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Make Time for Exercise with Shorter Workouts

Using the time you have.

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Updated March 22, 2013

I wish I had a dollar for every friend, reader or client who said the following: "I just don't have time to exercise." I would certainly have a lot more money than I do now.

It's easy to let a busy schedule turn you off of exercise and that's often compounded by the fact that we know we need a certain amount of exercise time to lose weight and get healthy. There's cardio, which we're supposed to do most days of the week for 30-60 minutes and then strength training workouts, which we're supposed to do 2-3 times a week. If you're already struggling to get any exercise, it may seem impossible to accomplish that.

It really is possible to get your workouts in, if you learn the best way to use the time you have.

Using Your Time Wisely

You may have heard that shorter workouts done throughout the day are just as effective at burning calories as one, longer workout. That's great, but it's confusing trying to figure out how to change your longer workouts into shorter ones. If you only have 10 or 15 minutes at a time, how long should your warm up be? What exercises should you do? How can you keep the intensity up to get an effective workout?

When it comes to cardio, there are number of ways you can work hard in the time you have. The key is to make the workouts intense. If you only have 10 minutes, you want to work as hard as you can in those 10 minutes. If you can find 10 minutes 3 times a day, you can get in a great workout.

Short Cardio Workouts

If you only have a few minutes for cardio, your focus should be on intensity. Any activity will do, as long as you can work hard at it and get your heart rate up. Remember to do a warm up, no matter how short your workout is. You don't want to jump into a high intensity workout without getting your body ready for it.

Below is an example of a 10-minute outdoor workout involving walking, running and jumping jacks. If you don't like high impact, you can stay with the walking and add intensity by speedwalking or adding hills to the workout. You can also try this 10-minute low impact circuit workout. Use this Perceived Exertion Scale to track your intensity:

Outdoor Workout:

1 minute: Warm up with a brisk walk - RPE - up to 5
1 minute: Speedwalk - speed up until your RPE is at 6-7
1 minute: Run - RPE 8
1 minute: Jumping Jacks - RPE 8
1 minute: Speedwalk - RPE 8
1 minute: Run - RPE 9
1 minute: Jumping Jacks - RPE 9
1 minute: Run - RPE 9
1 minute: Jumping Jacks - RPE 9
1 minute: Sprint - RPE 9
1 minute: Walk at an easy pace to cool down - RPE back down to 3-5

You can also get some cardio in at work. If you have a flight of stairs, take 10 minutes and divide your workout into 1-minute segments like the one listed above. Start with a warm up (walking up the stairs slowly) and alternate running up the stairs and walking down each minute. You can also try this Boot Camp Workout to do at home.

Strength Training Workouts

When it comes to strength training, you can do the same type of thing as cardio workouts. By doing compound exercises (exercises that target more than one muscle group) without rest between sets, you can squeeze in a strength training workout in 10 minutes, if that's all you have. Ideally, it's best to spend more time on your strength training to really target those muscles, but you'll always have days when you're short on time.

Below are some workouts ideas for short strength training routines:

If you're ready to try something different, check out my new 10-Minute Strength Training Workout. The workout takes you through 10 different exercises and you'll perform each exercise for 20-60 seconds, depending on your fitness level. The exercises use either no equipment or a medicine ball, although you can do the entire workout without any equipment. Add intensity by adding weight to the exercises. Be sure to check with your doctor before you begin any type of exercise program and modify the workout according to your fitness level.

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