Man doing cardio exercises at Cornerstone gyms

Making The Most Out Of A Short Workout

Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury of spending as much time as we’d like at the gym.  But, if you are short on time, that doesn’t mean you have to skip a workout.

Many people believe that the only effective way to exercise is by spending hours and hours at the gym. Not only can this expectation make exercise feel like a burden, but it’s also completely unrealistic given our busy lives.  Don’t let “I don’t have enough time” become your go-to excuse for not moving.  The truth is that even a brief but high-intensity exercise session can boost your energy, improve your mood, make you feel awesome, and help you reach your goals.

Man checking his watch


Don’t beat yourself up. Maybe you can’t find the time to do your normal exercise routine because of family or work obligations. Perhaps you are a little burned out by longer workouts and are on the verge of quitting altogether. Or, maybe travel is forcing you to deviate from your usual workouts.

Whatever the reason, be kind to yourself, don’t obsess, and be open to change.  Short workouts done properly are effective and will still leave you feeling great.   And,  switching things up is a good thing.  Bodies can become complacent after doing the same workouts over and over again. Changes to your normal routine can provide a much-needed jolt to the system.


Cell phones are notorious workout killers.  If you only have time for a 30-minute workout, don’t risk wasting any of that precious time by checking notifications or answering emails.  Put your phone in airplane mode or keep it in your bag or locker.

The same thinking applies to conversation. If you are working out at the gym, say your “hellos” and then get down to business – don’t get involved in long conversations that use up your valuable workout time.


One of the worst things you can do when time is short is head to the gym without a plan.  Minutes may be wasted as you figure out what you are going to do.  Or, in the interest of time, you may opt for a “default” workout like a quick steady-state jog on the treadmill that might get your heart rate up a bit but won’t necessarily give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Even if it’s on the drive over, give some advance thought to your workout.  Do you want to do intervals or some sort of circuit training?  Pre-determine your exercises, your reps, and your time intervals.  Consider what equipment you’ll need so you are ready to grab it and go.


In short workouts, every minute counts. High-intensity exercise is the key to making a quick and effective workout. So, what does high intensity feel like?

Well, it’s obviously not the equivalent of a leisurely stroll down the street. But, it’s also not a run until your lungs pop either.  Think breathless, not winded. Think heart-pounding, not heart-exploding. You don’t need a fancy heart rate monitor to determine if you are in the right intensity zone – simply use your body’s cues. At the most intense part of your workout, you should be able to say single words.  However, if you are capable of having a chat with someone else, then you probably need to kick it up a notch.

man running on treadmill

The following workout suggestions are simple and flexible.  You can adapt these to fit your available time, preferences, and goals.


30/20/10 Training

The essentials of this workout are easy to remember – and it’s fun!

First, pick a cardio activity. Then, run, ride, step, or row gently for 30 seconds, accelerate to a moderate pace for 20 seconds, then sprint as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Repeat.

You don’t need a stopwatch to monitor the 30, 20, and 10-second time changes. Just count to yourself and you’ll find that the time goes by even faster.

The beauty of this workout is that you can do it for as long as you like – 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so on.  If you have at least 15 – 20 minutes, you could consider working out across machines (perhaps 5 minutes on the treadmill, five on the bike, and five on the rowing machine).

The Four Minute Workout

Yes, you read that right. Tabata is a four-minute workout. But, don’t let that fool you. A Tabata done correctly is tough.  During this workout, you work as hard as you can for 20 seconds and then recover for 10 seconds.  Repeat the sequence for four minutes.

You can do any type of exercise during a Tabata—burpees, squat jumps, high-knee runs, or whatever you like —as long as you work to your absolute max during each 20-second stint. Then, take the recovery and go hard again. If you do two rounds of Tabata, that’s just eight minutes of work, but you’ll definitely feel the burn.

Circuit Training

Circuit training involves performing multiple exercises back to back with minimal to no rest in between. After the circuit is finished, you can take a longer rest, but only enough to catch your breath.

In a circuit workout, you can perform the exercises for reps, time, or a combination of the two.  The goal is to use as many body parts as possible, structuring the workouts around compound movements (movements that target multiple muscle groups at once) and movements that will elevate your heart rate. This would include exercises like push-ups, burpees, jumping jacks, bodyweight squats, mountain climbers, and jump roping.

Circuit training is simple to design and highly flexible. You can adapt it to whatever time you have available by changing the number of exercises, the exercise reps/timed intervals, and the number of times you repeat the entire circuit itself.

Next time you are running short on time, don’t skip the gym! Grab your gym bag, load up a motivating playlist of tunes, and plan a quick, intense workout.  The only workout you ever regret is the one you didn’t get!

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