Stephanie Thielen by Stephanie Thielen

In an ideal world, we would all have the time to fit in an uninterrupted and thorough 45- to 60-minute workout at our local gym or go outside to run or cycle our favorite scenic route. In reality, most of us are juggling jobs, families and extracurricular activities, and exercise is one of the first things to fall off the daily to-do list when our weekly schedule starts busting at the seams. 

For many people, lack of time is the single biggest obstacle to fitness. If you are an avid weekly exerciser, you might think that if you can’t fit in your 45-minute workout, then no workout is worth your time. Any workout, however, even if it’s just 15 minutes, is always worth your time, and the benefits of exercise and movement definitely outweigh the health risks of not engaging in exercise at all. Something is always better than nothing when it comes to exercise.

1. Health benefits: Yes, even as little as 15 minutes of exercise can wake up your endorphins, reduce your stress, boost your mood and clear your mind.

2. Calories: Whether your workouts or long or short, you’re still burning calories. Burning 100 to 150 calories may not seem like much, but doing a few short workouts a week add up to 300+ calories more burned than if you decided to skip out.

3. Habit forming: Short workouts can help you get—or stay—in the habit of exercising on a regular basis without feeling overwhelmed or stressed out by trying to commit to a longer exercise session. 

15-minute Cardio Circuit Workout 

When you are short on time, try this 15-minute workout that will work up a good sweat regardless of your fitness level. If you are a beginner exerciser, perform the strength exercises with or without dumbbells and move through the workout at a moderate pace. If intensity is your goal, perform the exercises with dumbbells and pick up the intensity by moving through the workout at a quicker pace and limiting rest time. And when you do this workout again (and you will), change the order of the sets for a new challenge and feel. 

This workout contains five sets of exercises. Each set lasts three minutes and includes one simple cardio drill performed for 20 reps, and one combination strength exercise that targets the upper and lower body, performed for 10 reps. Continue alternating the cardio and strength exercises until the three minutes are up and then move onto the next set. Move through all five sets for a revved-up workout that is worthy of both your time and your health. 

All cardio exercises begin with feet together and arms by your sides. All strength exercises begin with feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides or hands at shoulder height.

Set #1 

Time: 0:00-3:00 minutes

Cardio: High Knees

Run in place, pumping your arms and lifting your knees up toward your chest. 2 High Knees = 1 rep

Strength: DB Squat + Biceps Curls

Lower hips so thighs are parallel to the floor and then stand up (squat). Bend the elbows and lift the dumbbells toward the shoulders and return the arms back to your sides (biceps curl). This is one rep.

Set #2

Time: 3:00-6:00 minutes

Cardio: Jumping Jacks

Jump out while raising your arms out to the side and overhead and then return back to center. 1 Jumping Jack = 1 rep 

Strength: Side Lunge + Lateral Raise

Step the right leg out to the side. Lower the hips of the right leg while keeping the left leg straight. Push back to center (side lunge). Lift both arms out the sides, raising the dumbbells to shoulder height and then return them back to your sides (lateral raise). This is one rep. Repeat the side lunge on the left leg.

Set #3 

Time: 6:00-9:00 minutes

Cardio: Cross Country Ski

Jump and split the legs and arms, with the right leg and left arm forward and the left leg and right arm back. Jump and switch the legs and arms. 2 Cross Country Skis = 1 rep. 

Strength: Reverse Lunge + Triceps Kickbacks

Step the left leg back and lower down so the front thigh is parallel to the floor. Return back to the center (reverse lunge). Hinge at the hips, pull the dumbbells up so the upper arm is parallel to the floor. Kick the dumbbell back behind you (triceps). This is one rep. Repeat the reverse lunge with the right leg.

Set #4

Time: 9:00-12:00 minutes

Cardio: Speed Skater

Hop to the right, landing on the right foot while sweeping the left foot diagonally behind the right leg and swinging the arms across the body. Jump to the left, switching legs and arms. 2 Speed Skaters = 1 rep. 

Strength: Wide Squat + Shoulder Press

Begin this exercise with dumbbells at shoulder height. Step the right leg out wider than the hips and turn the toes slightly outward. Lower the hips so the thighs are parallel to the floor, and then stand back up to center position (wide squat). Press the arms overhead and return back to shoulder height (shoulder press). This is one rep. Repeat by stepping out to the wide squat with your left foot.

Set #5 

Time: 12:00-15:00 minutes

Cardio: Butt Kickers

This exercise is the opposite of High Knees. Pump your arms and rapidly bring your heels toward your glutes. 2 Butt Kickers = 1 rep. 

Strength: Deadlift + Bent-over Row

Keep a slight bend in the knees as you hinge at the hips and hold this position (deadlift). Pull the dumbbells up toward the hips, release the arms back down, and then stand back up to center (bent-over row). This is one rep.