I’ve been excited to see mainstream media and even mainstream fitness companies promoting shorter workouts.
Even P90X is coming out with a P90X30 (Even though Tony Horton and I have very different views on nutrition, I think he is a workout/exercise genius and always love seeing what he comes up with.)
And while some may think short workouts are just the newest fitness “fad,” there is actually a lot of evidence to prove that they may just be what you need to get truly great results.
That many of us are actually working out for too long.
That short workouts aren’t simply “better than nothing.”
That 15-30 minutes may actually be better for your health and help you reach your goals faster than your hour-long workouts 5 days a week.
Here are some reasons why you should keep your workouts shorter and some ways to maximize your time in the gym.
Just to highlight the some key parts:
- Hormone levels are optimized with shorter workouts. After about 45 minutes of working out, your testosterone levels return back down to normal and your cortisol levels begin to rise. That means less muscle-building hormone is available AND more catabolic hormone (aka a hormone that breaks down muscle tissue) is starting to circulate.
- Mentally you just can’t keep your intensity up for an hour or longer. At some point you lose focus and really can’t push yourself to work as hard as you need to for great results. However, if you keep your workouts shorter, you will stay focused and work hard the entire time.
- It is easy to get a lot out of a short workout by playing with a few workouts variables like shorter rest, heavier weights, more volume, slower/faster repetition tempo…And many of these variables have great health and fitness benefits of their own that aren’t really capitalized on with longer workouts.
Here are also some great 30 minute workouts you can do anywhere.
In case you need something even shorter, you can get great results in just 15 minutes.
Just the other day, I posted a great 15 minute Lower Body Blast. Click here for this great lower body workout.
And below is an upper body 15 minute workout (just so you have a lower body AND upper body option)!
15-Minute Upper Body Blast
Stretch and Roll Out:
Set a timer for 15 minutes and complete as many rounds as possible in that time. Your goal is to get as much work done as you can in that time. Pick a variation of each exercise that challenges and fatigues you yet doesn’t cause you to go to failure so that you have to spend a lot of time resting.
5-10 reps Dips
5-15 reps Inverted Rows
10-30 reps Battling Ropes Sidewinders
Stretch and Roll Out:
Dips – Beginners may do an assisted variation off of dip bars or parallel bars. They may also do these off of kettlebells or a bench. Advanced exercisers will do full dips and may even add weight to challenge them.
To do a full dip, place one hand on each bar. Press up to the top so that your arms are fully extended. Then slowly bend your elbows and lower your body down. You want to lower yourself down until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. If you can’t get a full range of motion, regress the move so that you can. Then drive back up through your hands until you are fully extended at the top. Keep your core tight so you don’t arch your low back. Do not lean too far forward.
To do this move from the bench, place both hands on the bench behind you. Your finger tips should hang over the bench and face you. Stretch your legs out then in front of you, keeping your butt and back right up against the bench. The straighter your legs are and the further your heels are from your butt, the harder the move will be. To make the move easier, bend your knees and walk your heels back toward your butt and the bench. Bend your elbows and drop your butt toward the ground. Drop so your upper arms are parallel to the ground then press back up. Keep your butt and back right up against the bench. Do not let your body drift forward.
Inverted Rows – Hold a suspension trainer strap in each hand. Walk your feet out so you are leaning back. The closer to parallel to the ground you get, the harder the move will be. Squeeze your core and glutes and press your chest out so there is tension between your shoulder blades. Then row up, keeping your body in a nice straight line. Row until your chest comes up to the handles and then lower yourself back down. Don’t let your hips sink as you lower back down. Also, keep your chest pressed out the entire time (do not let your low back arch though). When you pull back up, don’t bounce off the bottom. If you don’t have a suspension trainer, you can use a smith machine bar or barbell set up low. If there is no bar or XT/TRX on which to do rows, do scapular push ups or corner rows.
Battling Ropes Sidewinders – Loop the rope around an anchor and hold one side in each hand. Keep more slack in the rope than you would with other battling ropes moves. Relax your arms down straight and stand with your feet between hip-width and shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and don’t be afraid to hinge forward a little. Then sweep your arms to the right, rotating through your core even pivoting a little up onto your left toes. Do not pull to far around. Then quickly sweep your arms to the left. You want to quickly push and pull with your abs to sweep the rope back and forth. Keep your arms more relaxed and only slightly bent. Your arms and the rope should stay out in front of you. The ropes should make snake-like waves on the ground and swish side to side. They should not move up and down off the ground. Make sure you do not round your back as you create the waves. Keep your chest up even if you slightly hinge forward as you create the waves.
If you don’t have a rope or the space to do sidewinders, you can do rotational med ball throws or even a russian twist. You want to pick a move that will work your core and, preferably, get your heart rate up just a teeny bit.
What are your favorite quick workouts?
Have you started integrating shorter workouts into your routine more often or do you feel like a workout doesn’t count if it isn’t at least an hour?
So I have a number of clients that travel and/or like to workout at home in between days when we train.
They don’t necessarily have access to equipment or even a ton of space although they can get outside or into the gym once a week for a little sprint session.
They are also generally short on time and need something they can either do quickly at before work or at the end of the night when all they want to do is eat and go to bed.
For these clients, I’ve developed 5 basic workouts that they can do ANYWHERE in only 30 minutes!
These workouts include upper and lower body strengthening as well as cardio and metabolic training! You don’t need to do all five every week either.
One week you can do the lower body, upper body and cardio (or metabolic) workouts. And another week you can do the total body, cardio and metabolic workouts. And then a third week you can do the upper body, lower body and total body workouts!
You can really combine the five to help you reach any fitness goals!
Anyway, just a great guide to have if you are ever short on time and don’t have access to much space or equipment!
So I’ve been asked numerous times recently about how long your workout should last. In case you had the same question, my answer is…Keep it short! Maximize the time you have in the gym.
Honestly, your workouts really never need to go over an hour and here is why:
Many of us think that the more we do, the better our results will be.
But more isn’t always better.
Longer, harder workouts…extra reps…don’t always equal greater results.
People will even tell you that you aren’t doing enough if your workouts aren’t at least an hour or two.
But who is really focusing the entire time or working as hard as they can when they spend two hours in the gym?
And if they are really working at 100% the entire time, they are probably overtraining and hindering their strength and size gains even further!
Sometimes too long, too hard, too much can end up hindering your progress and even cause you to go backwards – it may be the reason why you’ve been stuck looking the same way and lifting the same weight for the past few months or even years!
While hour-long or even two-hour long workouts have their place and time, most of your workouts shouldn’t last that long.
Sometimes less is actually more!
It is about being efficient in the gym, using compound lifts, shorter rest periods, heavier weights, and optimizing the time you spend there because the hormones that our bodies produce work to our advantage when we keep our workouts under 60 minutes and can actually hinder our progress when we go over.
When you start training, your body will boost testosterone levels significantly and around 30 minutes into your workout, testosterone levels in your body will peak. By about 45 minutes, your testosterone levels are returning back to normal.
So all those guys and gals spending two hours in the gym have been working without the aid of a key muscle-building hormone for about an hour and 15 minutes. They would have gotten more benefit out of 45 minutes of intense, compound, heavy lifting and optimal testosterone levels.
And on top of the fact that at about 45 minutes your testosterone levels are returning to normal, at about 60 minutes, your body will start producing more cortisol than testosterone and cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning it breaks down tissue instead of building it up!
When your workouts go over 60 minutes in length, you hormones are no longer helping you build muscle and burn fat. Your body is instead producing more cortisol, which breaks down muscle tissue, reduces protein synthesis, and increases body fat storage. Your body begins to fight against all of the hard work you are doing!
So instead of lifting heavy one set and wandering around the gym for five minutes “resting,” why not stay focused and get some high quality work done while your testosterone is raised?
Also, if you keep your workout shorter but more intense with compound movements, heavy weights and varied rest periods, you will optimize your hormone levels even more.
By lifting heavier with compound movements, you will maximize your testosterone response especially if you do enough volume. Working in the hypertrophy rep range of 8-12 reps for 4-5 sets at about 75% of your one rep max has been shown to result in significant increases in testosterone levels and other hormones that result in better protein synthesis.
And to get even more out of every rep, play with your tempo especially on the eccentric portion of your lifts. The eccentric portion of a lift, when the muscle lengthens, is where you can cause the most muscle damage. Studies also suggest that more protein synthesis happens after lifts with an emphasis on eccentric training. So between causing more muscle damage and more protein synthesis, focusing on the eccentric lift will cause bigger and better size and strength gains!
Also, while so many of the muscled guys and gals around the gym spend just as much time lifting as they do resting, long rest intervals may not be the best way to maximize your growth hormone response, a hormone that increases protein synthesis and muscle mass. Short rest intervals have been shown to create a strong growth hormone and testosterone response. Short rest intervals actually increase growth hormone levels higher than longer rest intervals.
However, don’t ignore the benefit of adding in some longer rest intervals especially when lifting super heavy and intensely. High intensity exercise does raise cortisol levels and longer rest intervals do allow for more complete recovery and also increase testosterone levels to counteract cortisol levels. Make sure to VARY your rest intervals.
So stop wasting your time in the gym doing two-hour, non-efficient workouts when your cortisol levels are working against you.
Not only are you not getting the most out of your time in the gym, but you are also causing yourself to not recover as well or as quickly.
Work SMARTER not LONGER!
So yea…That is my answer when it comes to how long your workouts should be.
Got another question? Let me know!
Trust me…you don’t want to.
Yesterday I did my lift and circuit and then last minute had to sub a cardio kicks class (cardio kickboxing).
I don’t teach cardio kickboxing so it was definitely a different experience.
I also wasn’t planning to teach and was more than fatigued from my workout earlier.
In the locker room, I was talking to one of my clients about the fact that I was sweating more than anyone else in the class and that I was super tired after two workouts.
One of my other clients and her friend said, “I wish I could workout twice in one day.”
My response to them was, “No you don’t.”
I’m not saying that it can’t be fun to have a super active day, but honestly there is never any reason that you need TWO workouts in one day.
If you workout intensely for 30 minutes, that can be more than enough for one day!
Workouts don’t have to be super long to get results. A lot of times shorter, more intense workouts are truly better!!!