Pete McCall by Pete McCall

As fitness professionals, we make a living by helping clients pursue healthier lifestyles. While we generally see our clients for an hour at a time, when our clients' lives get busier, we need to have strategies for providing quick, effective workouts that can be done in a shorter period of time. Offering 30-minute sessions, for example, can provide a solution for your clients who might otherwise cancel their one-hour sessions when their time is limited.

One significant benefit of regular exercise is that it helps the body develop the ability to manage stress, which can actually reduce overall stress levels in the long run. During the busier times of year, there will be a number of other stressors on our clients and they may be tempted to abandon their workouts altogether. We can help out by providing lower-intensity workouts designed to maintain strength levels, as opposed to the higher-intensity workouts that can improve a client’s fitness level.

When designing shorter workouts, it is important to remember to make time for both a warm-up and cool-down. The warm-up can consist of the exercises done in the workout, but performed without weight, at a slower tempo and for more repetitions. The cool-down can be a few core exercises such as plank, side plank and reverse crunches. In general, time-saving workouts should feature compound exercises involving multiple joints and muscle groups.

Here are a few ideas for designing effective workouts that will help your clients maintain their fitness when time becomes an issue. These are also great ideas for your clients who travel frequently and want to maintain their fitness levels while on the road.



One of my favorite contributions from the world of CrossFit can have a couple of different meanings:

As Many Rounds as Possible: Design a total-body workout with four to six compound exercises. Set a rep goal for each exercise (four to eight for strength or eight to 15 for general fitness) and challenge the client to complete the circuit as many times as possible in 15 to 20 minutes. This format is perfect for TRX or kettlebell workout programs.

As Many Repetitions as Possible: Use the same compound exercises from the workout above and select relatively short time intervals, from 20 to 45 seconds. Challenge your client to complete as many reps as possible in that timeframe, being sure to allow appropriate time for recovery between exercises.

Drop sets

Great for machine-based workouts when limited time is a major factor, drop sets work because they  fatigue ALL fibers in a muscle.

After an appropriate warm-up, have the client select a challenging weight he or she can do for only six to eight reps. When the client can’t do any more with good form, drop the weight and have him or her go to fatigue. Ideally, the initial weight will allow for two to three drops sets, with a total of 12 to 24 repetitions performed.

Tabata-style intervals

In their truest form, Tabata-style intervals are done at 100% intensity (the testing for the original research challenged the subjects to work at 170% of VO2max). However, most of our clients simply can't perform at this workrate for the required eight cycles, nor is it appropriate for them to do so. That said, the proliferation of free Tabata-style timers available for mobile devices make this an effective option for clients with a limited amount of time.

When developing a Tabata-style workout, choose an upper-body and lower-body exercise for one eight-rep cycle (e.g., push-ups and squats), a lower-body strength and lower-body plyometric exercise for a second eight-rep cycle (e.g., lunges and ice-skaters), and an upper-body push and upper-body pull for a third eight-rep cycle (e.g., dumbbell shoulder press and dumbbell bent-over rows). Each cycle takes four minutes to complete, with two to three minutes of active rest (isometric core exercises) between cycles, making this a very effective limited time option.

Bodyweight circuits 

Bodyweight training

Bodyweight circuits are a great way to save time because you don’t have to switch weights or move from machine to machine. In fact, you don't even need to be in a gym, which makes this an excellent option to teach clients who travel frequently. (Tip: When I want to teach a client an exercise or workout, I ask to use their phone and take a video of him or her performing the exercise while I provide step-by-step narration. Now the client has a visual representation of how to perform the exercise, which he or she can refer to as needed.) Simply find 8- to 10-square-feet of floor space and have the client perform a circuit of exercises for 30 seconds at a time.

Cardio workouts using three different machines

Doing cardio workouts on three different machines for eight to twelve minutes each is a great way to stave off the boredom that comes from exercising on a single piece of cardio equipment for an extended period. Here is one of my favorite circuits: incline walking on a treadmill, rowing on a Concept-II ergometer and the StepMill (or similiar rotating stairclimber machine). Ask your clients about their favorite machines and challenge them to spend 10 minutes or so on each one. These workouts are fun and the time will go by quickly.

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