As the saying goes, an hour-long workout is roughly four percent of your day, so use it wisely. However, once you factor in your commute to and from the gym, a post-sweat rinse, and maybe even a quick blow-dry, that training session can end up taking a much bigger chunk out of your morning or evening.
The good news? A 40-minute workout can be an even better fit for an on-the-go lifestyle–and if you’re making the most out of your time, you can achieve the cardio and strength benefits of an hour-long workout in two-thirds of the time. You can get just as much done in 40 minutes, explains Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., founder of TS Fitness, it all comes down to intensity. “If you’re efficient at what you do, 40 minutes is more than enough as long as you’re monitoring your rest periods and have a plan,” he says.
How? Tamir shares his go-to 40-minute workout plan below.
“You never want to skip your warm-up–it preps you body for the workout, which is especially important in the cold months,” says Tamir. This matters whether your workout is 10 minutes or 60. His advice is to start with some diaphragmatic breathing–this means deeply inhaling through your nose, filling your stomach, sides, and even low back with air (not just your chest). This can help activate your core, says Tamir. Then, move on to some mobility exercises–here are five to try in your warm-up.
Using this time to increase mobility is important because it allows you to get deeper into exercises later in the workout and as your fitness level improves–for example, if you can get lower in a squat, you’re more likely to be using proper form and make sure the right muscle fibers are firing (after all, if you’re taking time out of your day to spend at the gym, you want to make sure you’re working as efficiently as possible).
This is where the real work starts–Tamir is a fan of “power moves” to start a workout. “A power exercise is something that’s going to be maximum effort–it is an explosive or fast movement, and you’re not doing it for that long,” he says. For example, heavy kettlebell swings, jump squats, medicine ball slams, and plyo push-ups would all be considered power moves. These types of moves spike your heart rate (helping to burn more calories), but they also train your body to be able to generate force quickly IRL, Tamir explains. That’s important if, for example, if you needed to break into a sprint.
Tamir suggests choosing two high-intensity power moves and doing each for about 15 seconds, then resting for 30 to 40 seconds. Do this for five rounds, which should take you about five minutes.
To really make the most of your time, consider swapping your rest interval with a low-intensity activity (like holding a high plank or doing bodyweight squats). “This keeps your body active and keeps your heart rate from dropping completely down,” says Tamir.
Tamir suggests spending half of your 40 minutes on strength training. Increasing your muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate (meaning your body burns more calories at rest), and strength training can also help prevent injury, improve posture, and more, he explains. “I would do strength training before cardio because you’re going to be fresher at the beginning of the workout,” says Tamir. “You’ll have more energy to lift heavier weights, and you won’t be wobbling all over the place.” This means you’ll be able to put more energy into every exercise.
For the strength portion of your 40-minute routine, Tamir suggests pairing a lower-body exercise (like a squat or a deadlift) with an upper-body exercise (like a bent-over row), and a core exercise (like a plank). How many reps you do of each will depend on your goal and current fitness level. To gain muscle mass, you should aim to do 6-12 reps of each, and the weight should be heavy enough that the last couple of reps are challenging, but you can still keep proper form. After doing all of the reps for each of the three exercises, you’ll rest for 30 to 45 seconds. Then you repeat that set a total of three times.
It should take you roughly six minutes to cycle through all three sets, which means you have 14 minutes left. Continue this pattern, selecting a different pairing of moves to complete, until your 20 minutes are up.
Tamir also suggests utilizing strength moves that work both sides at the same time, or bilateral moves. Unilateral moves, which work each side separately (like split squats), are great for ensuring the muscles on one side aren’t doing more of the work, but since you need to do one set for each side they’re not ideal when you’re short on time.
The last 10 minutes of your 40-minute workout should be devoted to cardio, says Tamir. While high-intensity intervals (like the Tabata protocol) get a ton of love, this doesn’t mean your cardio time has to include intervals.
“Intervals are great for burning calories, but you don’t need to do it every day,” he explains. Intervals are designed to be extremely difficult, so even though they torch calories during and after a workout thanks to the afterburn effect, they put a ton of stress on your body–and you don’t need that every day.
Steady-state cardio can be a great option for this 10-minute cardio block, Tamir says, especially if you’re doing HIIT other times during the week. You could also hop on a stair-climbing machine, ride a stationary bike, or run on the treadmill and try to see how far you can get in 10 minutes. These cardio workouts still get your heart rate up and burn calories without putting such intense pressure on your body.
Tamir doesn’t think you need to set aside extra time to cool down after a 40-minute workout, but you can be strategic about chilling out while you’re moving on to the next part of your day. “I tell my clients to take a couple of deep breaths to get their heart rate down,” says Tamir. “Keep moving and get the blood circulating.” This can help with next-day soreness, says Tamir–even though this workout isn’t a full hour, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel it the next day.
For general fitness goals, Tamir says you can do this workout about three times a week. However, if you’re working towards bigger goals (like weight loss, muscle growth, or strength building), you can do it five times per week. It all depends on the level of activity you’re used to.