"The number one reason people don't work out is there's not enough time," says UW Health sports performance specialist Alison Regal.

Given the time crunch that forces many people to take a pass on exercise in favor of work, family and social obligation, the increasing popularity of express workouts makes sense.

If you don't have time to devote an hour to weights or cardio, compress that workout to 20 minutes so you can squeeze it in between your recurring afternoon meetings and driving your daughter to soccer practice.

There are plenty of express workouts from which to choose. Just about every prominent fitness magazine features at least one, and celebrities from fitness personality Gilad Janklowicz to professional wrestler Chris Jericho to talk show host Dr. Oz offer the promise of fast fitness, often for a price.

But are they effective? Regal says they can be.

"Doing something is better than doing nothing," she says. "I agree with that 100 percent."

Creating an Express Workout that Works

But an express workout's short duration requires an increase in focus and efficiency. One way to do so is to substitute exercises that isolate just one muscle group, as the exercises in heavily involved weightlifting regimens often do, for those that tax multiple muscle groups.

"Focus on multijoint exercises," Regal says. "If you're doing multijoint movements, or multijoint movements out of the saggital plane - where the body 'divides' into right and left - you'll be training muscles you probably haven't used before."

Squats and lunges are examples of effective multijoint movements. When doing squats, you position your feet beneath your shoulders and drop your butt until your knees reach a 90-degree angle of flex. With lunges, you start from a standing position and step forward with one leg while dropping the opposite knee to a point just above the ground, and then return to standing.

Both exercises work the core, glutes and thighs, and if your balance is good, you can add a barbell shoulder press to the mix and target the upper body, in addition to that lower body work.

Keeping the Pace with Express Workouts

Pace is a key element to express workouts, as well. When you're exercising for 20 or 30 minutes, there is no time to dawdle between exercises. Regal recommends "supersets," during which you move quickly from one exercise to the next, with only a few seconds of rest between sets.

Supersetting gets the heart rate up and quickly fatigues muscles, so the best way to approach them is to alternate between upper- and lower-body exercises, and even incorporating a burst of cardiovascular work in the mix.

For example, you could use these exercises to create an effective superset. Do each set for 30 seconds.

  • Pushups: Can be done with both knees touching the ground.

  • Forward lunges

  • Planks: Hold the top position of a pushup.

  • High knees: Run in place vigorously, lifting one knee to waist level and then the other.

  • Triceps dip: Sit on a bench or chair with your hands shoulder-width apart on bench or chair. Slide your butt off the bench or chair with your legs extended, then lower your body, supporting your weight with your arms. Return to the top position.

  • Squats

  • Squat thrusts: Start from a standing position and then drop your hands to the ground by your feet. Jump both feet back so you're in the top position of a pushup, then reverse the movement until you're again standing.

"And as soon as you catch your breath," Regal says, "go for it again."

But don't hurry. With express workouts you may be tempted to make your quick pace a frenzied one, but Regal says proper technique makes for the most effective workout and protects you from injury.

"Quickness isn't as important as having good form," Regal says. "You want to focus on form."

And most importantly, find an exercise routine you like.

"If you enjoy doing it," Regal says, "then exercise won't be something you have to get done."

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