Making the Most of Your 30-Minute Workout

Geoffrey Chaucer once said, “Time and tide wait for no man,” and, if you’re anything like me, you know that’s true, because of more than a little trial and error. Whenever I spend more than ten seconds in bed after the morning alarm goes off, I find that the all-too-familiar “You don’t have time to work out today” bug has already snuck past my best defenses and burrowed itself into my weekday brain. Good workouts don’t always happen after that, at any time of day. This can be especially relevant if you’re a swimmer, or trying to keep up with your cross-training (that extra little time spent heading to the pool and then the locker room can be a dealbreaker for some), but can still ring familiar to any runner, cyclist, or climber.

Should I Go For It?

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First, know that when you express disdain at your lack of exercise time, you are probably in the majority. Medical experts all over the board have noted that the “short workout” has been on a colossal rise in the past several years, with manifestations appearing all over magazine stands and news media networks. (A series of articles on the “one-minute workout” found at CNN and the New York Times are viable examples.)  Being confident in your ability to still successfully exercise within a limited timeframe can be a key motivator in you getting out and bettering your physical well-being.
The regular physical exercise will also not just help you achieve weight or muscle goals, but also increase your energy, balance your need for sleep, improve your mood, and reduce your risk of dozens of illnesses and disabilities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and even dying early. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, here in the United States, “you can put yourself at lower risk of dying early by doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.” That’s thirty minutes a day, five days a week.
So, wanting to get that exercise in, and looking for some help? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Let the busybodies unite, with these tips on how to kill it at your next workout in just half an hour.

Find THE Right Time

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First tip: be consistent, and exercise whenever you can. Admittedly, a lot of our struggles with time are more or less mind games, where we’re just talking ourselves out of doing things, but there are definitely times during your day that are less busy or more ideal for exercise than others. When are they, and how will you know? If you’re a parent who spends much of the early morning getting kids ready for school, and have more spare minutes when they’re gone, then your best time to shoot for might be 10 AM. If you work a full day, and you heavily struggle to get up in the morning just for that, then perhaps your prime time would be around 7PM (potentially before you get home and find your couch). Or, if you work but like going to bed early, then an early morning at the gym could be your best option. There are various individual benefits to working out in either the morning or the evening, or in between, but those benefits are of minimal importance if you’re not exercising at all. Find that best time of the day, and make it yours.

Don’t Forget TO Warm Up

Are you working out for a defined block of time? When you’re cutting the fluff out of your routine, remember that, if nothing else, it is not a good idea to skip warm-ups and cool downs. Whether your workouts are structured in sets, or you’re testing your endurance with a long-distance run or swim, or you’re just working on finding the right personal routine for you, remember that a warm-up should not be cancelled in favor of more time for high-intensity reps or laps. Warm-ups prepare your body for the increased physical activity ahead, by increasing the blood flow to your muscles and heart, and by hastening the signals sent between your muscles and your brain. Warming up before intense physical activity has also long been linked to decreasing the likelihood of muscle injury, and for those of us looking to save that time, even a very brief jog at the beginning of a longer run has been shown to greatly decrease abnormal changes in heart activity during exercise. So, if you want to be maximizing your results, let those muscles open up with some light to moderate running or body workouts such as push-ups or sit-ups. Don’t ever start out with a dead sprint, a huge weight, or the steepest incline; be at your best, and keep yourself safe!

Manage Distractions

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Minimize distractions; or, channel them. A few times (and I won’t tell you the number) during my workouts, especially when they’re at home, I have found myself stopping and checking my phone for messages after every five reps. No surprise: this is not a good way for me to keep my head in the game, and if my thumbs ever drifted into other apps, it would end up taking a lot of my precious workout time from me. For those of us who have struggled with this, there are a couple of options. First, you could leave the phone in your locker/bag/other room, and incur a voluntary separation from it until your workout is finished. If you are used to mentally keeping track of your own reps, or if you keep track of time with a stopwatch, this may be your preferred solution. Another option? Make your phone and its accompanying distractions cater to you, especially if you use a smartphone. Watch a TV show or a movie while on the treadmill. Use a fitness app to track your progress in real time, and make sure it lets you know when you’ve hit checkpoints, times for switching exercises, or cool-down phases. Many fitness apps allow you to continue playing music simultaneously, and allow you to adjust their announcements accordingly. Take advantage of the latest technology; don’t let it take advantage of you!

Switch It Up, regularly

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Vary the exercises. Unsurprisingly, there are different benefits for different workouts, whether short term or long term. Make sure that you’re including aerobic activity (sustained long physical exercise such as running, cycling, swimming or rowing), anaerobic activity (strength training and resistance training), and flexibility exercises. These all provide different benefits, such as cardiovascular health for aerobic activity, and increased joint capability with flexibility exercise. You should also vary the workouts to focus on different parts of the body as equally as you can. For example, when lifting weights, make sure to spend adequate time working your thighs and calves in addition to exercises devoted to muscles in the arms and chest. Try spending one day’s workout time doing one kind of exercise, like running, and then go and lift weights the day afterward. This allows your muscles to take turns bearing the burden, and gives them each time to adapt.

Bring Your Friends

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Here’s one you might have heard: Get other people involved. Different people find different levels of motivation when exercising in pairs or groups, anywhere from quite a lot to very little, so this may depend on you. That being said, if you know that you perform most tasks more effectively when you are accountable to somebody else, it might be that joining a Pilates or cross-fit class or getting together with a friend at the gym before work could be your golden motivator. Events such as meetings at work or classes at school are usually given high priority for really the same reason; it doesn’t just involve you, it involves others, too. Placing “exercise” in the same train of thought will help you make it happen. You can even bring family along; go on a jog around the park with the kids or the dog.
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And yes, don’t worry. It’s okay to jog with just the dog.

TREAT YOURSELF

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And no, I didn’t necessarily mean candy. But think about this – it may help you think of your workout progress much more positively when you are working toward a goal with a self-imposed prize attached. Have you been regularly working out for four weeks? Maybe you should try out that restaurant in town that just opened up. Did you just hit a new personal record? Go check out that new song you’ve been wanting. Don’t go overboard with the rewards; you don’t want to go into debt over it, and you also want to make sure that you really appreciate it when you achieve it. It’s the same concept as Mom and Dad giving you a reward for cleaning your room; generally, it’s proven pretty effective.

KEEP IT UP!

Take any amount of these tips and use them to your own needs. Make sure to ask your doctor when beginning any new exercise plan. Be safe in everything, and avoid injury. And make it fun! Whether your workout involves spending time with friends, watching that latest TV episode or that old flick, or that little reward you’re working toward, the greatest thing you can do for your exercise habits is to make that time of day something you look forward to. Good luck! We’re rooting for you!

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