There’s plenty of misinformation out there about fitness and weight loss. Statements like “cardio is the only exercise you need to lose weight,” “strength training will make you bulk up” and “You can spot reduce your midsection with lots of sit-ups,” are just three examples. To set the record straight: weight training is incredibly important in any health and fitness journey, it will certainly not make you bulk up; oh, and unfortunately doing more crunches will not give you a six-pack, you have to reduce all over fat to see the results you’re looking for. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But, on the bright side, there’s one more myth to clear up that could make your life a lot easier: more is not more when it comes to the length of your workout.
In fact, you don’t need nearly as much time as most people think in order to reap the benefits of exercise. This is especially good news during the holiday season when free time is at a minimum and daily caloric intake is at a maximum. Instead of adopting the, “there’s no point” attitude and using it as an excuse not to move for the whole month of December, rest assured that fitting in a small workout can be just as, if not more effective than that 90-minute cardio session. Here’s everything you need to know about making the most of a short sweat.
Switch it up
Want to burn more calories in less time and continue to see results long after you take your Nikes off? The key to achieving all that is to continually rotate between strengthening exercises and short blasts of cardio. You reap the benefits of strength training (hello, all-day calorie burn), the advantages of cardio intervals (oh, hey, speedy metabolism) and can do it all in 20 minutes or less (what up holiday parties, I’m available!). Studies show that just 15 minutes of high intensity intervals mixed with strength training, achieves more positive progress than doing one exercise at a steady rate for an hour. Best of all, you don’t need any equipment to get the job done. At the gym where I am a fitness and boxing coach we don’t have cardio equipment so to get those explosive intervals in. Instead, I have clients perform body weight exercises that fire up the heart rate—think jump squats, mountain climbers, burpees, skater lunges, high knees.
Try: Alternate between those and lower impact strengthening moves like pushups, wall-sits, walking lunges, planks and tricep dips and you’ve got a fast, effective and excuse free plan.
Multi-task your moves
You can do a lunge and you can do a bicep curl and separately they’re both fine; doing them together, on the other hand—way better! Combining exercises is an amazing way to ramp up the intensity of a workout and make the most of a short amount of time. Engaging in complex, as opposed to isolated moves, increases the cardio demands, caloric expenditure and also allows you to target more muscles in less time. Win, win, win.
Try: Add a curl and a shoulder press to a squat, a tricep extension to a lunge, a row to a plank or a leg raise to a side plank. There are endless options—the trick is to get creative with the combinations and just go for it. The worst that can happen is you look a little awkward but hey, it’s a small price for a big payoff.
A lot of workouts revolve around doing a certain amount of reps and then taking a break. But, often that can hold us back from giving it our all. After all, we know how many reps we need to do to get it done, we can take our time and never have to push ourselves to do more than we set out to do. One of the easiest ways to move past this plateau is to do timed intervals instead of counting reps. My personal favourite recipe for this kind of training? Tabata! For those unfamiliar with this protocol it’s an amazing intervals drill that combines 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest for a total of eight sets or four minutes. Studies show that even three or four rounds of Tabata is enough to see some impressive results.
Try: Start one round of pushups, one round of jump squats and one round of burpees for an amazing full body burn, all in less than 15 minutes.
Similar to Tabata, there’s another sweat structure that can take your workout to the next level—known as AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible). This is a popular CrossFit workout that outlines a specific sequence of exercises as well as a total amount of time. The idea is to perform the sequence as many times as possible within the total timeslot, without taking breaks. This forces you to go as hard and as fast as possible for a short but intense amount of time.
Try: Usually the total time is somewhere around the 7-10 minute mark and if you really go all out, you don’t need much more than that to feel the effects.
Optimize your cardio
If absolutely none of these routines appeal to you and you’re still tempted to jump on that elliptical trainer, the good news is there are a few tricks that can improve the effectiveness and reduce the overall time on a cardio machine. The first tip is to constantly switch it up. Yes, every 60 seconds change up the speed, the resistance or the incline on the machine, making each minute completely different from the last. This will not only help to keep the body guessing—meaning higher calorie burn and a faster metabolism—but it will also make the time fly by, thanks to the mental distraction of constantly changing it up.
Try: Another awesome way to up the ante on the treadmill or elliptical is to grab a set of small weights. Move the feet at a steady rate and add in continual arm movements. From bicep curls to tricep extensions, straight punches to arm holds, shoulder presses to arm circles—simply adding in these basic upper body moves will increase the demand, the intensity and the sweat in a hurry and also help achieve those coveted Aniston arms. Chop that the regular one-hour treadmill session in half and enjoy all the festive fun.