7 Ways to Make the Most of a Short Workout


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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A few years ago, Boston Sports Clubs conducted a study to find out how exercise duration affected one’s adherence to a workout program. They found that participants who exercised for 20 to 30 minutes actually exercised more consistently than people who worked out for 45 to 60 minutes at a time. The results are clear: You may be more likely to stick with shorter workouts than longer ones.

These findings didn’t surprise anyone at SparkPeople, since we’ve found that short workouts provide a great foundation to build lasting lifestyle changes. And why are longer workouts harder to stick to? Time constraints coupled with an all-or-nothing exercise mentality (deciding it’s better to do nothing when you can’t fit in a full hour) could be to blame.

When SparkPeople founder Chris Downie and I were researching and writing the new Strong Start Guide for the new paperback version of The Spark, we discovered similar findings. We surveyed more than 2,000 members to find out exactly what they did in the first two weeks of their weight-loss programs to either make or break their motivation and affect their results. "Strong starters" were the most successful in the beginning—and in the long term, and the habits, attitudes and even workouts they followed were markedly different than those whom we refer to as "false starters." When it came to exercise, these two groups couldn't have been more different!

Both strong and false starters alike seem to know that exercise is an important component of a weight-loss plan. In fact, the majority of people in both groups incorporated three to five days of exercise per week when starting their programs. But would you believe that the people who lost more weight and got off to a stronger start spent less time working out?

On average, strong starters exercised for 30 minutes per day during the first two weeks. For false starters, the amount was double: they sweated for an average of 60 minutes per session. So why did they get off to such a slow start? A few factors could be at work here.

Doing too much too soon can easily lead to exercise burnout and sap your motivation, plus going from zero to 60 minutes right off the bat can also increase your risk for injury.

SparkPeople member RONIROO2U had a strong start that led her to drop more than 100 pounds, but not before trying and failing all sorts of other diet and exercise programs. “What worked with SparkPeople were the small lifestyle changes that I took on one day at a time," she explained. "I realized that I could adapt to lifestyle changes based on my own preferences. I didn’t have to work out on a StairMaster for 30 minutes a day, for example. I could get in my daily exercise with ten minutes here and there.”

Another relevant discovery was the overall attitude that false starters had toward exercise. They were less likely to enjoy it than strong starters, less likely to make an effort to change up their workouts, and less likely to try new exercises. One could make the case that these long workouts were nothing more than a punishment—something false starters didn’t view positively to begin with and therefore couldn’t maintain for the long haul.

If you've been struggling to stick with a workout routine, maybe it's time to stop forcing it and just do less! Short workouts can be just as effective. In fact, here are some tips to make the most of a short workout.

7 Easy Tips to Make the Most of a Short Workout
You can get great results with short workouts, not only because you’re more likely to stick with them, but also because you’ll learn to maximize what little time you have to devote to exercise. Use these ideas to get better results in less time!
  1. Add incline. If you’re using cardio machines or walking or biking outdoors, take to the hills! This will challenge your body more and burn a greater number of calories in the same amount of time.
  2. Don’t hold on. Leaning on the handles or console of a cardio machine feels easier for a reason: it takes weight off your lower body so you’re not working as hard. Resist the urge to relax by focusing on good posture.
  3. Try intervals. Interval training (alternating between higher-intensity and lower-intensity bursts within a single workout) improves your fitness level and burns more fat than exercising at one steady pace. Try short intervals (start with 10 to 30 seconds) of high-intensity exercise, such as running, followed by some longer intervals (about one to two minutes) of lower intensity moves, such as walking. Repeat several times throughout your workout session.
  4. Don’t fear the weights. Strength training can help improve your appearance and boost your metabolism so you burn more calories, even at rest.
  5. Get on the circuit train. Keep your heart rate up, stoke your metabolism, and get more done in a single workout by moving quickly from one exercise to the next to diminish downtime.
  6. Use more muscle. Compound exercises, which work multiple muscle groups at once, save you time. Try to combine exercises, working the upper and lower body at the same time, whenever you can.
  7. Lower slower. Use a two/four count during strength training: take two seconds to lift but four seconds to return the weight. Research shows that exercisers who lower the weight in this slow, controlled manner gain nearly twice the strength as those who take less time.
Do you agree with the results of this survey? Are short workouts a key to your success? Why or why not?

The content of this blog post was excerpted and/or adapted from the Strong Start Guide by Chris Downie and Nicole Nichols, found only in the paperback edition of SparkPeople's best-selling book, The Spark. For more secrets to a strong start, pick up your copy today!

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