Ask Stew: Quick Training Options When You're Busy


Our best workout intentions can be derailed by a bad commute, busy work day or having too many places to be or things to do with your family. Next thing you know, the day is done, and you skipped opportunities to train because you thought you needed 30 to 60 minutes for a session.

Here is an email from another intermediate/advanced exerciser who needs ideas for quick workouts as his schedule has gotten uncommonly busy for the foreseeable future:

Dear Stew, I am in a similar position as the guy in this Fitness article. I would love to see some quick workout ideas that are a little more advanced as I am lucky to not be injured and usually do work out several days a week. These days, I do not have time to do long workouts because of a new commute, work, family and kid's activities. Thanks for the situational fitness options. Much appreciated and kindest regards. -- Renier

Renier, thanks for the note and great suggestion. Here are some of my quickest workout ideas. You can look at sections of my daily programming and take 10-minute chunks to do as much as you can several times a day. Check out the following ideas:

Option 1: You cannot go wrong with the PT pyramid. Use a door frame pull-up bar and the ground for push-ups. See if you can do what I call the Speed Pyramid with a 20-minute limit. Go up as high as you can in a 10-minute time period, then repeat in reverse order either later in the next 10-minute session or all in one session that totals 20 minutes.

Speed Pull-up x 1 with Push-up x 2 Pyramid: Can you do this in one 20-minute session or two 10-minute sessions?

Pull-ups ×1

Dips or Push-ups × 2

Try to do the following with no rest: 1 pull-up and 2 push-ups or dips, 2 pull-ups and 4 push-ups or dips, 3 pull-ups and 6 push-ups or dips … up to 10/20. Then repeat in reverse order. A fast time would be to do this in under 20 minutes. You can break it up in half, and do two sessions with one going up the pyramid and the other going down later in the day.

Follow this up later with a 10-minute cardio session (walk, bike, run, etc).

Option 2: Do some form of cardio. If you do not have time for a typical session of 40 to 60 minutes, try breaking it up into 10-minute walk breaks, mixing in flights of stairs to work the lungs and legs a little more. If you can find a 20-minute block of time, shoot for 2 to 3 miles of running or mix in a 20-minute pyramid on the bike or elliptical or rowing, where you make each minute harder than the previous minute for 10 minutes, then repeat in reverse order. Total time: 20 minutes.

Option 3: Full-body options. If you only have 10-minute blocks to train and want to get in an upper body and lower body exercise session, check out this list of useful super set circuits.

Repeat 5 times Run up and walk down a flight of stairs Pull-ups: 2-4 or 10 push-ups if there's no pull-up bar close to stairs. (Try a doorway pull-up bar.) Half Squats: 20

Lower Back Plan: Stretches can be spread throughout the day

Repeat 10 times Jumping Jacks: 10 Push-ups: 10 or pull-ups 5 Squats: 5-10

Option 4: Mobility Day. Break this up into a five-minute cardio (walk, bike, etc.) plus five minutes of stretching or foam rolling spread three to four times throughout the day.

Option 5: If you have access to a weight room that allows for a good variety of circuits, try a quick "kitchen sink circuit" and mix in as many exercises as you can, doing 10 reps of each for a total of 10 minutes. You do not need an hour of your day if you have quick access to a work gym or home gym. All you need is 10 minutes.

Weight Training Circuit: (full body workout with non-stop movement)

How many rounds of the list can you do in 10-minute sets?

Pull-ups or Pull-downs: 10 reps

Bench Press or Push-ups: 10 reps

Plank Pose: 1 minute

Leg Press or Lunges: 10 reps

Dumbbell or Machine Military Press: 10 reps

Dumbbell or Machine Rows: 10 reps per arm

Abs of choice: 1 minute

Leg Extension or Dumbbell Squats: 10 reps

Dumbbell or Machine Bicep Curls: 10 reps

Farmer Walks: 1 minute (with dumbbell in one hand)

Later in the day, do a 10-minute cardio session (walk, bike, run, etc.).

The goal of this article is to provide some quick and no-excuse ideas to get moving during regularly scheduled break periods. If you have a pull-up bar near your workspace, every time you walk by it, do a few reps. Every time you stand up from the chair, quickly do 10 squats. How creative can you get when it comes to 10-minute exercise sessions? You might find some great options if you get determined to do something even if it's only 5 to 10 minutes.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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