Being short on time doesn’t mean you can’t get in a great workout. However, you need to approach your exercise differently. You don’t want to waste time looking for a routine on Instagram or waiting for the lat pulldown machine to open up. You also need to go in with the right mindset so you work hard (but not too hard) every second.
The next time you want a quick, effective workout, use these trainer tips to choose the ideal exercises and get your head in the best space to give it your all, whatever time you have.
Go in with a plan. This is not the time to half-you-know-what-it. Whether it’s a routine from an app or social media, or one you create ahead of time, know what you are going to do before you start your workout so you don’t dilly-dally. And narrow it down to about five exercises. “This way, you can push yourself, give each exercise the attention it deserves, and work harder to get to the end of your workout,” says James de Lacey, a professional strength and conditioning coach with a master’s in sport and exercise science.
Set everything out. Rather than getting one set of dumbbells and doing one exercise, then grabbing another set of dumbbells to do your second exercise, get all the equipment you need before you start your session. This not only saves time, it can help you prepare mentally. “Having everything at hand, ready to go, will reinforce the aims of your session from the outset,” says Jack McNamara, NASM-CPT, CSCS, of TrainFitness. “This will help provide greater focus and motivation to get all the workout done despite the short duration.”
Even better, use less. It can be fun to use dumbbells, kettlebells, machines, and more during a workout. But if you’re short on time, the less you use, the better, because you don’t have to stop to switch out tools. Try kettlebells, which provide strength and cardio benefits and allow for total-body exercises, or resistance bands. They’re easy to learn, easy to adjust the difficulty, and can be used in a wide variety of ways. And don’t overlook bodyweight workouts.
Do intervals. If you want to get the most out of your cardio workout but don’t have much time, try high-intensity interval training. “This is an excellent way to reap the same rewards typically associated with longer bouts of cardio, but in a more-time efficient manner,” McNamara says. “Plus, interval training will help improve your VO2 max—the maximum volume of oxygen your body can use during exercise. This means you’ll be fitter, take longer to get out of breath, and have more endurance the next time you decide to swap your short interval workout for a longer endurance workout.”
Think agonist-antagonist. If you’re doing a strength session, you need to rest between sets to allow your muscles to recover and generate more force. But that doesn’t mean you should sit around between exercises. Instead, pair exercises that work opposing muscles, McNamara suggests. For example, work your biceps with curls, then your triceps with extensions. Or pair squats (to work your quads) with deadlifts (to work your hamstrings).
Or try combination exercises. You can also try performing two exercises in one fluid motion. Consider:
Squat to overhead pressLunge to biceps curlOverhead press to reverse lungePushup to side plankBiceps curl to overhead pressDeadlift to bent-over row
Challenge yourself. Use a timer for every exercise and try to do a certain number of reps or go for a specific period of time. Then, once you know your benchmark, the next workout, try to do more reps or, for cardio, go for a longer interval.
Want to switch it up? Set a goal, such as at least five hill sprints or at last five sets of five squats at 75 percent of your one-rep max. Don’t want to be that technical? Then choose a heavier weight or do more reps than last time. Whatever you do, “this way, there is no negotiating with yourself as you start to get tired. You’ve set a minimum benchmark you have to hit,” de Lacey says.
Crank up the beats. “Create a playlist with all your favorite songs to help keep you motivated and push yourself when you need it the most,” McNamara suggests.
Choose from a selection of quick workout videos you can do anywhere, available in the Fitbit app. Join Fitbit Premium for even more workout content, from full-body strength workouts you can do in under 15 minutes to heart-pumping, Active Zone Minute-earning HIIT sessions, plus guided programs and more.
To redeem your 90-day Premium trial, open the Fitbit app and tap on the “Premium” tab in the lower-right corner. This trial offer is only valid through the Fitbit app and is only available for new Premium users.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Brittany Risher Englert
Brittany Risher is a freelance content strategist, editor, and writer. She covers everything health and wellness, with a passion for mental health and women’s health. Her clients include Forward, Sonima, Elemental, ZocDoc, Men’s Health, and Women’s Health.