If you were to take a look at the list of reasons why people don’t work out, “I don’t have time” would rank right up near the top, next to “I just don’t want to” and “Everything hurts.”
We get it: Time is as precious as the latest Jordan brand retro release, but even small amounts of it can be enough to get in a sweat for the day—provided you know how to use it. To that end, we asked a few experts for the lowdown on the best workouts for your busy schedule, whether you have a full, glorious hour at your disposal or just ten measly minutes.
The workout: High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
The expert: Sarah Gawron, coach at Solace New York and strength coach for Phase Six
Like the name suggests, HIIT training involves intense, max-effort movements followed by short rest periods. Those quick bursts turn your body into a furnace that burns calories at a rapid rate long after the actual workout is over, making it ideal for days when you’re especially low on time.
In practice: Try a tabata workout—20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for eight rounds of movement—of push-ups and air squats, alternating between the two exercises.
Need to know: With so little time, there is zero time for loafing. “You’re really supposed to be giving it all you’ve got during the work periods,” says Gawron. “During the rest periods, focus on breathing and lowering your heart rate in order to perform at a high level during the work period.”
The workout: Yoga
Your expert: Alex Silver-Fagan, Nike master trainer and MIRROR founding trainer
We’ve all heard the benefits of yoga about a bazillion times: It gets rid of stress, reduces anxiety, and helps stretch tired, sore muscles. But research also shows that including some flow in your regular routine can lead to major strength gains, including a significant increase in one-rep max performance in the weight room.
In practice: Silver-Fagan recommends a fast vinyasa flow of sequences linked together with sun salutations—think up dog, down dog, and chaturanga—over the course of 20 minutes. If this yogi lingo is foreign to you, don’t be intimidated; a quick YouTube tutorial search will bring you up to speed for free.
Need to know: “Yoga doesn’t have to be a slow burn all the time,” says Silver-Fagan. “With the style recommended, it can be equal to moderate-intensity cardio, which also helps to develop muscle strength, which will prevent injury during other workouts.”
Your workout: Weightlifting
Your expert: Denzel Allen, StrongFirst certified team leader in San Francisco
That old gym standby!. Aside from increasing bone density and helping with injury prevention, pumping iron boosts your mood. Research shows that you can build muscle from lifting lighter weights, too, which means you don’t need to be lifting like an aspiring Mat Fraser to see a big difference. Cardio enthusiasts will be relieved to hear that half-hour of serious lifting is also enough to elevate your heart rate.
In practice: Hitting the weights should be about more than pumping up those beach muscles. “Work your entire body through movements like goblet squats, overhead press, kettlebell swings and turkish get ups,” he suggests. “This combination can really help oil up your joints by bringing them through a near full range of motion and balancing out the body—both of which are necessary for building resilience.”
Need to know: Before you pick up anything substantial, nail your form first. “Technique trumps the amount of weight,” says Allen. “Being strong for life means we need to check our ego and not allow the weight to dictate how we move, but to let how we move dictate the weight.”
Your workout: Pilates
Your expert: Katherine Mason, Founder of Sculpthouse
These days, everyone from the guy standing next to you in Starbucks to NFLers like Brandin Cooks are taking on Pilates, especially the Reformer—a machine that looks like a guillotine on its side, equipped with straps, springs, and platforms that offer different levels of resistance. “Movements on the machines are based on pushing or pulling against resistance—think ab roller, lunges, or shoulder press on steroids,” says Mason. “The machine uses variable spring resistance to allow for peak muscle contraction while reducing the stress on the joints and connective tissue.”
In practice: In almost every Pilates movement, you’ll feel a muscle burn within 15 seconds. “Unlike lifting weights in the gym or other classes, these moves focus on time under tension,” says Mason. “Transitions are kept to a minimum to keep the muscles working and the heart rate up, which means after 40 minutes, you’re ready to be done.”
Need to know: If you’re used to explosive exercise, you’re going to need to slow your roll. “Think between eight and sixteen counts per rep,” says Mason. “The body needs to reach a certain threshold of exercise intensity to stimulate the muscles effectively and maximize results.”
Your workout: Running intervals
Your expert: Andrew Slane, Precision Run studio coach in New York City
It’s time to channel your inner Usain Bolt. Quick bursts of running over an extended amount of time allow you to repeatedly hit high levels of energy further into your workout, says Slane. “You are giving that energy system a chance to refuel before using it again, avoiding mid-workout burnout.” Plus, interval training scorches calories. Four 30-second sprints can burn the same amount of calories as 30 minutes of non-stop moderate aerobic exercise, according to research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
In practice: Running intervals for 50 minutes means you likely sprint for a total of about 25 minutes, says Slane. Try tackling ten 400-meter sprints with a two-minute walking break between each, and then ten 200-meter sprints with a one-minute rest between each. “With this timing, depending on how fast your sprint and recovery paces are, you could cover between 3 miles to 6 miles in 50 minutes,” he says.
Need to know: During an interval workout, your goal is to go as hard as possible during the “on” parts, which means that rest is for just that—rest. Walking is totally acceptable. The point is to bring your heart rate down between each stint, so you’re ready to give it all you’ve got by the time you’re ready to pick up the pace.
Your workout: A long run
Your expert: Jes Woods, Nike+ Running Coach
Not only can running lead to a longer life, but it’s also great for your mental health. “It takes a lot of mental toughness to slow down, stick it out, find your zen, and enjoy a conversational pace,” says Woods. Plus, a 160-pound guy burns almost 850 calories running for an hour at a 9:00-minute mile pace, according to Runner’s World.
In practice: The goal for a 60-minute run is to find a pace where you could talk to someone else and feel comfortable with the effort, says Woods. Aim for a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) around a 5 or 6 out of 10, where 1 is a nap and 10 is sprinting to the ice cream truck when the outside temperature is approaching triple digits.
Need to know: Take a moment to scan your body as the miles click by. Are you tense in your shoulders, or clenching your fists? If so, let it go. That tension can impact your stride and lead to injury, which is one more excuse to work out that you don’t need in your life.