One of the main reasons people tend to fall off their health and fitness goals is because they think the gym takes up too much of their time—and for some people, it might. To help combat this, we asked Aaptiv Trainers Rochelle Moncourtois and Jaime McFaden to let us in on their secrets on how to shorten your workout time without affecting results.
How long is a good workout?
The length of your strength or cardio workout should depend on your specific goals, Moncourtois says. “For example, if you’re focused more on weight loss, then your main focus will be nutrition along with the right combination of strength and cardio,” she explains. “However, your workouts don’t need to be really long to be effective. Focusing on HIIT-style cardio and heavy strength training will benefit you more.”
You can see great results from shorter workouts, as long as you’re performing with correct technique and using your time efficiently. McFaden says, “Personally, I rarely do a workout for more than 30 minutes these days, and my body looks the same as when I worked out for one to two hours.”
So there you have it—you don’t need to be at the gym for hours to get results. But how exactly can you shorten your workout time?
How to Shorten Your Workout Time
Supersetting is one of the easiest ways to cut down your training time while still ensuring a good workout. Moncourtois explains, “You’re basically performing two exercises back-to-back with no rest time in between. You should do compound or multi-joint movements first.”
To help move among the different exercises with minimal disruption during your supersets, set out all the necessary equipment and prep machines beforehand. “Make sure you’re at the correct weights for each superset, so you can perform the correct amount of reps for your specific goals,” Moncourtois notes. This way, you’re not starting and stopping to get out what you need or adjusting the weight. Also, if you’re using free weights and a machine, try to set them next to each other so you don’t have to move around too much.
Be mindful about which exercises you superset with each other. Choose movements that are opposing muscle groups so you can get the rest you need in between. Moncourtois recommends supersetting tricep extensions with bicep curls. This is a popular choice because while you’re doing one, you’re letting the other muscle group recover and vice versa. You’re not wearing down the same muscles back-to-back.
By employing supersets, you’re killing two birds with one stone and getting more training in with the same amount of rest. It’s a great time-saver that doesn’t cut down on efficiency.
Use Drop Sets
This strategy is geared toward strength training. McFaden says, “A drop set is doing a series of weight-training moves back-to-back from highest to lowest resistance. You start with your max weight and then each round, you lower the weight.”
She gives the following drop set example with dumbbell curls for a total of five rounds:
Round 1: weight that you can do only 4-6 curls
Round 2: weight that you can do 6-8 reps
Round 3: weight that you can do 8-10 reps
Round 4: weight that you can do 10-12 reps
Round 5: weight that you can do 12-15 reps
“You can get more muscle recruitment and fully burn out the muscles, which will lead to hypertrophy,” she explains. By continuously lowering the weight in a drop set, you’ll recruit different muscle fibers that’ll help you completely max out the muscle burn. It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t have any rest time between each round. These factors will all work to achieve faster muscle growth in minimal time.
If you’re looking for an intense workout that’ll get your heart rate pumping in a short amount of time, look no further than HIIT, aka high-intensity interval training. As McFaden explains, “The concept is to utilize high-intensity bouts of exercise mixed with lower-intensity bouts to keep the heart rate elevated for maximal calorie burn. Using HIIT training is very effective and will allow you to burn calories more efficiently in a shorter time frame.”
Here’s an example of a great HIIT workout from McFaden:
Do each move for 30 seconds for five rounds. “The jumping jacks and burpees will maximize your heart rate, keeping the rest of the moves cardio-driven,” McFaden says.
Use More Compound Movements
Compound movements are exercises that employ more than one muscle group at a time, giving you more bang for your buck. “It’s more effective and challenging for the body, which will help burn more calories and your body will have to work harder,” McFaden says.
Some compound movements are:
- Lunge with bicep curl
- Squat with overhead press
- Sumo squat with upright row
- Warrior 3 with posterior fly
Time Rest Periods
One way that people prolong their workout time is by resting too much. So, what is the ideal rest time?
“If you aren’t doing supersets, the best way to judge your rest period is either by your heart rate or taking at least 30 seconds between each set. If you’re new to weight lifting, I would go based on heart rate,” McFaden says. “Make sure your heart rate comes down a little bit (doesn’t have to be resting), then perform your next set. As you progress, your rest periods will get shorter. Same goes for HIIT training. Allow yourself at least 30 seconds to a minute to rest.”
Time may go slowly when you’re doing a plank, but when you’re resting, it seems like time speeds up. By timing your rest, you can ensure you’re not taking more time than necessary to recover. If you’re aiming to rest for one minute between sets but end up resting for two, you’ve basically doubled your workout time. Pay attention to your rest periods, and time them to shorten your training.
“You can make the most out of your workouts by lifting heavier and performing things such as sprints for cardio,” Moncourtois says. Increasing the intensity of your workout means you’ll get more out of it in a shorter amount of time. “This is the best way to burn fat and build muscle to reach your goals.”
Find a Workout That Works For You
What works for you may not work for other people. “I believe in holistically training the body in a way that works for your lifestyle. Before I was a mom and when I was working in a gym, I could spend one to two hours, three to five times per week, working out. It was therapeutic, and I loved it,” McFaden says. “Now, I’m lucky if I can squeeze in 20 to 30 minutes while [my baby] naps or I’ll take her in the stroller and head to a park.”
“It’s all about finding things that work for your lifestyle and committing to them. The number one rule of thumb I would suggest to anyone is to find something you enjoy that works for you,” McFaden says. “You have to be committed for something to work. There is no quick fix, and shortening your workouts means you must be 110 percent focused and work harder.”