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Why an abbreviated workout might be for you

Why an abbreviated workout might be for you

Do you find it difficult to fit in your workout routines?. Do you feel tired all the time?. Short abbreviated workouts might just be the answer to managing your workout time and effort. And in fact the ‘less is more’ approach may actually be just what the doctor ordered.

What is an abbreviated workout?

An abbreviated workout is a workout session that generally lasts less than 30 minutes and can even be as little as 5 minutes depending on the type of exercise you do.

Doing short workouts also doesn’t mean you have to cut back too much on your total exercise time. What I mean by this, is instead of doing 2-3 1 hour workout sessions in the week, you could do 4-6 x 20-30 minute sessions instead for example.

Why would you want to do abbreviated workout sessions?

Generally speaking many people find it difficult to dedicate time for exercise. Some people also find it difficult to get motivated to do a long workout session.

Doing short workout sessions doesn’t mean you get less benefits from them. In fact for many people it may actually work out better for them. There are of course many benefits to doing them, each described in the individual sections below.

Shorts workouts also leave you less likely to suffer from hunger pangs and then undo your hard work by having a treat after your long workout.

Other benefits can include, more muscle retained, more overall body fat burnt from an after-burn effect known as EPOC, increase in metabolic rate, improved cardio endurance and possibly improve your mood.

Abbreviated workouts for fitness

Many people believe that in order to get fit they need to do an hour or more of exercises like running, riding a bike or doing an aerobics session. However it has been shown that short high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, where you do short bursts of intense exercise followed by a short rest/lower intense activity and repeat until you have completed your workout can provide great results in fitness.

What are the advantages of an abbreviated workout for fitness:

HIIT has also been shown to be very effective at increasing your overall VO2 max, increasing your heart and lung health and capacity making you fitter and improving your stamina. Improving your heart health can also help to reduce blood pressure.

HIIT will get you fitter faster, but please take note of the disadvantages below.

What are the disadvantages of an abbreviated workout for fitness:

HIIT isn’t for everyone. If you are obese, have high blood pressure or are generally unfit or suffer from breathing issues such as asthma, then doing an intense workout may not be ideal as it places a lot of stress on the heart and lungs. You need to build up enough fitness in the first place to be able to safely follow a proper high intensity workout, so get checked out first.

Working out too quickly can also affect your exercise performance/technique leading to bad form or even injury.

Any advice for an abbreviated workout for fitness?

Make sure you still warm-up first for a good few minutes and do a cool down after. Try a full body circuit workout made up of exercises like, jumping jacks, star jumps, high knee ups, burpees, lunge walks, v-ups, dumbbell squat clean and press, dumbbell push-up rows, skipping, sprinting, spin bike etc. Start slow to warm-up before going all out, then slow down at the end for a cool down period. The main core of your workout should get you moving fast paced with short very intense bursts of energy (15-30 seconds) followed by rest periods (1-2 minutes). As you get fitter you can start to bring your rest times down. Keep workout session times between 5-15 minutes.

Abbreviated workouts for fat loss

Believe it or not, to lose body fat you can get good results from short bursts of energy spread out. It has been shown that individuals who workout intensely for a short period several times per week or even several 5 minute bursts during the day several times per week can lose a significant amount of body fat.

HIIT has been shown to help burn fat post workout, by stimulating the body’s metabolism and also creating a post workout oxygen debt (read more here and here). It also helps maintain muscle better than long cardio workout sessions. Maintaining or building muscle also creates more calorie burning due to the fact that muscle is more metabolically active than body fat, burning a few more calories per day.

What are the advantages of an abbreviated workout for fat loss:

The same as fitness in that HIIT has the ability to mobilise fat metabolism much more effectively for longer. It does this by triggering excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). By keeping your metabolism up and maintaining or even building muscle, it allows you to use stored Glycogen from carbohydrates as energy during your workout and more energy from fat when you are in a rested state.

You are also less likely to feel hungry. Long workout sessions can lead to hunger build up and even make people have the wrong type of food after a workout, undoing all the hard work done in your long workout session.

What are the disadvantages of an abbreviated workout for fat loss:

For fat loss, there is no way you will burn significant amounts of calories if you are consuming too many to burn body fat. Your calorie intake is much more important than exercise for fat loss. Exercise alone will not burn enough calories to burn off excess calories from your diet if you are eating high energy (sugary and fat laden) food.

Any advice for an abbreviated workout for fat loss?

You can still do the same type of workout as the fitness group. However if you are carrying excess body fat you may want to stick to low impact exercises such as, a stationary bike, elliptical trainer, stair stepper, rowing machine, etc. You don’t need to be concerned too much about reducing rest periods, just get regular workout sessions to keep that metabolism from slowing down. Keep workout session times between 5-15 minutes.

Abbreviated workouts for muscle building

Building muscle isn’t easy. People expect quick results and get very disappointed when they compare their results to the steroid using trainer and/or fake images they see on the internet. An abbreviated muscle building workout still needs to be able to stimulate a muscle sufficiently enough for it to grow. To be clear in order to maximise your muscle size and strength, you need to follow a proper bodybuilding/strength routine and eat/sleep like one. However not everyone has the time and dedication to do so. Plus a natural trainer in reality needs less than one hour long workouts 3-4 times a week to maximise their muscle growth potential. Having said that I have personally made some of the best gains in muscle size following abbreviated weight training routines. I digress, back to the abbreviated (under 30 minute) workout system.

Doing a short muscle building workout can still build a good physique and in fact for those not 100% on with their diet or recovery may be better off not over taxing their muscles and not become over trained.

What are the advantages of an abbreviated workout for muscle building:

Like the short intense sessions above, you get the benefits of EPOC (more fat burned). Less rest also helps increase stamina and fitness, which all help to improve your lifting performance. There is also less stress on the body that in turn can help increase testosterone levels.

There is less wear and tear on your joints from overuse and it is also less taxing on the central nervous system.

You are also less likely to breakdown your current muscle for energy with a short workout.

Short weight training workouts are ideal for the hard gainer, due to the reduced stressed placed on the body and reduced energy expenditure that leaves the hard gainer with little left to repair and build muscle.

What are the disadvantages of an abbreviated workout for muscle building:

Of course doing a short workout gives you less time to dedicate enough exercise to each body part. So if you are looking to train a muscle at multiple angles this isn’t going to be ideal. Having said that using multi-joint compound exercises will provide the best route for building a good foundation.

Making progress usually requires an increase in weight used or even an increase in work, which often translates into an increase in workout time. With an abbreviated workout for building muscle you need to be a bit more creative to keep progressing and keep the workout time under 30 minutes.

As mentioned, trying to get through a workout quickly can lead to poor form and injury, so be careful to get your technique right and don’t rush your exercise to just fit them into an allotted time frame.

Any advice for an abbreviated workout for building muscle?

There are two ways to do this. First, lift heavy with few sets and with multi-joint compound exercises using as many muscle groups per exercise as you can (barbells work well for this type of workout), check out the workout section. The other method is to lift at a medium weight, but with minimal rest between sets and do as much work as possible in the shortest amount of time (dumbbells work well for this type of workout). It is best to do either full body workouts (great for beginners) or do an upper/lower split, again
check out the workout section.

In order to progress you will need to try to increase the weight used on a regular basis. Try to hit each body part 2-3 times per week.

Some further tips on abbreviated training

  • Get a health check before trying high intensity training. It can be quite demanding on or your organs and body.
  • If you are one of those people who simply can’t get away from the TV and full of excuses for not finding the time to work out, then, why not create a workout that will allow you to do a workout during an advert/commercial
  • Turn a cleaning task into a workout. Work fast, you’ll get more done that way anyway
  • Stick to low impact exercises if you can, for example if you suffer from bad knees, try cycling rather than running
  • You need to get the heart going, but not be so out of breath you can’t talk. Be at the point where it is difficult to complete a full sentence, but you can still get a word or two out
  • Get motivated, put some fast paced music on to workout to


It is easier to get your workouts in small doses and so likely you will do your workout, rather than skip it. Remember the shorter the workout time, the more intense it needs to be. This isn’t for everyone. Make sure you are fit enough to do high intensity training. Having said that any exercise is better than none, so if you can’t do 5-15 minute high intensity workouts, do moderate intensity workouts for 20-30 minutes until you are able to employ high intensity exercises.

Short workout also reduce the risk of overusing your joints and over doing exercise can lead to numerous issues. Having too much stress, not enough recovery, less than ideal nutrition, suffering strains, sprains, aches, inflammation, tiredness/fatigue, reduced performance, excess hunger, can all lead to you having to give up, stopping you from working out altogether.

It is also important to say here, that you still need to put effort into your nutrition and recovery/rest. You can do all the high intensity workouts you like, but if you are eating excess calories and not eating enough protein, you will see little or no results from working out.

Also exercise performance is still as important as with any workout routine. Use proper exercise form to maximise your results and reduce injury.

One area not mentioned by most is the lack of a warm-up period. I still think you need to add time to your overall workout period and make sure you do some form of warm-up.

For general health low/moderate exercise will still benefit those that are not able to do HIIT or get enough intensity into a short period. In fact for many it would be more beneficial. ANY and I mean any physical activity is better than none when it comes to improving your overall health. It has been shown that those that do engage in a more active lifestyle will ultimately suffer less medical issues and live longer all things being equal.