Short but effective workouts that aid in weight loss may sound too good to be true, but they do exist. If you’re exercising efficiently, you can squeeze in a full-body workout that will help you burn calories long after you finish your cool-down. The key is to push yourself to your max and challenge a variety of muscle groups through a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic training.
Not sure exactly what this means? We’ve put together a list of workout tips from top personal trainers that will help you work out smarter and shorter. Keep reading to learn what kind of movements they recommend, how to pair exercises for maximum benefit, and what you need to do to make sure you’re working out as efficiently as possible.
Are you a beginner just starting out on a fitness journey? Check out our list of Personal Trainers’ Top Tips for Working Out for the First Time.
1. Mix Up Muscle Groups
When it comes to workouts that maximize efficiency, Lauren Manganiello, an ACE-certified personal trainer and registered dietician, recommends circuit training. “Circuits consisting of opposing muscle groups, such as chest and back, are a great way to get the most out of your workout when short on time,” she explains. Keep recovery time between sets to a minimum to make sure you’re keeping your heart rate up throughout the workout.
2. Prioritize Strength Training
If you tend to shy away from weights and focus on cardio, it’s time to rethink your weight-loss strategy. “Strength training is the best way to burn fat and build muscle,” according to Manganiello because your body continues to burn calories even after your workout is done. Yes, that means your metabolism will be in overdrive—even at rest—compared to those with less muscle mass.
3. Use Steady State Cardio as a Stepping Stone
If you’ve been working out regularly, it’s time to swap out hour-long jogs on the treadmill with sprint intervals. “Compared to steady state cardio, interval training burns more calories,” Manganiello explains. Before you crank that speed up though, take time to assess your current fitness level. Manganiello cautions that exercise newbies should work on building cardiovascular endurance with steady state conditioning before transitioning to interval training.
4. Lean Out With Lower Body Work
One of the fastest ways to scorch calories is by focusing on the larger muscle groups in your body because they require more energy. According to Mike Suski, a former professional boxer and AFAA-certified personal trainer, the best workout moves you can do for your legs are variations of squats, lunges, and steps. These exercises will hit all your major muscle groups including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, leaving you with strong, lean legs and a high post workout calorie deficit.
5. EPOC is Your Secret Weapon
ISSA-certified personal trainer and Frontline Fitness owner David Baillie emphasizes the importance of EPOC (exercise post-oxygen consumption) when it comes to working out for weight loss. “Also known as oxygen debt, EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function,” explains Baillie. As a result of EPOC, your body will continue to burn calories at an elevated rate well after you finish your cooldown. In order to boost your EPOC levels, try a high-intensity interval training workout that incorporates calisthenics.
6. Every Minute Counts
Lisa DeCamella, an ACE-certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist, understands that it can be hard to squeeze workouts into a jam-packed schedule. Instead of completely giving up on staying active, she recommends incorporating fitness into your lifestyle by taking the stairs whenever you can and maximizing how much you’re walking each day.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Lift Heavy
Forget the myth that lifting heavy weights will give you body builder-like proportions. Lindsey Cormack, a CrossFit Level 1 trainer at Crossfit Bowery, explains that lifting heavy translates into greater muscle breakdown and consequently greater build up. “It really does not take that long to achieve results if someone commits to three times a week, is willing to perform compound lifts [with] heavy weights, and has nutrition somewhat under control,” she concludes.
8. Think Quality, Not Quantity
Instead of focusing on how much time you’re spending in the gym, concentrate on the kinds of workouts you are doing. “The key to a short workout is to use as much energy as possible in the shortest amount of time,” Robert Jackson, a certified personal trainer and owner of Minimal Fit UK, says. “Think: squats, press-ups, lunges, chin-ups, and burpees.” If you’re using multiple muscles at once, you’ll be able to make the most of even a twenty-minute workout.
9. Put Your Mind into Your Muscles
To make sure you’re challenging yourself as much as possible, focus on the muscles you are working during your sweat session. Jackson explains that if you actively think about activating each muscle group to the maximum, you will be able to work to exhaustion more efficiently and consequently achieve faster results.
10. Try Tabata
Rui Li is the CEO of New York Personal Training and a NASM-certified trainer himself, so it’s safe to say he knows more than a thing or two about working out efficiently. “The simplest and most effective form of high-intensity interval workouts is Tabata drills,” Li says. “Whether it’s calisthenics or a cardio activity, performing exercises in bursts of 20 seconds with maximal effort and resting for 10 seconds for a total of 8 rounds, is short, effective, and will really boost caloric expenditure.” One Tabata set takes just 4 minutes, so you can work it into even your most time-crunched days.
11. Don’t Skip the Warm-Up
When you only have a short period of time set aside for a workout it might be tempting, but resist the urge to skip warming up. Jamie Logie, a CanFitPro certified trainer, emphasizes how crucial it is to ease into your sweat session. “It’s important to start with a simple warm-up such as walking or a light jog or arm and leg swings just to get the heart rate up and blood flow to the muscles before jumping into high-intensity interval training,” she explains.
12. Use Apps to Optimize Your Workouts
Want to try Tabata but not sure how to pull off the precise timing on your own? “There are lots of free Tabata app timers you can download to be able to follow along with the right time increments,” Logie suggests. When it comes to picking workout moves for your Tabata, try to choose something that will really challenge you like burpees or mountain climbers.
13. Try Density Workouts
If you want to make sure your routine is varied and will challenge your whole body, test out these pointers from ACE-certified personal trainer Shane Mclean. Twice a week, try doing a five-exercise circuit that consists of some kind of squat, a push exercise (like a push-up), a single leg exercise (like a lunge), a pull exercise (like a bent over row with a dumbbell), and a plank. As you progress, try to work for longer periods of time and reduce the recovery time between sets.
14. You Don’t Need Equipment
The next time you want to squeeze in some exercise fast, try this bodyweight workout from Michael Massetti, an ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of MJM Fitness. Start with 40 seconds of squats, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Next, do 40 seconds of push-ups, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Then, crank out 40 seconds of mountain climbers, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Finally, combine the movements for your final minute and repeat this 4-minute circuit two more times.