One of the most valuable wellness skills is knowing how to maximise your time. Staying active requires consistency, which means regularly doing physical activity. It’s not always convenient to book in a fitness class or spend an hour in the gym because life has a habit of getting in the way from kids to overtime at work. There will always be an obstacle to a ‘perfect workout week’.
That doesn’t mean you give up. It means you maximize the time you have. The healthiest of busy professionals, moms, students and travellers know this and make sure to fit in short, effective workouts whenever necessary in order to stay on target and to keep up fitness progress.
As a personal trainer, I’ve specialised in designing short workouts for busy women. I’ve had CEOs doing 30 minute pilates sessions from their office floors and moms doing quick barre workouts with a kitchen chair during nap time. No matter how busy you are, you can fit it in if you know what to do.
I’m going to share with you how to work out in less time and to make the most of your sessions – without the gym.
How long should a workout be?
Twenty minutes is a good length of time for a short workout because it allows time for stretching, time for your heart rate to increase (to give you those sweat benefits) and time for a short cool-down. If you can squeeze in thirty minutes for your workout that’s even better as it allows you to include a greater variety of exercises and increase the amount of time you spend on each one.
Essentially, thirty minutes is ideal for a short workout but twenty is sufficient.
Your goal should be to do fifteen minutes of nearly non-stop activity with very little rest periods. (It’s all about maximizing your time remember?) If you have thirty minutes available then you can increase that to twenty-five minutes of activity. The most important thing here is to minimize how much you rest during your workout.
The maximum amount of time that you want to rest between exercises or sets is 30 seconds during a short workout.
This is why I don’t advise doing short workouts at a gym unless that gym is in your office/home building and relatively empty. In a short workout, you don’t have time to waste waiting on machines or chatting up other members.
When there is less time available for a workout, it also means that you want to be smart about which equipment (if any) that you use. The less you have to worry about carrying around equipment and/or sharing it with others, the less time you take away from your workout. If you do use equipment for a short workout, I advise those that you can easily carry such as resistance bands, Pilates balls and perhaps medicine balls or smaller dumbbells.
Decide WHAT you’ll train beforehand
Planning is essential for short workouts. You don’t have time to waste on walking between machines, picking up random equipment or stopping to wonder what you’ll do next. You need a good plan before you start and that plan should include how can you easily transition between exercises (and equipment if using any.)
I recommend that you focus on a specific part of the body (such as upper body, abs or lower body) or a specific area of fitness (endurance workout, strength workout, etc.) for short workouts. Simpler is better when it comes to designing a short workout.
If you already know when your busy days will be, you can plan your workouts the night before. Often, however, a busy day will sneak up with you so it’s important to also have a collection of three short workouts that you can immediately go to in times of ‘desperation’. Be sure to write these workouts down in your phone or email them to yourself.
Alternatively, you can have quick YouTube exercise videos saved (like on my channel here.) These are a great option for when you know exactly what kind of workout you want and/or when you would prefer to follow a professional.
Decide HOW you’ll train beforehand
A big part of your planning your workouts will be to determine the exercise structure and combinations.
Do you want to organize exercises according to time intervals (for example 45 seconds of activity and 15 seconds of rest?) Or would you prefer to do them by reps and sets? Do you want to do two exercises as a combo or would you prefer to do them stand alone? (An example of an easy combo would be a squat pulse followed by a squat hold vs. just a squat.)
How you structure your exercises is up to you. I love to mix and match so I’ll often have some exercises set for reps and some for time intervals (usually 45 seconds of activity followed by 15 seconds of rest.) This is entirely up to you. Choose a structure that will challenge you and that’s most suitable for each exercise.
As a general rule, strength exercises (such as push-ups) are usually best organized as reps and sets and cardio or endurance exercises (such as jogging in place) are best organized by time intervals.
In terms of the number of exercises to include in your workout, I recommend that you do one of the following:
- 4 exercises, x12–20 reps each, for 3 sets
- 6 exercises, x12–20 reps each, for 2 sets
With rest + transition time these workout structures will usually add up to about fifteen minutes, which is your target activity time for a twenty-minute workout. The four to six exercise range is also ideal because it effectively targets multiple areas and gives you enough variety to avoid getting bored. You’ll notice that many short workout videos will follow this structure for the same reasons.
Decide which exercises you’ll include
Now that you know what you’ll train and how you’ll do it, you can select the exercises you’ll do and how you’ll put them together. The exercise you do will depend on what you have available (e.g. bands, chair, etc.) as well as the muscles that you’re working.
As an example, let’s say I want to do a mini total body workout without any equipment, this is how I might do it with 6 exercises and x2 sets:
- Walking Lunges (legs) x15 reps each side
- Walk-outs (total body) x10 reps
- Table top crunch (abs) x20 reps
- Plank to half pike (abs + arms) x20 reps
- Bridges (glutes) x20 reps
- Half Swimmers (back) x10 reps
I’ve included these exercises because they flow nicely together and, collectively target the total body. I’ve also made sure to switch between different muscles in each group because the rest time in a short workout is much less than a classic workout, which means you will get tired faster. However, by moving between muscle groups you are able to keep your endurance going!
Remember to stretch!
The dynamic, active part of your workout is important, but the stretching part is just as important to your overall health because it allows you to avoid injury and a healthy level of flexibility. Do not skip stretching. Make sure to include at least 2 to 3 minutes of moving stretches before your workout and 2 to 3 minutes with static (holding) ones at the conclusion of your workout. This will ensure that your body moves smoothly and recovers well!
Finally, don’t forget about enjoyment!
This mini workout formula will allow you to train effectively ANYWHERE. It will also allow you to choose the right combination of workout videos if you choose to do those instead. (Reminder you can find several short workout options on my YouTube channel here.)
But before you go off planning be sure to follow the golden rule of any sustainable fitness plan – make sure choose workouts that you actually enjoy! When you enjoy your workouts, you’re much more likely to prioritize them as well as to give your best effort!
How will you DIY your next workout?