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

See also

  1. Slide show: 5 smart exercise choices for psoriatic arthritis
  2. 6 tips for an active getaway you'll remember
  3. Accentuate the positive to make lasting health changes
  4. An appointment to exercise? You bet!
  5. Are you ready for a workout?
  6. Balance training: Boost your long-term health with these exercises
  7. Barriers to fitness
  8. Blood Doping
  9. Body fat analyzers
  10. Boot camp workout
  11. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  12. Core exercises
  13. Create a home gym without breaking the bank
  14. Did you exercise today? Reward yourself!
  15. Toning shoes
  16. Does fitness trump thinness?
  17. Don't have an exercise budget? Go cheap!
  18. Dress smart for winter workouts
  19. Early bird or night owl? Plan exercise accordingly
  20. Exercise benefits
  21. Exercise and chronic disease
  22. Exercise and illness
  23. Stress relief
  24. Exercise: Every minute counts!
  25. Exercising with arthritis
  26. Exercise: Check with your doctor
  27. Exercising regularly? Track your progress!
  28. Fitness program
  29. Fitness: Take it 1 step at a time
  30. Fitness motivation
  31. Fitness ball exercises videos
  32. Fitness barriers: Bust 'em
  33. Fitness for less
  34. Fitness ideas for the entire family
  35. Fitness program
  36. Fitness takes more than huffing and puffing
  37. Fitness tip: Get physical at home
  38. Fitness tip: Get physical at work
  39. Fitness tip: Include your friends
  40. Fitness training routine
  41. Fitting in fitness
  42. Getting in shape after having a baby
  43. Going up? Take the stairs
  44. Golf injuries
  45. Golfers: Know when to call it quits
  46. Golfers: Tee up common sense
  47. Hanging out with friends? Activity counts!
  48. Hate to exercise? Try these tips
  49. Heart rate
  50. Heat and exercise
  51. Hockey Flywheel
  52. How fit are you?
  53. How much exercise do you really need?
  54. 3 easy ways to get started with yoga
  55. Is exercise a chore? No more!
  56. Keep your workout fun
  57. Know when to move your winter workout indoors
  58. Late-day exercise
  59. Marathon and the Heat
  60. BMI and waist circumference calculator
  61. Mayo Clinic Minute: How to hit your target heart rate
  62. Miss a workout? Don't give up!
  63. Natural movement: Going back to basics
  64. Need a gym to get fit?
  65. Need exercise motivation? Put it on paper
  66. Need motivation to exercise? Try a diary
  67. No pain, no gain? No way!
  68. No time for exercise? No way!
  69. Office exercise
  70. Overuse injury prevention
  71. Pregnancy and exercise
  72. Ready to get in on the aquatic fitness movement?
  73. Simple tips for staying active and mobile with osteoarthritis
  74. Core-strength exercises
  75. Guide to stretches
  76. Balance exercises
  77. Fitness ball
  78. Starting a fitness program? Take it slow
  79. Starting an exercise program: Take time to rest
  80. Stay fit and healthy — without breaking a sweat
  81. Stay fit at any age
  82. Travel and work
  83. Strength training: How-to video collection
  84. The best ways to bounce back after a tough workout
  85. 5 common sports injuries in young female athletes
  86. To stay fit, embrace the power of play
  87. Too busy to exercise? Get up earlier
  88. Too sick to exercise?
  89. Fitness tips for business travelers
  90. Walking for fitness: Getting started
  91. Want to get fit? Try backyard aerobics!
  92. What it takes to be agile at any age
  93. Winter blahs? 4 pro tips to get you off the couch.
  94. Cold-weather exercise
  95. Winter weather tip: Watch for signs of frostbite
  96. Working out? Remember to drink up
  97. Workout blahs? Don't go it alone!