How to get a better workout in less time

This post is the sixth in BlogHer’s Inspiration to Fitness series. To start from week one, click here.

I can’t believe this is the second to last week of our Inspiration to Fitness challenge! I hope that by now you are feeling stronger, healthier and have more energy throughout your day. I hope you are also learning that a great workout doesn’t have to take all day!

One of the biggest mistakes I see new exercisers make is working out for too long. There is really no reason to be exercising for over an hour unless you are specifically training for something like a marathon or triathalon. Even then, you wouldn’t be training for that long every day. The reality is, you can get a fantastic workout in under sixty minutes, and many times in less than thirty.

But you have to be focused!

Here are a few tips on getting the most out of your workout and your time.

Focus – One thing I see way too much of at the gym is a lack of focus. Taking time between sets to check your iPhone for text messages or update your Facebook status will extend your workout and not in a good way. Take a few minutes before starting your workout to get focused. Think about what you are about to do and why you are doing it. Leave behind everything that is not absolutely necessary for your workout. If you are using your iPhone as an iPod, use it only for the music. If you don’t need it, leave it behind.


Be prepared – Wandering around the gym trying to figure out what exercises you want to do will result in a longer than necessary workout with minimal results. Come in prepared. Write out your exercises (or memorize them) so that you can go from one thing to the next without interruption. If you expect the gym will be busy, write down backup exercises in case the equipment you need is taken.

Use your entire body – Get better results faster by using your entire body in each exercise. Instead of just doing a bicep curl, do a lunge into a bicep curl. Instead of using a machine that pinpoints one part of the body, use your body as the machine to do mountain climbers or a deadlift into an overhead reach. Using your entire body will not only maximize your workout time, but it will also increase your post-workout calorie burn.

Use proper form – Maintaining a neutral spine and a strong core will not only protect you from injury, but will also help you maximize the effectiveness of each exercise in a shorter amount of time. When you use a cardio machine, make sure to stand up straight and use your entire body. Don’t rest your arms or lean forward on the machine. Maximize your calorie burn by using proper form.

Vary the intensity – We talked about this last week. You can get a better workout in 20 minutes of interval training than 30 minutes or even more of a low intensity steady-state training. Challenge your body by varying the intensity of your workouts, and get better results in less time!

Workout in circuits – This is what we have been doing during this entire challenge, and that’s because it works. Circuit training is a technique that challenges the heart and muscles by performing back-to-back exercises without rest. Choose 5 or 6 exercises that work the entire body and perform them in a row with no rest in between exercises. Take 2 minutes to rest, then do the circuit again. Perform 2-3 circuits, and you’ve had a fantastic workout!

Speaking of workouts, here are yours for this week:

Your 3 days of cardio will include 2 days of interval training and 1 day of steady-state training.

On the interval days, I want you to do this:

-5 minute warmup RPE of 3

-90 seconds RPE 5

-60 seconds RPE 7-8

-90 seconds RPE 5

-60 seconds RPE 7-8

-90 seconds RPE 5

-60 seconds RPE 7-8

-90 seconds RPE 5

-60 seconds RPE 7-8

-5 minutes cooldown RPE 3

On your steady-state day, I want you to do this:

-5 minute warmup at an RPE of 3

-20 minute workout at a moderate pace RPE 5-6

-5 minute cooldown at an RPE of 3

Your strength workout includes more plyometric training and some advanced moves. If there are any moves that you feel uncomfortable doing, feel free to substitute one of the exercises from previous weeks. Remember, you are to do 15 reps of each warmup and core exercise and 8-12 reps of each strength exercise. Complete 2-3 sets of the strength circuit with no rest between exercises and 2 minutes rest between circuits.

Dynamic Warmup

dynamic warmup arm circles
Make huge circles with your arms as fast as you can. Do 15 forward, then 15 backwards.

jumping jacks
Do 15 jumping jacks. Make them big, remember this is a dynamic warmup!

pogo hops
Jump a few inches off the ground and land on the balls of your feet. Continue for 15 repetitions.

dynamic arm swing
Standing with feet together, bring arms in front of your body and cross one over the other. Swing them open then quickly back in front of your body. Make big moves and complete 15 repetitions.

Core Exercises

From a push up position, rest your weight on your forearms instead of your hands. Form a straight line with your body from your shoulders to your ankles. Hold yourself in this position by keeping your core tight and bellybutton drawn in. Hold for 30 seconds. Work up to holding the plank for 60 seconds or more. If your lower back starts hurting, check your form.

single leg hop with stabilization
From a standing position, raise left foot slightly off the ground and balance on your right foot. Pull your bellybutton tight to your spine and take a small hop forward. Stabilize your body, then take another small hop.

Repeat for 15 repetitions then switch to the right foot.

bicycle crunches
***Please refer to the previous post about checking for diastasis before doing these or any other abdominal exercise***

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground and hands behind your head. Engage your abdominal muscles and slowly lift your feet off the ground until your knees are bent at 90 degrees. Contract your abs as you raise your head and shoulders off the ground. Bring your left elbow toward your right knee while at the same time extending your left leg. Squeeze. Slowly bring your left leg back in, and bring your right elbow toward your left knee while extending your right leg out. Squeeze. Repeat for a total of 30 repetitions (15 each side).

Strength Exercises

plie jump
From a standing position, position your legs wider than hip-width apart with toes pointed out. Engage abdominal muscles as you lower into a plie position and hold. Drive up through your heels, jumping into the air, then land softly onto the balls of your feet and repeat.

narrow pushups
From a hands and knees position, engage your abdomen and move your shoulder blades down and back. Get into a push up position, but place your hands close together. Lower down into a push up, keeping body straight and core tight. Push back up and repeat.

lunge to balance
From a standing position with feet hip-width apart, step forward into a lunge. Keeping core tight and hands on hips, lower until back knee is an inch or two off the ground. Make sure front leg is at a 90 degree angle and the front knee doesn’t extend past the toes. Push back up to a standing position, keeping the front leg in the air, balancing on the back leg. Hold for a few seconds, then extend front leg back into a lunge position. Complete all repetitions on one side before switching legs.

tight arm circles exercise
Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Tighten your core and bring shoulder blades down and back. Extend arms straight out to the sides. Make small forward circles with your arms keeping them nice and straight. Circles should be small and fast. Do 60 repetitions going forward, then reverse and do 60 repetitions going backwards. You should feel this exercise in your shoulder muscles.

side lunge
Standing with feet hip-width apart, step out to the side with your right foot. Keep left leg straight and bend into a lunge in the right leg. Push through the right foot and back into a standing position. Make sure left leg stays straight and right knee doesn’t extend past toes. Complete all repetitions on the right before switching to the left leg.

mountain climbers
Get into a push up position with hands below shoulders and feet extended out. Tighten abs and bring shoulders down and back. Bring left foot up towards hips, then jump to switch legs. Continue jumping and switching legs while keeping spine and core stabilized. Do 30 repetitions (15 each leg).


shoulder stretch
From a seated position, extend your right arm across your body in a straight line. Reach your left arm up and pull gently back on your right arm, stretching the shoulder. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat with other arm.

butterfly stretch
Sit with your legs in a diamond shape, the soles of your feet together. Sit up nice and tall with abs engaged. Push knees towards the floor and hold, but do not bounce. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.

door chest stretch
Standing in a doorway, place hands on either side of the doorway at chest level. Take one step forward and allow the chest to stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

quad stretch
Stand on your left leg and grab your right ankle directly behind you. Keeping knees together, pull ankle towards your body really stretching out your thigh. Make sure to keep your right knee facing straight down, don’t let it go out to the side. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat with left leg.

kneeling hip flexor stretch progression
From a kneeling position, bring left leg out front with foot flat on the ground. Push body forward through the hips, stretching that right hip flexor. Hold for 30 seconds, then bring right arm straight up, slightly twisting body to the right and leaning to the left to go further into the stretch. Hold for 20 more seconds then repeat process on opposite side.

glute stretch
From a kneeling position, cross right leg in front of body while extending left leg back. Place hands on floor and sink into the stretch. You can extend even further into the stretch by walking hands out front and bringing chest towards the floor. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat on opposite side.

child's pose
From a kneeling position, bring your arms out in front of you, sink your hips back into your heels, and rest your chest on your knees. Sink into the pose and relax all of your muscles. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Foam Roller (optional)

foam roller it band
Lie on your right side and place your right hip onto the foam roller. Place your hands on the floor for support. Cross your left leg over your right with foot flat on the floor. Roll from your hip towards your knee in small movements. If you come across a spot that is particularly painful, hold the position for 30 seconds before moving on. Repeat on opposite side.

foam rolling the piriformis
Sit on foam roller with it positioned under your right glute. Cross your right leg over your left and lean into the muscle. Roll back and forth in small movements while shifting your body slightly to roll all of the muscle. If you find a spot that is particularly painful, hold for 30 seconds before continuing. Repeat on opposite leg.

foam rolling the back
Lie faceup with foam roller under your upper back and feet flat on the floor. Roll from the top of your back to the middle of your back in small movements with your hips elevated off the floor. If you find a spot that is particularly painful, hold for 30 seconds before moving on. Be sure not to roll your lower back as this could cause injury.

foam roller calves

Sit on the floor with your legs stretched in front of you. Place the foam roller under your right calf. Cross your left leg over your right ankle. Use your hands behind you for support and raise your body off the ground. Roll forward and back on your calf muscle. Repeat on opposite leg.

* Don’t forget to leave a comment on my Buyer’s Guide telling me which products you would love to own for a chance to win!

  • janetha February 16, 2012 at 10:05 am

    These are some great moves! I love bicycle crunches.

  • Sara February 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Hey there,
    new to your blog, and so far liking it 🙂
    This may seem a redundant question, but what city are you based out of? I thought a I read, “Tucson” in one of your posts, which is cool because I live there… 🙂

    • inspiredrd February 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm

      Hey Sara, I used to be in Tucson but am now in Phoenix!

  • ea-the spicy rd February 16, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    What great tips, and love the workout suggestions! I’m always trying to get a good workout in as little time as possible, so I do mostly interval training, although I know I need to get in a day or two on longer steadier workouts too. I think I will try your plyometric strength workout-looks great!

  • Anna August 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    This is a wonderful workout! Thank you.

    • inspiredrd August 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      You are so welcome. Enjoy!

  • Krishna September 5, 2012 at 2:36 am

    So many workouts to choose from! I especially love the stretching exercises and warm up moves. Great Motivator!