The most effective workouts to get in shape in the least amount of time

Trainers weigh in on the most efficient way to get in shape and hit your fitness goals.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
4 min read

Lifting weights is one efficient way to exercise since you're building strength while also increasing your heart rate.

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Whether you don't really like to exercise, or your schedule is super tight and you can't seem to find the time to workout; good news. It may not take as long as you think to get in shape. 

If you've set a goal to get in better shape this year, you may think that you have to spend hours and hours a week at the gym. The recommendation for most adults is to get 150 minutes of exercise per week, but if you're not quite clocking that, or just want to find more ways to get the best results in less time, you have options.

According to celebrity trainer and founder of Xtend Barre Andrea Rogers, and Aaron Forrest, Openfit Live trainer, fitting in just 30 minutes of exercise can make a huge difference. Short workouts can be just as effective as longer ones.

Keep reading to find out tips from Rogers and Forrest on how to get the most efficient workouts in the least amount of time.

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What's the minimum amount of exercise you should get?

All healthy adults are encouraged to get about 150 minutes of moderate exercise (30 minutes, five days a week) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week (or three 25-minute intense workouts). If you think about it, you could break down the 150 minutes of activity into 30 minutes a day, five days a week or you could go the 75-minute route but doing 25-minute workouts, three days a week. 

The most efficient way to get your recommended amount of exercise would be to lean towards the 75-minute recommendation -- which means less time, but more intense workouts.

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Boxing is a popular form of HIIT training where you usually rotate rounds of intense boxing with floor exercises.

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The most popular form of vigorous exercise at the moment is no question, HIIT or high intensity interval training. "High Intensity Interval Training is the best bang for your buck when it comes to a high calorie burn in short periods of time," Forrest said. "HIIT is notorious for throttling your heart rate with moments of recovery in between." 

The good thing about HIIT is that it comes in all different types of workouts. You can do HIIT while running, spinning and jumping rope, just to name a few examples. The key to HIIT is that you're spiking your heart rate and recovering in short intervals. 

"This interval training format triggers the EPOC effect (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). A HIIT or high-intensity strength-training workout can add about 5 to 15 percent of the total energy cost of the exercise session. High-intensity workouts require more energy from the anaerobic pathways and can generate a greater EPOC effect, leading to extended post-exercise energy expenditure - or as we sometimes like to call it, 'the Afterburn Effect,'" Forrest said. 


Exercises like push-ups and planks are efficient moves since they work mulitple muscle groups (like your core and arms at the same time).

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Do full-body workout moves

One popular way to get in shape is by working specific muscle groups on specific days. So for example, on Mondays you work your arms and lift weights, and then on Tuesdays maybe you focus on ab workouts. This is great and all, but if you ask me, it's not very efficient. What happens if something comes up and you can't make your workout, then you totally miss working whatever body part you set aside for that day. 

A better approach could be doing workout moves that use your entire body to make sure you're never missing a muscle group every time you workout. Examples of full-body moves are push-ups and planks. 

"One of my go-to moves is a tried and true plank (which you can change up a lot!). I like to shake up the plank a little bit and add moves like a passe, where you bring the opposite foot to the knee which provides you with a little less stability in the move, which further initiates core engagement, specifically the obliques," Rogers said. 


Low-impact classes like barre and pilates are effective and safe ways to get stronger.

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Don't underestimate low-impact (yet challenging) workouts 

Even though HIIT training is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories and get stronger, it's not the only way. HIIT is not very safe to do every day since it's so intense and you can injure yourself by pushing your body too hard. "Doing HIIT training daily is extreme and likely to lead to injuries and overtraining. It is important to balance, cardio, strength, and HIIT throughout the week," Forrest said. 

On other days of the week you could try alternating with low impact workouts. For example, a pilates or barre class would be a great addition to your routine since the movement is not high impact, but you will still get your heart rate up and get stronger. 

How much should you really workout every week to see results?

When you're putting together your workout plans for the week, aim for moving at least 5 days. If you need to build up to that, it's totally normal. "If you're just starting out on your fitness journey, start with whatever you can and work on increasing up to 30 minutes a day," Forrest suggested. 

In terms of structuring the types of workouts to do each day, variety is key. Try to break up workouts into cardio, strength and HIIT. I suggest two days of cardio, two days of strength and one day of HIIT." For your cardio you could do the elliptical, cycling, treadmill, an outdoor run or even a rowing machine. For strength training, you can use weights, your own bodyweight or other equipment like kettlebells.

When you're deciding on what HIIT workout to try, combine cardio with strength exercises. "Aim to ramp up your heart rate followed by periods of recovery. Burpees, jump squats, and speed pushups are all great exercises that can elevate your heart's BPM," Forrest said. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.