5 Ways to Get a Better Workout in Less Time

Workout in less time

Who doesn’t like the idea of getting more of the benefits of exercise while spending less time doing it? Believe it or not, there are ways to pack more benefits into your workouts without spending more precious minutes exercising. Even if you already lead a busy life, getting a workout in will help you stay mentally and physically healthier. It’s worth the effort! So, let’s look at how to power up your workouts and accomplish more in less time when you have too little time.

Focus on Large Muscle Groups When You Train

You know you need to strength train to maintain muscle mass as you age, but you might not have time for a long workout. If that’s the case, focus on exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time, compound, multi-joint exercises.

These are movements that teach your muscles to work together in a coordinated manner. Plus, they activate more muscle fibers for greater strength and muscle gains. For your lower body, squats, deadlifts, and lunges are compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. In contrast, leg extensions or leg curls only work muscles in isolation.

How about your upper body? Compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups include push-ups, pull-ups, bench press, triceps dips, and bent-over rows. Compare these exercises with biceps curls, triceps extensions, and other exercises that focus on a single muscle group. Build your workouts around compound exercises when you’re short on time. You’ll work more muscles in the same time period.

Ramp Up the Intensity of Your Workouts

You can accomplish as much or more and work out less if you boost the intensity of your workouts. A 15-minute high-intensity workout can have as many benefits, or more, as a 30-minute workout at a moderate pace or intensity. The best way to add intensity is to work out at intervals through high-intensity interval training.

With interval training, you work out at near maximal effort for a set time interval and then rest and recover during the rest interval that follows. The ratio of time spent actively exercising relative to time spent resting is called the work-to-rest ratio, and it should vary depending on your fitness level and goals.

When you’re just starting out, a longer rest interval works best, so a good ratio for beginners is 30 seconds of exercise followed by 1 minute of rest for a 1-to-2 ratio. As you progress, switch to a 1-to-1 ratio. You can do a variety of exercises during the active interval – cycle, jump rope, plyometric exercises, sprint, do jumping jacks, burpees, and more. The key is to work as hard as you can during the work interval. With interval training, you can cut your training time in half and get similar benefits.

The same applies to strength training. Lift heavier and do lower repetitions; this is the ideal formula for building strength too. Also, when you lift with intensity, you can get by with doing fewer sets and a shorter total workout volume and still build strength. So, when time is in short supply, shorten your workouts and focus on intensity.

Do Circuit Workouts

Circuit workouts are an integrated approach to exercising. With a circuit workout, you can boost your workout while you work on building strength. So, you’re training several fitness modalities at a time, including cardiovascular, strength, fat loss, and muscle endurance. To do a circuit workout, choose 5 strength exercises and do them in succession for 30 seconds without stopping to rest in between.

To boost the cardiovascular benefits more, include a cardio movement for 30 seconds between each strength movement. For example, do a set of squats for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of jumping rope or running in place. Follow this with the second strength exercise, followed by cardio. Keep repeating. With this approach, you should be able to get an effective total body workout that burns significant calories in 30 minutes.

Use Your Own Body Weight

If you pressed for time and don’t have access to a gym or weights, do a bodyweight workout instead. You’ll get more done in the same time interval because you don’t have to drive to a gym or switch from one weight to the next. People underestimate the power of bodyweight exercises. Push-ups, triceps dips, pull-ups, deep squats without weights, and planks are all moves you can use to get a total body workout without equipment. Set up a circuit where you do each exercise in succession and repeat a few times. And yes, you can get an effective workout using only your own body weight without the necessity of using weights. However, there are benefits to using weights to maximize your strength gains, since you need to progressively increase the load on your muscles and it’s hard to do that using only your bodyweight.

Change When You Exercise

When time is an issue, when you exercise matters. For time-strapped folks, first thing in the morning workouts usually works best. Once you start the day’s itinerary, it’s harder to make time for exercise. Plus, an exercise session boosts blood flow to your brain and gets you mentally prepared for the upcoming day. Once it’s out of the way, you can conquer the rest of your day while knowing you accomplished something. If you need to, set the alarm 20 minutes earlier to get that workout in.

The Bottom Line

Pack more punch into your workouts with these changes, and when you’re tempted not to work out because you’re pressed for time, think about how good you feel afterward and the positive things it does for your mental and physical health. It’s worth every minute!



  • Exp Gerontol. 2018 Jul 1;107:108-115. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2018.02.016. Epub 2018 Feb 19.
  • Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Jun; 6(2): e24057.Published online 2015 Jun 22. doi: 10.5812/asjsm.24057.
  • com. “What are the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT)?”


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