man using a baby as a weight to get a in quick workout at home

How to Workout and Get Fit With Little Time

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan

Working out, being fit, and improving your health doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Believe me, I’ve never been the kind of person who blocks out two hours in the day to get a workout in. I like to get in a quick workout at home and go on about my day. The thing is, I do it every single day, its a habit of mine. If I miss a day, I make sure not to miss two. This is how I’ve approached getting fit and staying fit throughout pretty much my whole life.

On January 16th of this year, I became a dad to a beautiful baby girl. It was a grueling, 18-hour day that pushed my wife and I (mostly her) to our physical limits but ended in the safe delivery of our daughter. At the time, I had no idea how much trouble she was going to put us through or just how much my life would be turned upside down.

Caring for a single infant child feels like pulling an all-nighter at work, sleeping on your desk, and then waking up an hour later to do it all over again. That such a small little bundle of joy and poop could effectively exhaust two functioning adults is impressive.

The point of me saying all this is that my fitness routine obviously began to suffer. I don’t think I exercised once in the first two weeks of her life. I was eating and sleeping like crap and my body quickly began to feel the negative side effects. But at time of writing, Mari is three months old and I’m starting to get into a new routine. From this experience, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks on staying fit even when you really, truly don’t have time.

You Have Time, You Just Need to Find It

A lot of success in fitness comes down to how much you want to succeed. It sounds cliché, but I’ve found it to be true. Where is “workout” on your priority list?

In those first two weeks of my daughter’s life, I honestly didn’t care about staying fit. I cared about helping to keep my newborn alive and not dropping her into a toilet bowl or something stupid.

But as time wore on and I became more comfortable with her being a part of our new lives, I took a moment to look at myself more closely. “Self,” I said, “What’s our status?”

“Captain,” my self replied, “We look and feel like total crap. Not enough sleep, no exercise, and too much beer ya crass troglodyte.”

“Weird insult, but I see your point,” I replied.

Eventually, caring for my health moved higher up the list of important things in my life. Once this became important to me again, I began looking for time to fit in even just a quick workout at home. If I could get in a 10-minute workout in, I would consider this a success. But this did not come without problems

Problem #1: Perceived Lack of Time

This is a problem that is not unique to new parents. In fact, as our society just seems to keep getting busier and busier, available time is at a premium. You had better use it wisely.

Most people wake up early, commute, work all day, commute again, get home, have to make dinner or spend time with their kids, walk their dog, visit their mistress, and go grocery shopping. Looking at that kind of schedule, it’s easy to perceive that there isn’t a free moment anywhere.

But again, this is just a perception. I guarantee for 95% of people, if they look hard enough at their day, they will find a 10-minute chunk of time to workout where they had been on their phones scrolling through the gram, texting someone, or just zoning out.

There IS time somewhere. Elimination of nonessential activities is how you find it.

Problem #2: Overestimated Time Needed

I’ve found a lot of people think they need to make some kind of boot camp-level commitment to fitness in order to see results. They often use this as justification for not getting started. “I can’t commit an hour and a half a day to working out, so I guess I’ll just stay squishy.”

Well, that’s silly. It’s a weird excuse. A little sleep is better than none. A snack is better than starving. Getting in a quick workout at home is infinitely better than none at all when it comes to trying to reach your goals.

Often this problem appears as a symptom of lack in motivation. A highly motivated person would be more likely to seek out even a short exercise session rather set an extremely high goal. Motivation, in fact, often comes from from just getting out and doing something. Action can inspire motivation and vise versa. The journey itself can also be highly motivating once you set upon it.

Problem #3: Focus on Short-Term Results

Everyone wants the nice butt or the six-pack, and usually they want it now. The problem is that this creates a short-term focus problem. By focusing on a specific result, you tend to pour your energy and effort into achieving that one thing. This can sabotage your efforts especially if you are on a short time budget.

My good buddy at Durmonski.com (a productivity and self-improvement blog) published an article not too long ago about how short-form content is ruining our abilities to pay attention long enough to really digest important information. Much in the same way, focus on short-term goals is ruining our abilities to focus on long-term health.

If you only have a few minutes a day to work out and you are hyper-focused on a short-term goal, you are going to get frustrated that you don’t have enough time to achieve that goal quickly. If you instead set down that expectation and focus on long-term success and consistency, you will improve your results greatly.

Why A Quick Workout is Better than No Workout

Here’s the truth: you don’t need to commit more than 10-15 minutes per day to exercise so long as you do it consistently and show up almost every single day. You also don’t need a gym or a bunch of fancy equipment. If you have home gym equipment, great! You can use that. But you don’t NEED it to get a quick workout in.

More effort gets better results, yes, but consistency is what matters when it comes to exercise. Your body adapts along consistent lines of stress placed upon it. That means that if you have a job where you lift chickens that weigh exactly 20lbs each from floor to waist height your body will get really really good at doing that task. Eventually, 20lbs will feel really easy to lift and you’ll be able to do it longer and longer before needing a break.

Likewise, if you do a 10-minute workout of high intensity cardio training every single day, your body will adapt to be able to put up with that stress. As such, lower intensity cardio activities that you encounter in daily life, like climbing the stairs, will seem easier by comparison as your body adapts and gets stronger.

Setting Up a Habit

Modern psychologists and productivity experts correctly point out that habits are far more effective in producing results than setting up a simple goal. But how the hell do you do that anyway? As much as it gets talked about, the idea of “setting up a habit” is starting to become a cliché. It’s like the modern version of “use willpower” or “ask a magical fairy to help you”.

There needs to be a little more discussion about how to set up habits when it comes to fitness. One of the mistakes I made early on was trying to create a fixed fitness habit when I had a variable schedule for the rest of my life. I didn’t always go to work at the same time every day, or eat at the same time, or stick my head in a garbage can to think of new blog ideas at the same time. Yet, I was trying to exercise at the same time every single day. Didn’t work.

If you have a fixed schedule, it helps to have fixed habits. If you have a variable schedule, variable habits may also be the way to go. Say you get off work every day at five and you know that you hate your boss and want to punch something and rage lift the heaviest weights you can. It makes sense to get home by 5:30 and do all of that so that you don’t take it out on the cat again.

However, maybe you work Tuesday from 8:00-5:00, Wednesdays from 12:00-9:00, but then occasionally you have to go in on a day off. If your life is unpredictable, then you need to set your fitness habit more carefully.

Tips for Fixed Schedules

  1. Only use a fixed schedule if you are a very routine kind of person. I always thought that I loved strict, military-esque daily routines. It was only when I was finally successful at establishing a pattern like this that I realized I hated it. If strict discipline is something that gives you comfort, then this might be right up your alley. Otherwise, don’t try to force a fixed habit.
  2. Even if your habit stays fixed for a while, be willing to move it if needed. This was a trap I fell into. I tried to make workout time sacred. What ended up happening was that inevitably life said, “You’re not working out today.” And I would reply, “The hell I’m not!” and then try to work out anyway at the exact time that I wanted to resulting in me getting stressed out or missing an obligation.

Tips for Variable Schedules

  1. Try to chain your fitness habit to another habit that you already do. You probably eat lunch or dinner every day. If you have a little time before or after your meal, that might be a great time for a workout even if it occurs at different times each day.
  2. Set a reminder or put “workout” as a check box on your to do list. Even if you don’t know exactly when you’ll be able to get it done, if you have a system already in place for reminding you of what needs to happen each day, make sure that working out is on there.
  3. Do it first thing in the morning. The nice thing about waking up is that it is variable. If you can make it to bed a little earlier the night before, say 10-20 minutes earlier, then you can wake up a bit earlier and make your workout be the first thing that you get done.

Obviously new habits require discipline. No matter what kind of fitness habit you try to set up, you are going to need to give yourself some time to get used to it and some room for failure. Discipline is only hard at first and when you get used to sticking to these habits eventually you’ll wonder how you ever had trouble working out.

Exercise Type: How to Get the Most Out of a Quick Workout

This is all about figuring out how to work out when you don’t have much time. So far we’ve discussed the problems that you might face, managing expectations, and some solutions for setting up a workout habit. But the most important aspect of being able to stay fit with minimal time availability is exercise selection.

The best way to learn how to work out faster and get more out of it is to learn moves that allow you to get in a great work out in a small space.

One of the most common types of workouts I do these days is called “playtime workouts”. I get in a quick workout while my daughter is having play time in her little jungle gym. It is one of the few times during the day where she is preoccupied with other things and I can get some reps in. Best of all, she usually can stay preoccupied for about 10-15 minutes.

What kinds of exercises am I doing? Any kind that involves bodyweight resistance and not having to move around a lot. Some examples would be pushups, sit ups, crunches, squats, lunges, or tuck jumps. These are very common exercises, but there are hundreds of less-common variations that you can learn and implement to get in a good workout.

How to Get the Most Out of a Quick Workout

  1. Slow, controlled reps. It sounds counter-intuitive, right? “Slow down your reps so that you can get in more work more quickly.” But it’s true. Try doing as many pushups or lunges as you can the way that you are accustomed to doing them. Then try to do them by counting to 4 on your way down and counting to 2 on your way up. Were you able to do as many? I can almost guarantee that you weren’t. By slowing down your reps, you are actually working your muscles more effectively, meaning you reach fatigue more quickly, but also build strength more quickly.
  2. Prioritize bodyweight over equipment. One of the biggest barriers to starting exercise is starting exercise. That seemingly redundant statement means that once you can get going, your body usually adapts quickly to your new state and it is easier to continue going. However, if you have to first get your towel, dumbbells, and smoothie, you are less likely to actually get started. Instead, try to condition yourself to just stand up, make some room, and start moving! That doesn’t mean don’t use equipment ever, but get warmed up with bodyweight moves first at least.
  3. Work out while you are waiting for other things. We all have times where we are waiting for something to happen before we can move on with life. The oven needs to preheat or your daughter needs to finish pooping so that you can change her. Leverage these times to get some reps in. Instant Pots are great for this. They take FOREVER to preheat because, you know, the word “Instant” is just there for fun. While I’m waiting for the damn thing to preheat, I see how many squats or lunges I can get in.

Killing One More Workout Misconception

Tip 3 in the last section brings up an interesting point. Very often, people like to designate specific areas that they exercise. They want to go to the gym or a park or the hood of their mom’s car. This is crazy if you think about the nature exercise itself. We challenge ourselves with movement to make ourselves stronger. Why does that activity need to have a specified location?

So please, I urge you, nay beg of you, workout wherever you can… especially if you are strapped for time. I like to make a game out of it. What’s the weirdest place you can work out? Your attic? Your bathtub? Don’t workout in your bathtub, actually. That sounds dangerous.

But you get my point. Exercise isn’t legally required to be done in any specific place. There are probably places you’re not allowed to workout by law. The roof of the White House comes to mind. But you don’t NEED a gym membership to go do a workout. Your kitchen floor or the parking lot of your kids’ school will do just fine.

Closing Thoughts

The easiest way to argue the points I am making in this article are to simply say, “You have no idea what my life is like. Maybe your advice works for some people but it doesn’t fit into my life. I really, TRULY don’t have time.” I cannot reasonably argue against that because, you’re right, I don’t know what your life is like. Maybe you have an ailing family member in your care. Or maybe you are working 18 hours a day to keep the bills from piling up,

In this case, I would refer you to your personal priority list. Are there so many things on that list that you can’t possibly squeeze anything else in? Then this article was not for you. On the other hand, do you look at that list and only see “go to work”, “watch Parks and Rec”, and “make sure you’re breathing”. Well, then you probably have room to move exercise up that list. The question is, do you have the motivation and the desire to actually do it?

Key Points

  1. You have time, you just need to find it.
  2. Workouts do not need to be super long to generate results.
  3. Set up a habit that is either fixed or variable depending on your schedule.
  4. The type of exercise should be mostly bodyweight training using slow, controlled reps to put in the most amount of work in the least amount of time.
  5. Where you work out does not matter!

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