The Body You Want in the Time You Have
Exercise scientists now know that you don’t need to live in the gym to sculpt a strong, healthy, hot-looking physique. Speed up your shape-up with these rapid routines
One of the most important and life-altering discoveries to come out of the workout world is that getting into shape isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. In fact, research consistently proves that more frequent bursts of intense physical activity can produce the same muscle-building, fat-blasting, health-boosting benefits as the long-recommended 30 minutes a day. "Any amount of exercise is better than none, and short, repeated bouts may actually beat out one long blast," says Martin Gibala, PhD, chair of the kinesiology department at McMaster University in Canada. Case in point: Studies have found that brief, vigorous workouts improve the body's ability to control blood sugar and lower blood pressure more than longer, less frequent sweat sessions; and researchers in Denmark found that participants who completed shorter workouts burned more calories than those who logged more drawn-out ones.
What's more, the results seem to be cumulative, meaning you may get more points for consistency—a set of squats in the morning, a brisk walk at lunch, and some pushups before bed—than for a marathon session at the gym. And because a person can go all out for 60 seconds but not 60 minutes, mini workouts can actually be more effective at sending your metabolism into overdrive, increasing your calorie burn during and after each fitness blast.
But not every abbreviated workout is created equal. We dug into the latest science and polled top trainers and sports scientists to find the most effective and efficient fitness solutions. Here's how to maximize your time, whether you have one minute or 20.
1 minute: Total-Body Blasts
The solution for your short-on-time training: burpees. This body-weight exercise may just top the chart for how many major muscle groups it activates. And because you're moving quickly up and down off the ground, this move can yield a significant cardiovascular response in as little as 60 seconds, says Gibala.
Do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, then squat and place your hands on the floor, just outside your feet. Jump both legs back to a pushup position your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Immediately reverse the move, then jump as high as you can off the ground, raising your arms overhead.
That's one rep; do as many as you can in 60 seconds.
Modify based on your fitness level: To make it easier, step your feet back one at a time into the pushup position; to make it harder, do a pushup before continuing.
5 minutes: Flat-Belly Fix
Not only do traditional crunches target just one of your main core muscles, but after a few minutes of the repetitive motion, that muscle fatigues and other areas (like your hip flexors and neck) take over to compensate. "The exercises below are better—they activate your abdominal wall from all angles, targeting your entire core in fewer moves," says Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery.
Do it: Starting with the first exercise, complete the given number of reps, then immediately continue to the next move. Repeat until you've finished the entire workout.
1. Stability-Ball Rollout
Kneel in front of a stability ball with your knees hip-width apart and your forearms on the ball
(a) With a flat back, brace your core and slowly roll the ball forward as far as you can without dropping your hips
(b) Pause, then bend your elbows to roll the ball back to start.
That's one rep. Do 10.
2. Stability-Ball Pike
Start with your shins on top of the ball, arms straight, hands shoulder-width apart on the floor
(a) Brace your abs and keep your legs straight as you raise your hips toward the ceiling, drawing the ball toward you
(b) Pause, then slowly roll back to start
That's one rep. Do 10
3. Lying Leg Extension
Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees, hands outside your shins and shoulders lifted off the floor
(a) Straighten your legs in front of you and bring your arms back next to your ears
(b) Pause, then reverse the move.
That's one rep. Do 10.
4. Rotating Side Plank
Start in plank position
(a) Rotate your body and roll onto your left forearm, stacking your right foot on top of your left in a left side plank
(b) Hold for one or two seconds, then return to start; pause, then repeat on the other side.
Alternate sides for 30 seconds.
8 minutes: Rev Your Metabolism
This superfast strength-training plan created by trainer Craig Ballantyne, author of Turbulence Training, enhances endurance, builds muscle, and blasts fat.
Do it: Starting with the first exercise, repeat the intervals for four minutes, then immediately repeat the pattern with the second move.
1. Full-Extension Squat
Squat with your feet shoulder-width apart, your toes turned out slightly, and your arms down
(a) In one move, straighten your legs and lift onto the balls of your feet, swinging your arms up to shoulder height
(b) Lower your heels, hips, and arms to the starting position.
That's one rep. Do as many as you can in 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds.
That's one set. Do eight sets.
2. Switch Lunge
Step your right leg forward into a lunge, bending your right knee over your right ankle and your left knee toward the floor
(a) Step your right leg back to center, keeping your foot lifted. Immediately step your right foot back into a lunge, bending your right knee toward the floor and your left knee over your left ankle
(b) Step your right leg back to center, keeping your foot lifted.
That's one rep. Do as many reps as you can in 20 seconds. After 10 seconds of rest, switch sides.
You'll do eight sets of this move—four to the right and four to the left.
12 minutes: Quicken Your Cardio Burn
Most intervals include two training speeds—lightning-fast or barely moving. This plan adds a third, moderate speed into each one-minute segment. This tweak helps exercisers maintain a higher heart rate longer, compared with other types of interval training, says Jens Bangsbo, PhD, a professor of exercise and sport sciences at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. It can also help you speed up: Exercisers who followed this routine for 20 to 30 minutes dropped nearly a minute off their 5-K times. (You can gain similar benefits from just 12 minutes.)
Do it: After a short warm-up, follow this 30-20-10 plan, which can be used with any form of cardio. Finish with a short cooldown.
0:00-0:30 Jog at a slow pace
0:31-0:50 Run at a moderate pace
1:01-5:00 Repeat the 30-20-10 interval (five times total)
7:00-7:30 Jog at a slow pace
7:31-7:50 Run at a moderate pace
8:01-12:00 Repeat the 30-20-10 interval (five times total)
15 minutes: Build Strength, Fry Fat
This fast-paced circuit from Ballantyne alternates upper-and lower-body muscle groups to burn more calories in less time.
Do it: Check out Fry Fat in 15 Minutes for the entire workout circuit. Complete as many reps of each exercise as you can in 30 seconds, without resting in between moves. Rest one minute, then repeat for a total of three or four sets. Use a weight that feels challenging (try starting with eight to 12 pounds).
20 minutes: Fast-Track Results
In one study, participants who followed a program similar to the one below three times a week for two weeks saw the same benefits as those who completed 10 hours of moderate exercise during the two weeks, says Gibala. In layman's terms: You'll improve your body's efficiency in a fifth of the time. Plus, it's super easy to remember.
Do it: After a short warm-up, complete the following workout, repeating the pattern 10 times. Finish with a three-to five-minute cooldown.
On: Sprint! For one minute, run at a pace that leaves you winded but not breathless. (Think 8 out of 10, with 10 being your top speed.)
Off: Recover! For one minute, jog or walk. (You should be able to speak comfortably by the end.)
Share this article