Hour-long workouts are a beautiful thing—when you can fit them in. Of course, taking 60 minutes to exercise isn’t always possible, especially now. Fitting in time to exercise between day-long Zoom meetings can be a really tight squeeze. A short workout nowadays often seems more realistic than having hours to devote to your yoga practice or strength routine.
The good news is that you don’t actually need an hour of exercise every day. It’s possible to get an effective and efficient workout in, even when you only have a half-hour or less.
We asked top fitness experts how to get the most out of your time and still get a sweat-inducing workout in 30, 20, or just 10 minutes.
Meet the Expert
When You Have 30 Minutes
In 30 minutes, you can target a full-body routine, notes Megan Flanagan. “If you have this amount each day, I would alternate strength and cardio days, or find a way to build them into a combination workout,” she recommends.
As Many Rounds as Possible (AMRAP)
Set a timer for 30 minutes and try to do as many rounds as you can of an exercise circuit. (Or, try to get in 2-4 rounds if you are a beginner.) For example, do 8-12 reps of each exercise below, resting for 60-90 seconds between sets before repeating.
- Bent-over rows
- Reverse lunges
- Romanian deadlifts
- Plank hands-to-elbows
- Optional: cardio exercise such as jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or side-to-side hops
Upper Body/Lower Body Superset
In this challenging circuit, you’ll perform two upper-body exercises back-to-back, followed by two lower body exercises back-to-back. Aim for 8-12 reps of each exercise, resting for 60-90 seconds between sets before repeating. For example:
- Shoulder or chest presses followed by tricep dips
- Squats followed by step-ups for legs
- Optional: Cardio exercise such as jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or side-to-side hops.
Note: You can add another circuit with different upper and lower body moves to keep engaged for 30 minutes, or modify this set to just work out for 20 or 10 minutes.
When You Have 20 Minutes
“A mix between core and cardio is best for a 20 minute workout,” says Rachel Reddish, personal trainer at EōS Fitness. “It’s enough time to get your heart pumping and melt those extra calories.”
She recommends keeping the intensity high and focusing on pushing to nearly your max during the “on” portion of the workout and bringing your heart rate down on the “off” in set one. Then move on to set two. Rest for a minute. If you have more time, and repeat until you hit 20 minutes.
Perform 5 sets of the following—go 20 seconds on, then rest for 10 seconds:
- Jumping jacks
- High knees in place
- Mountain climbers
Perform 4 sets of:
When You Have Only 10 Minutes
Don’t count out working out because you only have 10 minutes. “When you are short on time, a quick cardio workout to get the blood flowing is ideal,” Reddish says. She recommends the below at-home cardio workout with some slightly more challenging movements.
Perform 5 sets with 20 seconds on and 10 seconds rest of the following:
- Toe taps to the edge of a chair
- Jumping lunges
Mix It Up
The above circuits can be modified in countless ways with different exercises so you can continuously switch up your workouts. This is important so you don’t plateau, Reddish notes. “Make sure you switch up your workouts regularly. Your body is great at adapting to the amount of work you give it. If you do the same movements in every at-home workout, your body will quickly get used to it, and your results will start slipping,” she says.
Effects of long versus short bout exercise on fitness and weight loss in overweight females. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Oct;20(5):494-501. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2001.10719058.