also helped that I started to really get honest with how much I was eating by journaling using an iphone ap.) Report
I would definitely agree that (at least when starting out and getting into a routine) shorter workouts are much more manageable and beneficial than longer ones. I know that I personally am all over the place during the day with work and household things, and I very rarely am able to fit in a 45-60 minute workout session anymore. However, if I think of it as 15-minute chunks or a 30 minute session, that is MUCH easier for me to plan around and stick to! Especially when I'm coming home from work, it's late at night, and I have to head back in the next morning... if I was planning for a 60-minute stretch, I'd most likely just give up on it... less is definitely more in this case. :) Report
I joined SP in May following a left knee injury in February 2010. About the beginning of June I learned that the right knee had a meniscal tear that had gone unnoticed during PT and treatment for the left knee. Bummer! This means that for almost a year I've been physically inactive for the most part. Returning to exercise January 1, 2011, was daunting. I began by increasing the amount of time and intensity prescribed in PT for the right knee, and quickly overdid it. That's something I'm prone to do. Success has come for me in using shorter workouts on the bike and for other exercises because I am less inclined to over do it. So, this is right for me; but it might not be right for others. I believe this is a very individualistic choice. Great article! Report