If you’re having trouble getting your regular workouts in, it might be time to consider a quicker method. From trying new tools at the gym (hello, kettlebell) to switching up your entire style, changing it up could be good for your body and your schedule.
We asked athletes, personal trainers and other fitness professionals what their favorite workouts are on busy days. These were the top 10 quick, but effective workouts they mentioned.
“You know those rowing machines at the gym? They're an often overlooked source for a great, quick workout,” said Eva Glasrud, a former D1 athlete and blogger at The Happy Talent. Rowing builds total body strength, is a great cardio workout and improves overall fitness.
Here’s how it works: Find a machine and warm up for a few minutes, be sure to focus on and perfect your form. “Every minute, take what rowers call a ‘Power 10’—it's exactly what it sounds like. Ten strokes, as fast as you can,” Glasrud said. “At the end of your warm-up, set the computer to a 2k distance. You'll probably want to keep your stroke rating (s/m) between 25-30 strokes per minute. That pace is somewhere between steady state and a sprint—meaning the workout will be short and hard. It will probably take less than 10 minutes. If you can break 7:30, you're a rock star!” Remember to cool down with a five to 10 minute recovery.
This customizable exercise routine is one of the most efficient ways to fit strength training and cardio work into your busy schedule. Circuit training involves performing a set of exercises with minimal rest between the exercises and then repeating the circuit a number of times. “If you have limited time, but want to change your body composition for the better, then this type of training is for you,” said Maurice Williams, NASM and NSCA certified trainer and the owner of Move Well Fitness.
Here’s how it works: a circuit workout might include push-ups, box jumps, dumbbell squats and pull-ups, among many other options. “There is no set order of exercises to circuit training, so, feel free to experiment with the order of the exercises,” Williams said. “Typically, you would do 1-3 sets, 8-20 reps with a 15-60 second rest between the exercises.”
“PHA training is a version of circuit training that has the same benefit. However, unlike regular circuit training, PHA is done in a certain order,” Williams said. The purpose of the order is to alternate lower body exercises with upper body moves, which, in theory, improves circulation and boosts cardiovascular fitness.
Here’s how it works: “An example of PHA training could include: ball squat followed by cable rows followed by DB lunges followed by ball chest press,” Williams said. One advantage of this circuit is that both the upper and lower body get equal amounts of attention.
Usually part of a bigger workout, planks are a low impact, strength building move that can be done anywhere. The equipment-free exercise brings major strength benefits for the core and can help promote good posture.
Here’s how it works: Whenever you have a few minutes, try a few variations of the traditional plank—side planks, planks with leg raises, plank walk-ups—and try to hold them longer each day. Just be sure your form is perfect in order to see benefits.
“The absolute best and most efficient workout for weight loss, building strength and improving your metabolism is High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT),” said Vanessa Broers, master trainer at The Barre Code Pittsburgh and owner of health coaching company Sweat and Butter. If you’re short on time but still want a killer workout, HIIT is fast, tough and elicits a great afterburn effect.
Here’s how it works: The high-intensity routines are centered around bouts of all-out exercise followed by short rests or active recovery periods, so most HIIT workouts take no more than 30 minutes. “HIIT can be done in many forms,”Broers said. “A good HIIT workout will include moves focused on strength that keep your heart rate high (like squat jumps) followed by moves lower in cardiovascular intensity, but still target large muscle groups (like planks). Most HIIT workouts include 5-7 moves for 30-50 seconds each with about 10 seconds rest in between. Cycle through each move about 4 times at your max effort. The entire workout usually takes about 20 minutes and gives you more metabolic punch than a full hour on the treadmill.”
Don’t know where to start? Take a look at this 20-minute HIIT workout.
This style of training is a popular form of HIIT and can be done with any strength or conditioning exercise. Tabata workouts take less than 20 minutes, great for those on a super tight schedule.
Here's how it works: “The circuit is typically done with the same exercise throughout, work and rest intervals are broken into 4mins of 20 and 10 second intervals,” said Owner of WorkoutLA Arek Long. “So let's imagine that you're doing squats. For 4mins you'll do back to back intervals of 20 second squats, 10 second rest. Complete every repetition with perfect form and as fast as possible—maximum work for the full 20 seconds, every round. Once your four minutes is up, grab a drink, catch your breath, and move on to your next exercise. Three or four different exercises performed using Tabata would make a complete routine. That's just 12 to 16 minutes worth of training, but trust me, it's a lot of work.”
Another great workout that can be done almost anywhere, with any amount of time is a stair run. Great cardio and strength benefits for the lower body make this quick workout worthwhile.
Here’s how it works: According to Certified Nutritional Consultants and Co-Founders of Project Juice, Lori Kenyon Farley and Marra St. Clair, “any set of stairs or bleachers will do, and you will get a great interval workout. Sprint up the stairs and cool down as you head back to the bottom. Aim for 10 sets, with variation between hitting every step one set and every other the next.”
You know yoga builds strength, increases flexibility and reduces stress, but you might think that the only way you can get those benefits is by taking an hour-long yoga class. But shorter sessions provide big benefits too.
Here’s how it works: Fit in a session first thing in the morning and make it even more accessible by practicing at home. Just a few of your favorite poses is enough and the whole session shouldn’t take more than a half hour, but fitting it in will help your mind and body feel great.
This simple piece of equipment may be the most underrated fitness tool out there. Kettlebells boost functional fitness and offer strength and cardio benefits—the best part, though, is that you can get a great workout in just 20 minutes.
Here’s how it works: Chances are you know about the kettlebell swing, but there are tons of other moves that will challenge you. Pick a few and create your own workout or find a circuit—kettlebell workouts can be customized to fit into your schedule, regardless of how little time you have.
An effective way to burn fat and build muscle, sprints are a great cardio workout that will get you heart pumping, said Jeremy Ethier, a certified trainer and founder of HIIT Your Body. A quick sprint workout should only take 12 minutes, which means everyone has time to fit it in.
Here’s how it works: After a warm-up, sprint for 30 seconds and slow to a brisk walk for 40 seconds, Ethier said. Repeat this 10 times and it should only take you 12 minutes. “[It] can be done either outside or on a treadmill, [just] make sure you’re performing at 95-100 percent intensity during your sprints.”