What's your go-to excuse for not being able to get a workout in? Mine is always, "I have so much going on at work right now. I have no time." If this sounds familiar to you, or you've uttered those words a couple of times in your own life, I have a harsh truth for you. A 15-minute workout is actually very effective, so I don't know if we have a valid excuse anymore.
"Getting in short workouts consistently is better than one big workout inconsistently," says celebrity trainer and The Sculpt Society founder Megan Roup. "Even in 15 minutes, you can efficiently work with bodyweight exercises to raise your heart rate and strength training to build lean muscle. You will not only get the physical benefits from 15 minutes of exercise but the mental benefits as well."
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And there's science to back that up, too. A 2016 study found that just 15 minutes of exercise a day increased longevity and decreased the risk of death in older adults. And another study found that a 10-minute workout with one minute of high-intensity activity had a similar effect as a longer workout. (Note: The study had only male participants.)
Long story short, even just a couple minutes of exercise a couple of times a week is better than nothing or very sporadic workouts. So now that we know this fact, how do we make these workouts effective? I asked some fitness experts for pointers.
Shift Your Mindset
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So I guess I have to stop telling myself I have no time to work out when I still leave time in my busy day to mindlessly scroll through Instagram. "Think about exercise the same way you would map out your commute or stock your fridge for the week. It's all about setting aside the time and going in with a game plan of how to tackle that short but critical time," suggests Martha Kaplan, community marketing manager at Athleta.
Consider What's Best for Your Body
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Kaplan recommends thinking about your schedule and needs that week or day and tailoring your 15 minutes to that. "Are you going to be sitting on an airplane for hours and want to get your blood flowing? A high-intensity, heart-thumping interval workout or quick strength-training session might be best," she says. "Or do you need some downtime before a busy day of errands? Consider 15 minutes of power yoga. Hosting friends from out of town for sightseeing this weekend and want to squeeze in some movement? Work in a gentler, restorative yoga session."
Figure Out an Optimal Time
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You might find your mornings are packed, but your evenings have a pocket of time to squeeze exercise in. Or maybe your schedule is the opposite of that. Either way, think about your daily schedule and what works for you so you can stick to it. Also, Kaplan suggests thinking about how that certain time of day affects you. "Exercising at the start of your day will help you with focus and intention for the day, give you energy and a sense of accomplishment," she says. "Some people find they are more productive during the day if they exercise first. If you end your day or evening with exercise, you may find yourself more relaxed and settled by the time you go to bed. If you have had a stressful day, working out may help you unwind and let go of any tension."
Be Engaged and Intentional
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"Results come from the intention you place into your workout, not the duration of the workout," explains Maeve McEwen, a NASM-certified P.volve instructor. "If you are actively engaged and focusing on your form and technique throughout the workout, you will see and FEEL the benefits—even in 15 minutes."
Focus on Your Form
Your form is everything, whether you're doing a 15-minute or 50-minute workout. "In order to maximize your time, really focus on perfecting your form and being hyperaware of the movements you are doing," McEwen says. "When you are intentional with your movements and have a better understanding of what part of the body is working, the workout will intensify."
Make Sure You Warm Up and Cool Down
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Both of these are still super important, especially when it comes to preventing injury and helping with recovery. "No matter how much time you have, it is essential to warm up beforehand," McEwen says. "Mobilizing your joints and preparing your body for more dynamic and complex movements is the key to avoiding injury and sets you up for a successful workout."
To maximize your time, Roup recommends you start with a short, dynamic workout and cool down with a couple of stretches. "This increases blood flow to the areas of the body you'll be working in the reps. It doesn’t need to be long, but this will help the body ease into movements and finish strong!" she says.
"I recommend any workouts using pieces of equipment. Whether it's a heavy ankle band or gliders or P.volve's proprietary equipment, the P.band and P.ball, the equipment helps intensify the timely workout," McEwen suggests. "These pieces of equipment are designed to activate your stabilizers and deep intrinsic muscles immediately."
Do Some Strength Training
"Everyone is different, but if I only had 15 minutes, I would focus on strength training!" Roup says. "In The Sculpt Society class, the sculpt sections focus on functional exercises like lunges and squats using sliders, mixed in with hip mobility work to strengthen your core and glutes. This combo creates a long, lean, strong body."
Get Friends to Help
A little pressure from friends, family, or co-workers can keep you accountable. Kaplan suggests asking them to join you in getting a quick exercise in. Plus, working out with friends is just a lot more fun, anyway.
Create a Playlist and Set the Scene
"Once you have decided the type of workout and the timing, create a playlist ahead of time with four to five songs that you love that total 15 minutes," Kaplan suggests. "Your music selection will not only set the tone of your workout, but it will help motivate you, especially if you can sing along!" She also recommends creating an atmosphere that will help you get in the mood. If you're doing yoga, lay out your mat and light a candle, and if you're doing an interval workout, turn up the lights and the music and keep your weights nearby.
15-Minute Workout Ideas
At this point, maybe you're convinced that you're going to hop aboard the 15-minute workout train but don't even know where to start. Our experts shared some ideas:
1. Cardio and Strength Workout From Martha Kaplan
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What you'll need: a mat, a set of weights between five and 10 pounds, and a chair or bench.
1. One minute: Jumping jacks or jump squats to warm up.
2. One minute: Alternating lunges, holding the weights by your side (about 12 reps).
3. 30 seconds: Stand in a squat position, lower in a squat, and add a bicep curl as you squat (about 12 reps).
4. 30 seconds: Hold the squat and lift the weights overhead in a shoulder press (about 12 to 15 reps) Place the weights down.
5. 30 seconds: Tricep dips on the edge of the chair or bench.
Repeat the circuit above three times (total time approximately 10 minutes and 30 seconds).
9. One minute: 30 crunches, 30 bicycles for obliques (total time one min).
10. One minute: On the floor, hug knees into chest. With one foot flat, extend opposite leg hamstring stretch. Switch sides.
11. Roll up slowly and bring heels of your feet together for a butterfly stretch with knees to the side.
12. Roll body, stretch forward, and round back over knees. Inhale and exhale, and sit up tall, crossing your legs in front. Raise your hands overhead and bring your hands behind your back for a stretch.
2. P. Volve Workout From Maeve McEwen
Try a few of these exercises from P.volve classes in the 15 minutes you have:
With a heavy ankle band: First, find your "P.stance." Start with your feet slightly wider than your hips so there is tension on the ankle band. Shift your weight into your heels and keep your knees stacked over your ankles. Keeping your core engaged and spine straight, squeeze your glutes and sit back two to three inches. This is your P.stance. From here, hold your P.stance position and step one foot out directly to the side to a wider P.stance and feel more tension in the band. Squeeze your glutes and sit back deeper. Return back into the wide P.stance and set into your starting P.stance position. Try eight on each side. Quick tip: Always keep tension on the band and stayed grounded in your movements.
With gliders: Start in a plank with two gliders under your feet and legs closed together. Keeping your spine straight and glutes engaged, use your lower abdominals to pull your knees under your hips. Keep the bend in your knees as you open your legs wider then press your legs straight back into a wide plank. Return to your starting position with straight legs using your inner thighs and core. Do eight, then reverse the direction. Quick tip: Actively press down into the gliders.
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With the P.ball on a mat: Lying on one, side bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Keeping this leg shape, open your top leg, feeling the resistance of the band working the outside of the glute. Close back to the starting position by squeezing the ball and using your inner thigh. Repeat eight times, then eight times with a straight top leg. Repeat all on the other side. Quick tip: Wear the ball all the way up your thighs and have the resistance band that's around the center of the ball parallel to the floor.
With the P.band, standing tricep pull-down: Holding the lower half of your body in the P.stance, bring your arms straight out to shoulder height with tension on the band. Keep one arm at shoulder height and pull the opposite arm down toward the side of the body, engaging your tricep. Return the working arm halfway up, then pull back down with your tricep. Keep your core engaged, spine straight, and chest open. Repeat eight times on each side. Quick tip: Keep the wrists straight and thumbs hooked under the black strap. Move from your back and keep your shoulders down.
3. 15-Minute Sculpt Workout From Megan Roup
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1. Lunge back (8 reps).
2. Pulse in a lunge (8 reps).
3. Repeat at reps of (4 reps).
4. Repeat at reps of (2 reps).
5. Repeat four times at reps of one for each exercise.
6. Repeat one through five, but in a curtsy squat.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.