Home workouts were the breakout star of lockdown, with record numbers of us discovering just how varied home exercise can be.
According to a 2020 study by Sport England, 45% of us kept active at home during lockdown, through a combination of exercise plans, digital workouts, and freestyling it!
Why we love time-efficient workouts
We learned a lot from those home workout days of 2020. Turns out your living room can be a pretty nifty gym space! And all that time you save by not commuting to and from the gym can be used for an extra circuit, more stretching, or an add-on ab session. Yep, home workouts were fast and efficient if you knew how to do ‘em right!
How about now? As restrictions ease and gyms all over the UK open up, we all want to keep that get-it-done efficiency in our workouts. After all, we’ve got places to go and people to see.
How to structure an effective short workout
Whether your goal is building muscle, torching calories, or gaining strength, there are certain things you need to include in a workout. When you’re short on time, make sure your training sessions them all and you’ll be on to a winner!
Warm up – don’t jump straight from your desk to a HIIT workout. Your body and brain need a warm up to get you in the zone. Use bodyweight versions of your workout’s main exercises to warm up.
Mobility – take just 3-5 minutes to mobilise through key joints in the body (we’re talking hips, lower back, thoracic, shoulders) so you can move more efficiently and get the most from your session.
Resistance – even if your fitness goal isn’t building muscle, you should still add resistance training into your short workout. Adding load is the fastest way to encourage adaptation and burn calories.
Work hard – there’s no easy way to say this, you simply can’t get the most out of a short workout unless you put the effort in. Give it all you’ve got (then bask in the glow afterwards!)
Cool down – since you’ll be working oh-so-hard, you absolutely must do a proper cool down. Take a walk to lower your heart rate, then stretch out the muscles you’ve just worked. This is also a great time to start sipping on your post-workout drink like BCAAs or electrolytes.
The 5 elements of an efficient workout
What makes the difference between a so-so short workout and one that leaves you buzzing with endorphins? We’ve figured out the ingredients to that particular secret sauce – and here they are.
Intensity – when you haven’t got time for a long workout, you need to crank up the intensity! This means working to an 8-10/10 effort level. No slacking (you’ll be finished soon enough). Source.
Force – this refers to the weight or load you’ll be shifting during your workout. Whether that’s bodyweight, a kettlebell, or other free weights, you need to add some load to a short workout.
Rest periods – when your workout time is short, keep rest times even shorter. A great way to maintain your output is to use lower-intensity exercises in place of complete rest.
Modality – choose your modality or type of exercise to suit your goal. HIIT, resistance training, and anaerobic training are great choices of modality when time is short.
Frequency – the shorter your workouts, the more often you can get them done. Try to train 4+ times per week if your sessions are short.
Weird ways to transform short workouts
Wear a weighted vest – grab yourself a weighted vest and use it for bodyweight exercises, box step ups, pull ups and…well…anything! The added weight makes your body work harder, so you’ll burn more calories, increase your metabolic rate, and increase the rate of adaptation.
Add in sprints – sprint intervals are literally the fastest way to get incredible results from a short workout. You can run or do sprints on the rowing machine or bike. Include them as part of your main workout, or add 6-8 on to the end as a best-ever finisher.
PHA training – peripheral heart action (PHA) training is a type of circuit training where you pair up lower body and upper body exercises to make your cardiovascular system work harder. Super simple, super effective.
No rest periods – as you get fitter, you can decrease your rest periods or even get rid of them completely. Ideal if you are doing a 5 minute HIIT workout or mini circuit.
Get the most from a short training session
1 Go in with a plan. Whether you’ve got a training programme from a coach or you’re a self-taught ninja at finding HIIT workouts on the ‘gram, you’ve need to have a plan when time is tight.
2 Circuits and supersets. One of the best ways to get more from a short session is to keep moving. Circuits, supersets (pairing two exercises) and PHA training allow you to maintain the intensity.
3 Keep it simple. Don’t try to pack too much into a short workout. Pick a few effective exercises, add load, and work hard. After all, doing short training sessions means you training frequency goes up – so you can do different exercises next time!
4 Ditch the distractions. You haven’t got much time for this workout, so make every minute count. Pt your phone away. Pick a playlist and stick with it. Perfect your “do not disturb” facial expressions. You can post a sweaty selfie during your cool down…
5 If in doubt, do bodyweight. It’s easy to set up the perfect workout environment at home, but what happens when you want to train at the gym and every bit of kit is taken? Don’t let a busy gym derail your workout intensity. You can always swap out an exercise for a bodyweight alternative.
Awesome exercises when you’re short on time
We’ve rounded up the very best calorie-burning, muscle-toning exercises that you can do at home or in the gym so you can continue to tap into the efficiency of a short workout. Ready? Let’s get to it.
Squats – this big lower body exercises uses the powerhouse muscles of your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips and calves to become a heart-pumper of an exercise.
How to: depending on your experience, strength, and kit availability you could do barbell back squats or front squats, kettlebell goblet squats, or good old bodyweight air squats.
Burpees – there’s a reason burpees have a reputation as the exercise everybody loves to hate. They’re hard – and super effective at toning your entire body, burning calories, and getting you fit.
How to: lie down, stand up, jump with your hands overhead. Now speed it up! You can remove the jump at the end to do a less intense down-up if burpees are too much.
Walking lunges – any kind of lunge will introduce some valuable isometric work into your short training session. We like walking lunges, but you could do static lunges (forward or back) too.
How to: do bodyweight walking lunges (back knee lightly touching the ground on each rep) or add some weight via a weighted vest, kettlebell, or dumbbells.
Kettlebell swings – the simple kettlebell swing is an awesome way to combine cardiovascular work with a hip hinge movement to work the posterior chain.
How to: stand with feet wider than hip width, holding your kettlebell in both hands. Swing it back between your legs then use your hips to drive it forward (arms straight) to the level of your eye line.
Box jumps or step ups – the humble plyo box turns any short workout in to a killer workout that your glutes will be talking about for days.
How to: jump on to the box landing with box feet together, stand tall, then step back down. Or do step ups holding dumbbells or a kettlebell. Click here to explore other great ways to use the plyo box.
Press ups – there are lots of upper body movements you can introduce into a short workout (overhead pressing is great if you have the kit). But for a bodyweight workout or minimal space, you can’t beat the press up.
How to: adapt the press up by going from your knees or toes, with hands narrower (works the tripes) or wider (works the chest) to suit your ability and goals.
Barbell complex – got access to a barbell? Then add a barbell complex into your workout. These multi-movement exercises are an absolutely awesome way to get the most out of a short training session. Keep it light – you’ll soon see why!
How to: combine several barbell movements in one without putting the bar down. For example Romanian deadlift, bent over row, overhead press, back squat, overhead press, front squat.
Air bike sprints – short, intense sprints are a great way to fire up a short workout, but we think the air bike or Assault bike is the best (and by best, we mean most brutal) bit of kit to choose.
How to: sprint for 20 seconds, with 10 minutes off – true Tabata style.
Has all this talk of short workouts fired you up to train? Find your nearest gym and work out your way.