Before you say it, I already know: Claiming that working out takes too much time is an excuse. Don't get me wrong, I love the feeling of sore glutes, tired arms, and thrashed lungs. I just don't always like how much time achieving them takes from my busy life.

Between my full-time job as a content editor for this website, my part-time passion for training clients, and numerous other activities, both work and play, I sometimes barely have time to glance at the gym as I drive by it.

And I suspect I'm not alone.

Fitness is as much of a priority as anything else in my life, but I'm not about to let it consume my precious free time—and frankly, neither should you.

If you find yourself cutting your workouts short to get back to the office or skipping the gym so you can arrive home in time to make dinner, implement the following three changes right now to streamline your fitness routine without sacrificing your results.

Change 1: Eat Like Your Fitness Depends on It

Ever heard the saying, "You can't out train a poor diet?" It means no amount of work in the gym can ever overcome excessive calorie intake or starving your body of essential nutrients. And if you view working out as a way to "earn" more treats in your nutrition plan, you've got it backward.

I hate to break it down to a simple calories consumed versus calories burned equation, but results are clear: If you consume more calories than you burn, you'll gain weight. And talk about adding time to workouts—you'd have to spend nearly six hours on the treadmill just to burn off the calories in one DQ blizzard!

The trick to effortlessly achieving a fit and healthy physique is eating the right kind of calories at the right times. It sounds complicated, but it's really not. Eat healthier foods, eat them every day, and eat them frequently throughout the day. Keep a bag of apples at your desk, grab oatmeal when you go through the drive-through, and add a heaping serving of veggies at dinner.

At the grocery store, load up your cart with healthy, nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens, fresh fruits, raw nuts, and lean proteins. Skip the processed snacks and high-calorie junk foods. You can only eat what you buy, and you can only avoid what you don't buy.

And although it's tempting to reduce calories to stay fit, keep in mind that one of the least efficient ways to improve your health is by starving your body. Your metabolism only functions when you feed it, so skipping breakfast and yo-yo dieting sabotages your efforts. Feed your body healthy, nutritious food, and you'll lean down and stay strong naturally.

Change 2: Swap Duration for Intensity

Once you've conquered healthy eating, increasing the intensity of your workouts is the next best way to get better results in a lot less time.

Your body does most of its fat burning and muscle building outside of the gym, so working out longer doesn't necessarily improve your results. In some cases, it can actually cause harm. Exercise is a form of stress. Done for too long, exercise can stimulate cortisol production and lead to muscle breakdown.

In contrast, shorter, more intense bouts of exercise naturally increase anabolic hormone levels—exactly what your body needs to ward off breakdown and stimulate muscle growth.

Higher oxygen demands of more intense workouts also lead to the so-called "afterburn" effect, elevating your metabolism for hours or even days after you've left the gym. Your resting metabolic rate is further improved by the lean muscle you gain with every focused workout. So over time, you'll burn even more calories at rest and spend even less time in the gym. 

Higher oxygen demands of more intense workouts also lead to the so-called "afterburn" effect, elevating your metabolism for hours or even days after you've left the gym.

Of course, there's a catch. High-intensity workouts are exactly that—more intense. I'd even go so far as to call them downright brutal. But you're here for better results in less time, and let's be honest—there's nothing efficient about spending more time getting less done. Half-assed workouts deliver half-assed results, so quit wasting time and streamline your routine by trading time for intensity.

Luckily, you don't have to overhaul your workout plan to up the intensity. Nearly every type of workout can be made more efficient with just a few small tweaks. Incorporating higher weights, greater volume, faster circuits, shorter rests, or frequent intervals will quickly turn your workout into a no-nonsense, results-driven routine, as well as turn your body into a 24/7 metabolic powerhouse.

Change 3: Keep it Simple and Consistent

There's no such thing as completely effortless fitness—to be strong, fit, and healthy, you're still going to have to work out. But to make your workouts feel effortless, keep them simple and consistent.

Efficiency is all about maximizing productivity and minimizing wasted effort. Get rid of complicated routines or working only one muscle group at a time and switch to simple, effective exercises that are easy to do and work multiple muscle groups at once.

Want to know another benefit of simple consistency? Choosing basic, compound exercises you've already mastered—squats, deadlifts, push-ups, and presses—means you don't have to waste time relearning proper body mechanics every time you try a new progression.

For your first week, try something simple and challenging, like this total-body workout:

Warm-up 5-10 min., then complete the following circuit with as little rest between exercises as possible.

Repeat for 3-5 circuits, adding 1-minute sprints on the treadmill, bike, or rower in between each. Use light walking and stretching to cool down at the end.
Barbell Squat
1 set, 10 reps
+ 6 more exercises


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Repeat for 3-5 circuits, adding sprints on the treadmill, bike, or rower in between each. Use light walking and stretching to cool down at the end.

This workout is designed to work different muscle groups, so it requires minimal rest between each exercise, making it perfect for the higher intensity, shorter duration workout you're after. If you really want to cut down on duration, set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and see how many circuits you can get through before time runs out. Sound familiar? CrossFit popularized this tactic for decreasing time and increasing intensity years ago. It works, so why not use it?

Effective fitness comes from consistency, not variety.

Effective fitness comes from consistency, not variety. Rather than changing your exercise routine each week, create progression by changing simple things like sets and reps, tempo, amount of weight, modality, or recovery time. Add more reps to the squat, slow the tempo of the push-up, increase weight on the deadlift, or put your feet on a ball during the plank.

Relying on only a few key exercises makes it much easier to adapt your workouts to whatever equipment is available at any given moment. This means you'll waste less time waiting for machines, setting up new circuits, or trying to learn new exercises.

And since many of these compound exercises are highly effective using just bodyweight, there's no reason you can't get a great workout without ever going to the gym at all. If you don't believe me, check out one of Al Kavadlo's killer bodyweight workouts

The point here is to change how you approach fitness. It doesn't have to take a lot of time, but it does take commitment—so use what you've learned to find the balance that works for your lifestyle, and get the results you want in a lot less time.

About the Author

Heather Eastman, NSCA-CPT

Heather Eastman, NSCA-CPT

Heather’s mission is to use her passion for fitness and her knowledge of training and nutrition to educate and motivate others to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle.

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