You lead a busy life, whether that means going to class, working a demanding job, raising kids, or anything in between. But you don’t have to let your crammed schedule stall your fitness goals. Being busy and performing shorter workouts doesn’t always mean waiting longer for visible results, either. In fact, with a few minor adjustments, you can make a shorter workout just as (if not more) effective than longer ones. Learn how to turn any short sesh into a major sweat sesh.
Add some resistance.
By adding resistance to your routine, you’re automatically set up to work harder. Resistance training is based on the idea that your muscles will work to overcome a resisting force. Both strength training and aerobic exercise are key to a well-rounded fitness schedule. Resistance tackles them simultaneously. It not only builds up your muscle mass, but also your anaerobic endurance (aka the amount of time and intensity your body can perform without oxygen), skeletal muscles, and the number of calories burned throughout your workout.
“Adding resistance helps you get a better workout in less time because you are challenging your muscles more. They have to work harder,” says Kristin McGee, celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor and author of Chair Yoga: Sit, Stretch, and Strengthen Your Way to a Happier, Healthier You. “Your heart rate rises, your blood pumps harder, and you get a better burn and bang for your buck,” she adds. On top of that, you’ll burn more calories in your future workouts, thanks to that newly added muscle mass. You can increase resistance if you’re working out on a cardio machine, you can manually add resistance with ankle weights and/or resistance bands, or you can use your own bodyweight (hello, squats) as resistance.
Increase the incline.
From the treadmill to the elliptical, raising your incline takes a shorter workout to a whole new level. Inclines simulate hills and terrain changes that you typically find when working out outdoors. Most cardio machines provide the option to add an incline between zero and 15 percent to your workout. We fully recommend doing so.
“When you raise the incline you’re challenging yourself,” McGee informs. “Your body has to work harder to walk uphill, as opposed to a flat surface. You also engage more gluteal muscles. Our glutes are our largest muscle group, which helps you burn more fat and calories as you work out.” Simply adding an incline will also strengthen your thighs, calves, and backside, all while torching up to 60 percent more calories than level walking, jogging, or running. Just remember to start off easy (don’t scale fake mountains on your first day). Avoid leaning forward or depending on the handlebars.
Don’t forget HIIT.
It’s no secret that we love HIIT (high-intensity interval training). The exercise method—which switches between high-intensity exercise and periods of lower-intensity “rest”—is a strength trainer and cardio killer. Plus it’s easy to fit into even the busiest of schedules so it’s ideal for a shorter workout. Most HIIT routines last between ten and 30 minutes and force your body to work the entire time. “HIIT is an awesome way to up the calorie burn, really challenge [yourself], and get your heart rate going. Your body has to accommodate working very tough for a short amount of time, then learn how to recover quicker,” explains McGee.
Even a shorter workout done with HIIT can burn up to 30 percent more calories than a moderate-intensity workout. Additionally, your post-workout metabolic rate and metabolism take a bit of a spike. This means that you keep torching calories after you complete your session. We repeat: You continue burning calories even after you’re done working out. Yes, please! McGee confirms, telling us, “Studies have shown that your body continues to burn after a session like this. You could never push yourself that hard for a full 20-30 minutes workout. But those long-term, slow, steady workouts don’t raise your heart rate, as much.” Short on time? Consistently give it your all with HIIT and feel the results in no time.
Use all of your limbs.
Most cardio and strength machines target your lower body. But this shouldn’t prevent you from bringing your upper body into the mix. Incorporating your upper body makes your shorter workout a double threat that instantly saves you time and ups your calorie burn. Instead of dedicating time to both cardio and some strength training, multitask by combining them (safely, of course).
“When you do compound training or use all four limbs at the same time—for instance, using a bicep curl as you squat—you challenge your core muscles and are working that many more muscle groups at once. This is going to get your heart pumping, raise your metabolism, and cause you to work out harder,” McGee notes.
If you’re on the treadmill, grab some light free weights and perform overhead presses, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and similar. Looking for more of an arm incorporating cardio boost? Grab hold of your machine’s handlebars and really push, using their resistance. Another option is to let go of the handles completely and pump your arms. In any case, make sure that you maintain proper form and balance.
Hit your core.
Incorporating core strength into your workouts is one of the best things that you can do, whether you’re strapped for time or not. “Adding any sort of core workout is going to give you a better [overall] workout because our core is responsible for everything we do. It allows us to move faster, get more power and stamina, and makes sure that we are working from the correct place,” says McGee. Not only that, but it helps you gain better balance, prevent back pain, improve athletic performance, and support your spine—meaning that you’re less prone to injury. Everyday movements, on top of shorter exercises, are vastly improved by consistent core work. Be sure to include it in your daily routines, then dedicate a workout day to it entirely.
Don’t skip stretching or your warm-up.
When you’re short on time, you may be tempted to skip everything up until your main workout—don’t! Warming up and stretching prepares your body for the exercise ahead, as well as assists in recovery afterward. They enable you to perform to the best of your ability. Skip either (or both) and you’ll be missing out on a slew of benefits—like building long and lean muscle.
“Warming up the body can prevent injury and allows you to work out harder,” explains McGee. “Stretching is [also] an incredible way to end a workout and keep your muscles from fatiguing. It allows you to work out harder again the next day and gives you a proper cool down.”
The effectiveness of your workout diminishes when you bail on warming up and stretching, which is wasteful. We’re here to do the exact opposite of that and make every minute impactful. Begin your workout with a five to ten-minute warm-up and a proper stretch, and reap the benefits tenfold.
Overall, a shorter workout doesn’t mean waiting longer to see results. Implement any of these strength training, cardio-boosting adjustments into your routine and watch all of their positive effects take shape. You can lead almost any lifestyle and still enjoy working out and seeing results.