Exercise smarter, not longer

A well-rounded fitness plan includes flexibility, mobility, balance and core training, cardiovascular exercise, and strength training. How can you fit it all in without spending hours in the gym? Get tips on combining these elements into one workout session that gives you the most bang for your buck.

By Daniel V. Gaz

You may be dedicated to running or strength training, but does your fitness plan extend beyond just one or two activities? A well-rounded plan encompasses exercises that benefit the entire body. Each of these types of exercise offers different benefits. The beauty is they can be combined into a single workout session. This means less time in the gym and more bang for your buck!

  • Flexibility and mobility exercises can enhance the way your body moves in space. Dynamic (read: active) flexibility exercises will help you perform exercises and daily activities with less restriction and more freedom. It's like oiling a hinge to keep it from sticking.
  • Cardiovascular training has many benefits, including chronic disease prevention and improved quality of life, and it should be a staple of your weekly routine. A cardio workout doesn't have to be mile after mile of pounding the pavement. Switching up the type of exercise you do and the amount of time you spend doing it can improve your fitness dramatically.
  • Strength training helps increase lean muscle mass, which can reduce your overall body fat percentage while keeping your bones healthy. In as little as 20 minutes you can complete a total body strength training workout. And some routines require just your body weight, so they're practical and portable!
  • Balance training has long been a staple of sport-specific training. You don't have to be an athlete to reap the benefits, however, especially as you age. Incorporating exercises that challenge balance can help break up the monotony of a normal workout routine and provide long-term benefits, such as preventing falls.
  • Core training involves more than situps and six-pack abs — your core includes all the muscles that support and stabilize your spine. Think about how often you move throughout the day, and you'll appreciate the value of a strong core.

So, how can you fit in all these types of exercises without spending hours in the gym? Here are a few tips:

  • Perform dynamic flexibility exercises, such as body-weight squats, lunges, jumping jacks or even jogging in place, before your cardio or strength session. These are called movement preparation exercises because they do exactly that: They prepare you for movement.
  • Finish your workout with mobility exercises, such as foam rolling over major muscle groups, to eliminate the painful post-exercise effects of a good workout.
  • Try interval training. This is especially helpful if you're pressed for time but want a good cardiovascular workout. In as little as 20 minutes, you can put in the same amount of effort by working at a higher intensity than you would normally exert in 45 to 50 minutes at a moderate intensity.
  • Split your strength training sessions into shorter routines. If you have three days to focus on strength training, use one day to strengthen your upper body, one to focus on lower body activities and the last day to combine both into a total body session. By focusing on a specific area, you can manipulate your sets and reps more effectively because your whole body isn't fatigued. When it's time for the total body session, incorporate some circuit training principles — less rest between sets — to get a complete workout in a shorter period of time.
  • Use tools such as stability balls and balance trainer balls to challenge your balance and strengthen your core in different ways, while still performing your favorite exercises. Some examples:
  1. Forward lunge with your front foot on top of a balance trainer half ball
  2. Dumbbell chest press on a stability ball instead of a bench
  3. Overhead shoulder press while standing on one leg and alternating legs each set

If you're not currently active, it's fine to choose just one type of exercise and build from there. Many people find that cardiovascular exercise is a good starting point, but that's not a must. Choose an activity you're mostly likely to follow through on. And consider getting help. An exercise specialist or personal trainer can help you develop a program that works for you.


Try these suggestions to boost your overall fitness.

  1. Add an interval training session to this week's cardio lineup.
  2. Add two core exercises to your strength-training routine.
  3. Begin each workout with at least five minutes of functional training.
Dec. 16, 2016 See more In-depth

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