How to Cut Your Workout Time in Half

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There’s this crazy, persistent rumor going around that if you can’t set aside an hour for a workout, you might as well skip the gym altogether. I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap. 

Longer workouts aren’t better -- better workouts are better. Instead of excusing yourself from breaking a sweat because you "just don’t have time," make the most of the time you’ve got and cut your marathon gym routine in half.

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Split 'em up

Some people simply aren’t willing to give up the "30 minutes of steady-state cardio followed by 30 minutes of strength training" routine they’ve been following since 1989. If you’re one of these people, that’s fine -- I certainly won’t try to change your mind if nearly 30 years of articles on the subject haven’t already done the trick. 

Stick to your same old routine, but for the love of God, split it in half. Do 30 minutes of steady-state cardio one day and 30 minutes of strength training the next. Boom. You’ve cut your workout time in half. As long as you start your strength-training routine with full-body compound movements at a lighter weight (say, lunges, squat presses, or burpees), you won’t even have to tack an extra warm-up onto your workout. 

Be intense

One of the best ways to cut your workout time in half is to intensify it. You can do this one of two ways: by increasing the total intensity of your workout (for instance, taking your steady-state jog from 5.5 miles per hour to 6.5 miles per hour, or by increasing the amount of weight lifted during strength training), or by incorporating high-intensity interval training

During interval training, you alternate between high and low periods of intensity, giving yourself time to recover from the high-intensity periods while still keeping your heart rate high during lower-intensity periods. The result is increased calorie burn, improved cardiorespiratory response (you’ll improve your VO2 max, a marker of cardiovascular health), and a better workout in less time. 


Compound your moves

If your strength-training routine stretches for hours because you’re obsessed with hammer curls, adductor and abductor exercises, and weighted standing calf raises, I’m going to give you a shock: 

Stop it. 

In some very specific circumstances -- like you’re training for a physique competition -- spending lots of time on isolation exercises for smaller muscle groups makes sense. For the vast majority of people? They’re a time suck. 

Most people don’t need to do more than eight to 10 exercises in a single strength-training session, and most of those moves should be compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once. Exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups target larger and smaller muscle groups at the same time, making excessive isolation moves largely unnecessary.

That said, isolation exercises aren’t completely without merit. The trick is combining them with other compound exercises to maximize your workout while minimizing your time. For instance, add a biceps curl to a lunge, or a shoulder press to a squat. Mix up your foot placement during squats and lunges to target your abductors and adductors while also hitting your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. An efficient workout = a better workout in less time. 

Try a circuit

When I’m short on time, one of my favorite styles of exercise is the circuit workout. Unlike the old-school style of selectorized machine circuits, I love a high-intensity bodyweight routine that combines strength work with cardio moves. Done correctly, you can feasibly complete a quality, full-body circuit in less than 30 minutes. If you’re up for the challenge, try this one on for size: 

  • 60 seconds jumping jacks
  • 30 seconds squat press with dumbbells
  • 60 seconds lateral slides
  • 30 seconds renegade rows with dumbbells
  • 60 seconds high-knee jogs
  • 30 seconds push-ups
  • 30 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds burpees
  • 60 seconds walking lunges
  • 30 seconds mountain climbers
  • 60 seconds plie squat hold with biceps curls
  • 30 seconds bear crawls
  • 60 seconds plank
  • 30 seconds rest

Repeat the circuit one to two more times. And just like that, you've finished a serious workout without wasting a bunch of time.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who wants to know who survived her circuit workout. Check in on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty