Short On Time? Don’t Short Your Training.

Written by: Jenny Dizubla

You planned for the 6 pm workout class but your final meeting of the day ran late. You wanted to get up early for that morning sweat sesh but your kid was up in the middle of the night crying. You intended to workout while ‘on the road’ but you’re feeling sluggish from traveling and know you don’t have the energy for your typical hour-long workout. How do we get in quality training when we’re short on time?

            The quality of your workout should not be determined by the length of your workout.

Before I get into why it’s a good idea to use any amount of time you do have to train, I also want to acknowledge that sometimes it’s also a good idea to dedicate that time to family, meditation, a walk, or to simply rest. That decision will depend on your energy and stress levels, personal priorities, and state of mind. There will be days when a walk does more good than weights.

If there’s any valid excuse for not using the [insert any amount of time here] minutes you have available to exercise, it’s that you may not know how to organize that time. This article will outline three important principles to keep in mind when planning training sessions that are 30 minutes or less.

Before doing that, let’s talk about warm-ups. Warm-ups should be a non-negotiable. But when we’re short on time they’re usually first to the chopping block. The purpose of a warm-up is to prevent or reduce the risk of injury, establish proprioception (become aware of our body/limbs in space), prepare our muscles for movement, and prepare the body and mind for the task at hand. When you look at it like this, the warm-up sounds a lot like a workout; And it can be. If I only have 10 minutes, I might only have time for a warm-up – and that’s OK! The example workouts at the end of this article include warm-ups that can stand alone if you only have 10 minutes.

The Principles

1). Something is better than nothing

Any amount of time you have for movement is enough time. It’s enough time because it’s what will fit into your life today. There may be more time tomorrow, or even less time the next day. It does not matter. The point is not the amount of time, it’s how you make the most of the time you have.

This Precision Nutrition article puts it best:

“You’ll stop skipping workouts. When you know it’s only 6 or 10 minutes of exercise, the excuses start dissolving. And you get in the habit of exercising instead of in the habit of skipping workouts (which some people get quite good at).”

Short and consistent is better than long and sporadic. If you find yourself skipping more workouts than you’re completing, it’s time to consider your own ‘minimum effective dose’.

2). “What gets measured gets managed.” – Peter Drucker

When we effectively organize our limited training time and know how we’ll use minute 1 to minute 10 (20) (30), we manage that time because we’re working toward a measurable goal. The key to success in any short training session is planning and managing time. How do we do that?

  • Build a stockpile of pre-programmed workouts. 

    If you’re already short on time, you likely won’t have time to program a workout on the fly. Set yourself up for success by having a handful of pre-programmed workouts that vary by type, environment, and equipment needs. See example workouts at the end of this post.

  • Write it down.

    After completing a short training session, track it. Take note of anything you’d like to change the next time you do that same program, what weights you used or how many reps you completed. Treat it with the same respect you do a longer training session.

  • Anticipate and manage potential distractions.

    When you’re short on time, even a single wasted minute can dampen the intensity of your condensed training session. If you’re using your phone as a timer, put it on airplane mode so incoming calls and texts don’t demand your attention. If the gym is crowded and you’re concerned about the availability of equipment, set-up ahead of time and do your best to keep everything in one area. If you’re training with someone, let them know before the workout that you need to focus and would prefer to socialize when you’re done.

3) Choose a workout based on what’s available

I’m not just talking about available equipment. I’m also talking about perceived energy, available time, weather-appropriate clothing (if training outside), etc. If you have a wide array of pre-programmed workouts based on what’s available, you’re more likely to train. When building a stockpile of workouts, be sure they can meet the range of conditions you anticipate facing. These may include:

  • Bodyweight
  • Outdoor
  • Kettlebell/dumbbell only
  • Treadmill/elliptical/bike only
  • Barbell only
  • Access to fully-equipped gym
  • Low-energy / high-stress

And then determine the design that will work best in your environment and other factors:

  • Circuit:

    X different exercises for X number of reps/rounds

  • For time:

    Complete X workout as quickly (and safely) as possible (or) complete as much as possible in X amount of time available

  • Intervals:

    Work for X amount of time and rest for X amount of time, repeat for time available

  • Steady state:

    Complete 1 activity or movement for X amount of time available – i.e. Run or bike for 20 minutes, walk for 30 minutes

Below you’ll find 3 examples of 30-minute workouts (including warm-ups) as well as 1 warm-up you can use for a 10-minute workout.

#1: Bodyweight – Circuit

Warm-up (approximately 10 minutes)

Circuit (complete as many rounds as possible with remaining time)

#2: Kettlebell/Dumbbell Only – Interval

Warm-up (approximately 10 minutes)

3 min ON / 1 min OFF (for as many rounds as possible with remaining time)

#3: Barbell Only – Circuit

Warm-up (approximately 10 minutes)

Descending Landmine Circuit* (start with 8-10 reps per exercise and descend by 1 rep each round, working down until you either hit 1 or have no time left)

*How to set-up a landmine, see this article on STACK:

#4: Warm-Up as a Workout

Bio: Jenny Dziubla is a Communications Coach with Vautier Communications and moonlights as a trainer for both individuals and groups. She is a Certified Functional Strength Coach and is based in San Jose, CA.