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It's easy to make an excuse and say you can't work out because you don't have the time. If I had a dollar for every time I've done that, well, I'd be living some very luxurious life right now or at least buy those pricey shoes I've been eyeing. I will say about 25% of those times I was actually busy and dead tired, so the thought of working out in my little free time seemed like torture. As for the other 75%, I was busy but probably could have squeezed in a workout instead of lounging on my couch watching Netflix.
While I try not to guilt-trip myself that much over skipping workouts, I am trying to be better at building my routine and sticking to it to the best of my abilities. A lot of that means going with the flow when my schedule gets wacky but also trying to prioritize some type of physical exercise when I'm looking at my iPhone calendar at the beginning of the week. It's been a little easier than usual to do that right now since I mostly work from home these days.
The thing that has really changed my perspective on working out is realizing that you don't need 45 minutes or an hour to get in an effective workout. You can do it in 15 minutes, but if you've got 30 minutes, that's even better. Any physical activity is good!
"An effective workout is all about getting your heart rate high and giving your best—going FULL OUT," explains Ashley Joi, a trainer on Chris Hemsworth's health-and-fitness app Centr. "A shorter workout can actually be more effective because you have less time to make excuses, and it feels achievable to really push yourself hard when you're doing the exercise for a shorter period. If you can get your heart rate into the aerobic-anaerobic zone (70% to 80% max heart rate), then you are working in a great zone to burn fat and calories improve your overall fitness."
Try a Cardio Workout
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Opting for cardio during your 30 minutes can really maximize your time. "Cardio is always hard, but it is especially important as we age," says Liv Lo Golding, founder and CEO of FitSphere. "Cardiovascular exercise is directly related to how hard your heart is working, and it can cause us to breathe heavy, sweat a lot, and feel uncomfortable, especially if we are not used to it." Plus, there are so many benefits to cardio workouts in addition to strengthening your heart rate. Joi says they can help you sleep better, make your body more mobile, and burn calories.
Personally, I used to think of cardio as running, and that always turned me off because I don't consider myself a big runner. But both Golding and Joi say that it's more than just a long run. You can incorporate cardio moves into other workouts, like with HIRT (high-intensity resistance training); break up a long run with sprints; go on a hike; or even dance it out.
The best part of cardio is that it's great for all levels. "Nearly every type of cardio workout can be modified for all levels—for example, a long walk versus a power walk versus a hike. They all are walking but focus on different things, like elevating the heart rate and maintaining a casual pace versus intervals of intense speed walking versus steadily paced intervals of harder effort on a hill or mountain," explains Rebecca Kennedy, Peloton instructor. "Cardio workouts can improve your mood, your heart health, boost your confidence, increase your endurance, provide an immediate caloric output, and be an incredible mental and emotional release."
How to Ease Back in to Workouts
Speaking of neglecting your fitness routine for a long period of time, a 30-minute routine might be a good place to start instead of jumping on an hour-plus workout straight off the bat. But as most of us know, getting started is sometimes the hardest part. How can you get off the couch and back into a workout groove? The experts shared some tips below.
Think About Your Goals
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It helps to decide on some goals to get you motivated. "Sometimes it's not as simple as jump-starting a workout every day if you don't have a regimen and are not in the habit," says Golding. "It's important to define your goal, write it down, tell your friends, and commit to it. You know yourself best, so be honest and schedule in the 30 minutes in a time of day that works for you. If you are not a morning person squeeze in a workout at lunch or before dinner. The key is to have a goal, and this requires getting to know yourself, your likes, dislikes, and abilities. Everyone can exercise for 30 minutes a day, but do you want to? Ask yourself that question. Maybe it's more, maybe it's less, but it should have some commitment for your health."
Start at Your Own Pace
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"Start off with shorter workouts, bodyweight exercises, walking, etc. Just start," Kennedy suggests. "Commit to two days per week. Then after a couple of weeks, bump it up to three days. Then think about adding an extra 10 minutes to those three workouts. It's all about the long game. Try not to go so hard that you can't show up for the next time. Slow and steady wins the race." Doing what feels good for your body and physical fitness level is also important for avoiding injury.
I find if a task is in my iPhone calendar, I've got to do it, which includes workouts. If it pops up as a notification, the reminder helps me pull out my mat and change into my activewear. Joi agrees. "I know everyone always says it, but a 30-minute workout is only 2% of your day, so make time for it!" she says. "Scheduling your workouts (even if you're doing them from home) the way you would a meeting is a great way to fit it in."
Remember the Why
This is where your goals come in. Joi says it helps to have a purpose, and that can be anything, really. "Why have you committed to working out today? What are your goals? How is today's workout going to help you reach them?" she says. "Do all things with purpose and the motivation will come. Put on music that you love, create a workout playlist, or ask friends for their recommendations so that every song is something totally different! Work out with a friend (either in-person or digitally)."
Hold Yourself Accountable
Joi says accountability can be a big factor, so getting a workout buddy or joining an online community can help you stay on track and provide you with support.
Find Fun Workouts
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We all have different preferences when it comes to exercise. Some people might enjoy indoor cycling, while others like HIIT classes. Explore different types to find your favorites that will make you excited to work out.
"Remember that you won't have crazy changes overnight, but you are doing good for yourself and your body by making a commitment to your fitness," Joi says. "Choose the movement that you find fun and you can turn into a habit. I know it can be super hard. I've been there! But it will be worth it. The most important thing is staying positive and giving your workouts your all, even if you have to start with shorter sessions."
Be Kind to Yourself
Don't punish or get frustrated with yourself if you're struggling or need more rest days. "For me, fitness is not so dramatic that one day you are on point and the next you are off point because you didn't exercise, but if you are somewhere in between—working toward your goals—then you are on track. Be kind and go easy on yourself because we all have off days," Golding says.
How to Maximize Your 30-Minute Workouts
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While we've now learned that 30 minutes is more than enough time to get an effective sweat session in, that half hour can really fly by. So I asked the experts how to best use that period of time so you're really doing all you can.
It's All About Your Heart Rate
"If you're working out for 30 minutes, you want to make sure you're not wasting any time, and you are putting in maximum effort the whole way through," Joi says. "Doing combination moves like burpees or squat jumps that target numerous body parts are also a really efficient way to train."
This will keep you on track and help you use up every single second. "If you're looking to maximize the amount of time you have, it's important to have a structured plan so you're not wasting time trying to figure out what to do next," Kennedy explains. "Intervals, HIIT, EMOMs (every minute on the minute), and AMRAPs (as many rounds as possible) are some of my favorite cardio workouts because they are based on getting a lot of work done in a short or specific amount of time. Otherwise, you can set a timer and commit to a specific amount of time you will go out for a walk, run, bike ride, dancing, jump roping, shadowboxing, etc."
Take Breaks Wisely
"Breaks are important, but try not to take too many," Golding says. "Resting in between a circuit will lower your heart rate, so you can recharge your breath to refuel for the next round and help you not to burn out."
30-Minute Workout Ideas
Bodyweight Workouts: "A great place to start is to pick a bunch of bodyweight workouts, set a timer for 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off (you can download free timer apps, or use your phone), and create a workout around this," Joi suggests. She typically includes moves like push-ups, lunges, squats, and plank variations. She also says you can build on the moves by adding plyometric advancements, like turning lunges into jump-lunges or adding a knee-drive as you step forward.
Power Walks: "I am a huge fan of power walks. Work at a pace that feels slightly uncomfortable and try to maintain that pace for five minutes," Kennedy says. "Then slow it down for two minutes and repeat that cycle five to eight times."
Indoor Cardio: "If you're not ready to head out for a walk or run, I am a big indoor-cardio fan too," Kennedy says. "So not necessarily in this order, but these are some cardio exercises I always suggest: burpees or a modified version of them, shadowboxing, air squats, skater lunges, and jumping rope. Choose five to seven exercises, and try each one for 40 seconds followed by 20 seconds of rest. Try three to five rounds, and move at a moderate pace."
Workout Gear to Shop
And if you're going to get into a fitness routine, you're going to need some gear. Take a look at some of our picks below.
These leggings are designed for training. They're made with Lululemon's fastest-drying fabric, too.
The Doing Things bra has a mesh racerback design for breathability.
The strappy design on this sports bra is both stylish and comfortable.
This running shoe has a speed-lacing system that locks your feet in for a secure fit. It also has great traction.
You're going to need to stay hydrated during your workout, and this sleek glass bottle will help you stay on top of it.
A good workout mat can come in handy, not just for yoga but for other moves. This one is dry-wicking and has a natural rubber backing for cushion.
If you want to add an extra challenge to your workouts, add these ankle or wrist weights.
A foam roller is so great for post-workout recovery. You can stretch and soothe any sore muscles.
Don't let sweat get in the way during your workouts with this towel.