Debra wants to exercise—but take a look at her daily schedule. During the week she’s up at 4:45 and out of the house by 6:30 for an hour-and-20-minute commute into New York City for work. Weekends are spent running to activities with her two sons (ages 5 and 6). Mornings would be the best time to squeeze in a workout because there’s no need to re-shower. There’s plenty of workout stuff (treadmill, weights, and exercise ball) at home, and Debra is OK with getting up a little earlier for a 30-minute soup-to-nuts routine. “You wouldn’t look at me and say I need to work out, but I want to be healthier for my boys,” she says.
Debra can divide her exercise into smaller doses: cardio first thing in the morning and strength training throughout the day. Or she can tack on a few streamlined strength moves after her cardio. Sneaking strength training into an impossible calendar just takes a little creativity.
- Work the whole body at once. When time is limited, use only moves that train multiple muscle groups simultaneously, such as squats or lunges. If you must do exercises that work only one muscle group (arm curls, for example), add a lunge or squat between repetitions.
- Go slow. It may seem counterintuitive, but slowing down exercises actually saves time. Instead of doing three sets per exercise, do just one set in slow motion—take six seconds to lift and six seconds to lower the weight. You’ll work your muscles just as hard and shorten your gym time.
- Compress the sets. Most people do three sets of an exercise, resting a minute between each set. Instead, pick three exercises that work the same muscle group, and do all three back to back with no rest in between. You’ll not only work your muscles 30% to 50% more thoroughly, but you’ll also speed through your workout.
- Squeeze in some squats. Any time you’re on the phone or taking a break, kick off your heels, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly squat down, as if you’re sitting, and stand back up. Do as many squats as you can, being sure your knees never go past your toes. Just lowering yourself a few inches strengthens all of your leg muscles.
- Playtime is for Mom, too. Pretend you’re a kid and challenge your little ones to a swing-set race. Pumping your legs works your lower body—plus, your ab, shoulder, arm, and back muscles help keep your body stabilized. Next, work your way across the monkey bars: They target your back and biceps and strengthen your core.