Can Short Workouts Be Better Than Long Ones?

Paul L. Underwood
by Paul L. Underwood
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Can Short Workouts Be Better Than Long Ones?

In quarantine or out, it can be hard to find the time to work out. And it’s not just the workout itself. If you’re going to the gym, there’s transportation time on top of it. If you’re working out at home, there’s setting up your space and potentially getting online to join either a virtual class or follow a video. No matter where you work out, if you work up a sweat, you’ll likely want to spend some time cleaning up afterward. Add it up, and even a half-hour of working out might take you more than an hour of real time.

But shorter, faster workouts, done more frequently, still offer results. Think of it as the workout equivalent of listening to a couple short songs on the radio every day, rather than going to three or four epic concerts every week. Some have dubbed this concept a “fitness snack.”

So what are the tradeoffs? Here are some pros and cons, along with a few ideas for getting after it.

THE PROS OF SHORTER, MORE FREQUENT WORKOUTS

Time. More than anything, saving time is the big one. If you go to the gym, on average, three times a week for a half-hour session, that’s two hours a week. You can easily achieve the same duration by working out almost every day. In fact, if you work out just 15 minutes per day all seven days, you’ll be spending more time working out, not less.

Convenience. The reality is, we all have little pockets of time every day — and what we choose to do with those pockets adds up. A meeting ends a few minutes before your next call. Maybe you’re making dinner and need to wait for a pot of water to boil. There are all kinds of examples. Basically, think about any moment you might otherwise spend checking social media or refreshing a news site. Instead of consuming empty content calories, you can squeeze in a few reps during those found moments. Plus, you don’t have to coordinate schedules with a partner, trainer or coach — you can do this when time avails itself to you.

Speed. Think about the last time you went on a road trip. You probably stocked the car with snacks, maybe an audiobook or some super-long playlists, a few waters, etc. Now think about the last time you made a quick trip to the grocery store. You pretty much just brought your keys, right? The same principle applies to shorter workouts. You don’t need to set up as much, you don’t need to warm up as much, you don’t need to plan as much. And saving time is what it’s all about here.

Consistency. Exercise produces endorphins, and endorphins make you feel good. Rather than experiencing this sensation a few times a week, more regular exercise means you get to enjoy those endorphins far more often.

Science. Oh, right: A bunch of studies say this short-workout approach can be just as effective, if not more so, than less regular workouts. It can help prolong your lifespan. It can reduce your risk of chronic disease. If you amp up the intensity, you’ll burn more fat. It improves your mood and symptoms of anxiety and depression. It boosts your metabolism. In other words, shorter, higher-intensity workouts might be better for you than longer ones. What’s to lose?

THE CONS OF SHORTER, MORE FREQUENT WORKOUTS

Fewer options. Let’s face it: Even a few workouts a week can lead to mental exhaustion. Now try doing the same thing every day. Yep, that’s what we thought. Since you’re more likely to be doing these things outside the gym, you’ll also likely have fewer options to mix it up than you might have inside the gym.

Workout gear. Given the spontaneity of finding spare time here and there, you might not be working out in your dedicated gym clothes. Your desire to do pushups near your desk may depend a lot on the cleanliness, dress code and floorplan of your workplace.

You may be on your own. You probably will be doing this by yourself, during odd times of the day, which may work as we shelter in place. You know how social media isn’t actually all that social because you’re by yourself on your phone? These fitness snacks are a little like that. You can still post selfies afterward, though.


READ MORE > 7-MINUTE WORKOUTS


A FEW SHORT WORKOUT IDEAS

So, we’ve explained the benefits, along with a few potential drawbacks. But what can you actually do? Here are some ideas, which you can mix and match based on your preference.

1. 20 pushups; repeat for 2–3 sets

2. A 30–60-second plank

3. 10 lunges

4. 10 squats

5. 10–20 tricep dips

6. 10 calf raises

7. 1 minute of jumping jacks

8. 5 seated-leg extensions

Sit straight up in your office chair. Lift your legs until they’re parallel to the ground. Hold. Return to the starting position.

9. Walking meetings

10. Dynamic stretches

Check out “Workout Routines” in the app to discover and log a wide variety of routines by UA Performance Specialists, or build your own routine with exercises that fit your goals.

About the Author

Paul L. Underwood
Paul L. Underwood

Paul is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He tweets here, he Instagrams there and he posts the occasional deep thought at plunderwood.com. He’s probably working on a run mix as you read this.

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