Losing Weight With Short Workouts

Woman doing a short workout at home
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Sometimes it can feel impossible to fit an hour or more of exercise into your busy day. But quick bursts of exercise can be just as effective. If you're trying to lose weight, a consistent exercise routine that involves a variety of short workouts ranging from just 5–10 minutes can help you meet your weight loss goals. Learn about the benefits of short workouts and get ideas for a few quick exercise routines you can add to your weekly schedule.

Short Workouts Add Up

Research shows that short bouts of exercise throughout the day can have similar benefits to longer workouts. A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that short bursts of moderate to vigorous physical activity are beneficial for weight loss and weight management. The study also indicated that higher-intensity activity may have the greatest effect on reducing the risk for obesity.

Subjects for the study were sourced from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which has been collecting health and nutrition data from adults and children in the United States since 1999. The 2013 study included participants from the survey aged 18–64, including 2,202 women and 2,309 men. Their physical activity was measured by length of time and intensity, and the researchers used body mass index (BMI) to measure the subjects' weight.

Results showed a decrease of about 0.07 BMI (just less than half a pound) for each daily minute spent in short bursts of higher-intensity activity. Additionally, each daily minute of higher-intensity activity lowered the risk of obesity by about 5% for women and 2% for men.

However, the researchers note that quick workouts are only considered as effective as longer workouts when they add up to meet the recommendation of 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity per week.

Study participants were unable to meet this recommendation with short bouts of exercise alone. But when they added short bursts of higher-intensity physical activity ranging from 8–10 minutes to a weekly exercise regimen that included longer workouts, men accumulated 246 minutes per week and women averaged about 144 minutes per week.

The NHANES study isn't the only research to show that short workouts add up:

  • A small 2013 study showed that intermittent exercise increased satiety and reduced hunger to a greater extent than continuous exercise in 11 people with obesity.
  • A 2016 study showed similar results for about 1,000 older adults, whom researchers suggest may experience difficulty with longer durations of exercise. The study found that short bouts (less than 10 minutes) of moderate to vigorous physical activity were associated with a reduced risk of obesity and improved metabolic health.
  • A 2019 review of 29 studies found that based on the current evidence, physical activity of any length (whether less than or greater than 10 minutes) is associated with improved health outcomes such as weight loss and reduced risk of all-cause mortality.

Research shows that including short workouts at a higher intensity in an exercise regimen that also includes some longer workouts can pay off over time. But any amount of exercise is better than none. The only time to worry about prioritizing longer bouts of exercise is if you're training for a specific competition or sport, such as preparing your body for marathons and other races or sporting events that require endurance.

Using Short Workouts for Weight Loss

Short workouts can effectively promote weight loss, but they also need to be frequent (more than once a day), moderate to vigorous in intensity, and accompanied by dietary changes. They also need to be complemented with longer bouts of exercise to meet the recommendation of 150 minutes of physical activity per week. This strategy can increase your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) to help you burn more calories than you're consuming and create a calorie deficit to lose weight.

If you're really short on time, split your exercise routine into a few short workouts throughout the day. With consistency, you'll still burn calories and build strength over time. The key is to find a regular schedule that works for you.

For instance, you could squeeze in a 10-minute workout before your morning shower, take a brisk walk on your lunch break, and then do another 10-minute workout before dinner. In total, that's about 30–40 minutes of exercise in your day. You might save the longer workouts for the weekend or the weeknights when your schedule is more flexible.

Short Workout Routines to Try

Developing a strategy for short exercise routines can help you stay committed. For example, you might focus on strength on Tuesday and your lower body on Wednesday. Or maybe you find that a total-body workout gets you going in the morning while strength training works well for you in the evening.

Having a series of short exercise routines to rely on can make your workouts less monotonous and help you stay motivated. Try staggering different workout routines throughout the week to keep things interesting. Just remember to include longer activities like brisk walking, jogging, or cycling in the mix.

Try these six short workouts to work your body in less time:

  • 5-minute workout routine: An intense five-minute workout can produce the "after-burn effect" to increase your calorie burn for up to 48 hours. Get your heart rate up with jumping jacks, burpees, and mountain climbers, then build strength with push-ups, lunges, and crunches.
  • 10-minute bodyweight workout: You don't need equipment to pull off this quick routine, just a chair, bench, or step will do.
  • 10-minute low-impact workout: Low-impact workouts are easier on the joints, yet they can still get your heart rate up to burn calories, build strength, and improve balance and coordination.
  • 10-minute mini circuit workout: A circuit workout involves going from one move to the next with little or no rest. Quick bodyweight exercises that combine cardio and strength training can be performed for about 30 seconds each to get your heart rate up and burn calories.
  • Quick lower body circuit workout: Work your lower body (legs, hips, and glutes) with a series of bodyweight exercises that involve little to no equipment.
  • Travel workout: Your vacation or business travel doesn't have to get in the way of your weight loss and fitness goals. You can get a great workout no matter where you are by simply using your own body weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

What cardio workouts are best when you’re short on time?

A 10-minute high-intensity circuit workout that incorporates bodyweight exercises can get your heart pumping when you're short on time. You might do a cardio circuit that includes jumping jacks, mountain climbers, burpees, push-ups, and squats.

Other bodyweight exercises, such as walking lunges, wall sits, and abdominal crunches can quickly get your heart rate up without the use of equipment. However, adding weight like dumbbells or kettlebells ramps up the resistance and increases your calorie burn.

How can I get the most out of short workouts?

Make the most out of short workouts by including moves that incorporate both cardio and strength training. Bodyweight exercises are an effective way to accomplish this if you don't have access to gym equipment. Focus on good form, proper breathing, and a mix of exercises that target the upper body, lower body, and core for a balanced workout.

What should I eat before a short workout?

If you choose to have a snack before your short workout, aim for a mix of carbohydrates with some protein before you exercise. Often a 4-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein can give you enough energy for exercise and also help promote recovery once you're finished. While you should avoid exercise for 2–3 hours after a full meal, you can eat a light pre-workout snack about 30–60 minutes before you work out to give you energy if you're feeling hungry.

Try apple slices, a banana, or a piece of whole-grain toast with a tablespoon of nut butter, a cup of yogurt and fruit, a fruit smoothie with a scoop of protein powder, a handful of pretzels with some hummus or string cheese, or a tall glass of chocolate milk, which believe it or not, is recommended by sports nutrition experts.

A Word From Verywell

Any amount of exercise is valuable for health and may help with weight loss or healthy weight maintenance, especially when you meet the recommendation of a minimum of 150 minutes per week. If you're interested in incorporating short workouts, aim to do a couple of quick workouts most days of the week setting aside a few days a week for longer workouts to build endurance, burn calories, and hit your goals.

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