You can finally ditch that “no time for exercise” excuse. A growing body of evidence shows it takes less time than you think to get in shape.
Take the recent University of the West of Scotland study where investigators asked one group of teens to run on a treadmill three times a week at a steady pace for 20 minutes and another group to do a series of brief, all out sprints. After seven weeks, both groups showed significant cardiovascular improvements including better aerobic fitness (a measure of cardiovascular health) and lower BMI—but the sprint group invested only 15 percent of the time to get nearly the same benefits (63 minutes versus 420 minutes.)
Although the sprinters didn’t burn as many total calories, they did burn nearly 40 percent more calories per minute compared to the long distance runners. And that’s just one way a fast and furious workout could be a more time-efficient way to burn calories. “It also has the advantage of elevating your metabolic rate post-exercise for a longer period of time compared to moderate intensity exercise, which means you continue to burn calories at a higher rate for several hours after your workout is done,” notes Michele S. Olson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, AL.
If you want to give shorter, faster workouts a try, Olson advises being diligent about warming up and cooling down properly. Also, space out your high-intensity sweat sessions to give your body several days to rest and recover. To find a high-octane training program that’s right for you, click through our gallery of seven popular, kickass workouts.
Conceived in the nineties by a Japanese exercise scientist as a way to condition elite speed skaters, the Tabata protocol is the granddaddy of all high voltage workouts. You can apply the concept to any type of workout from walking to weight training by breaking up your routine into four minute cycles, alternating 20 seconds at a pedal-to-the-metal pace with 10 seconds of rest. Try it on your own or for some guidance, we suggest the audio album, “Tabata Coach: Workout Music Mix for Cardio, CrossFit, Interval Training and Weight Loss,” with timing cues and motivational voiceovers by fitness pro Jessica Smith.
Jillian Michaels Body Revolution
Say what you want about Michaels’ rep as an unforgiving badass, this 15 DVD set ($119.96) eases you into a high-intensity regimen with a sane, sensible progression. You start with two relatively doable 30-minute circuit training routines, then trade up for harder ones every two weeks until you’ve worked your way up to the most challenging workouts. There’s also one new cardio disc each month. Most exercisers can survive the first few sessions without bailing but make no mistake—the advanced workouts will crush you.
The goal of any CrossFit workout is the same: Train with a high level of intensity and functional moves—in other words, exercises designed to improve your quality of life. Some of the workouts require nothing more than your own body weight while others involve equipment such as gymnastics rings, climbing ropes and kettlebells. Some of the moves will seem exotic to the average gym-goer so you might want to join a class, buy an instructional DVD or watch some YouTube videos to get up to speed. Or take a DIY approach by attempting any of the hundreds of Workout of the Day (WOD) protocols available for free online. And though this type of training can pretty extreme, it’s easily adapted to suit your current abilities.
Tony Horton, with his chiseled cheeks and abs, is such an inspiring cheerleader he makes you believe that you can tear through advanced moves such as pull ups, push-ups and plyometrics—even if it’s your first time rising up off the couch in years. However, if you’re a true beginner, tread lightly. If you go overboard off the bat, the 90-day program will leave you unable to hold a spoon for a week if you go overboard. Workouts are based on a solid foundation of smart training principles, effective program design and superb technique. The 13 DVD set is a bargain at $119.95, but it doesn’t account for the cost of required equipment.
The promise: Transform your body in 60 days by following this 10 DVD set program ($119.85). The reality: There’s virtually no ramp up into the hardcore, high-volume stuff so if you’re not in top shape already, you put yourself at risk of injury or at the very least, extreme muscle soreness. Insanity’s creator and workout leader Shaun T isn’t as knowledgeable or charismatic as, say, Tony Horton or Jillian Michaels, and it shows in his teaching style. Plus, there seems no apparent rhyme or reason to his exercise selection or sequencing. One big advantage over a program like P90X, though, is that there’s no equipment necessary.
If you played a sport in high school, RushFit will remind you of the conditioning program you did to get in shape for the season. The workouts are chockfull of the burpees, mountain climbers and jumping jacks that are fundamental to most athletic training plans. This is a good entry level program because the early workouts build general conditioning, then gradually progress to more complex, intense routines over the course of eight weeks. The training schedule—in other words, number of days a week you train—can also be adapted to your current fitness level. Mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre and his personal trainer Erik Owens lead this six DVD set ($89.97). You’ll need several sets of dumbbells, a stop watch and a mat.
Supreme 90 Day
It’s tempting to think of this 10 DVD set as “P90X Light” because of the similar title and because the workouts bear a resemblance, but it’s no cheap knock off. (Though at $19.99 it is pretty cheap.) Each routine attacks a different body part with carefully planned "work" and "rest" circuits consisting of weight room classics and functional exercises. Instead of counting reps, sets are timed so you can stop when your muscles give out. The intermittent spurts of cardio are brief but killer. Best of all, it’s hosted by the super cute, ultra-fit Tom Holland.
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