Short workouts are great if you're busy, even better if they help you slim down by burning a lot of calories, and better still if they make you stronger for everyday tasks—like getting up from a beach blanket, pushing a lawnmower (and pulling the cord to start it), carrying a sack of dog food from the grocery cart and slinging it into the trunk of your car.
"We use our bodies in different ways every day, but we rarely train to get stronger in all those movements when we exercise," says Jake Harcoff, CSCS, owner and head strength and conditioning coach at AIM Athletic in Vancouver. As a result, we build a body that's out of balance—strong in some places and weak in others—which increases the chances of injury.
So, we asked Harcoff to create a workout that checks all the boxes: One that's short in duration, vigorous enough to burn fat, and functional, meaning it will build your total-body strength for the real world. Keep reading to learn more about this unique, 6-move workout and why it's so great to add to your regular fitness routine. And for more, check out the 5 Easy Tricks for Enjoying Exercise After 50.
The workout is substantial—six exercises, three sets of each–but should take you only 20 to 25 minutes to complete. How? The routine is designed as a "superset" workout that exercises opposing muscle groups back-to-back to reduce or even eliminate the rest periods that typically lengthen workouts.
For example, a superset could be a lower-body exercise, like a leg press, followed immediately by an upper-body exercise, like a chest press. While one major muscle group is doing work, the opposing muscles are resting. Choreographing a workout this way cuts rest time down to only the 10 or 20 seconds it takes to move to the next exercise.
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It Burns More Fat
"This workout uses compound movements that require a high work output that stimulates calorie burn not just during the workout but throughout the day," says Harcoff. He's talking about the concept of EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which refers to the increased amount of oxygen your body needs and the calories it burns to recover from exercise.
High-intensity exercises generate a greater EPOC effect than slow and low-intensity exercises. Harcoff's workout mimics a high-intensity interval training session, where your heart rate zooms up during a short but intense bout of activity and then comes down, creating this afterburn effect.
Related: This Workout Is Better for Your Health Than Running
It Builds Functional Strength
"I like this workout because it covers all your bases in just six moves," says Harcoff. "It's a combination of compound-joint exercises that target the entire body, as well as all five basic human movements: squat, pull, push, hinge, and carry."
Harcoff says it's easy for beginners to learn, but it's also easy to turn up to make more intense as you progress and get stronger. How? Many ways: Use heavier weights, increase the number of repetitions or sets of each exercise, or alter the tempo of each repetition (for example, lower the weight very slowly). You can also substitute in different types of pulling, pushing, squatting, hinging, and carrying exercises to prevent boredom. "It's easy to plug and play different moves," he says.
Now, on to the workout itself…
If you're just coming off the couch, Harcoff recommends starting with one workout per week and gradually adding sessions as you get stronger, topping out at no more than four per week with rest days in between.
Begin each workout with one of these 5- to 10-minute warmups: bodyweight squats and lunges, jumping jacks, running in place, or anything else to warm up your muscles.
Then, start with Set 1 and do it three times through, only resting 10-20 seconds between each move. When that's done, immediately start Set 2, completing the moves three times through. This superset style of working out will have you burning fat and getting stronger in 20-25 minutes.
Related: Exercising This Much Can Prevent Multiple Cancers, Science Says
Set 1, Move 1: Goblet Squat
Grasp one end of a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell with two hands and hold it against your chest. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward. Bend your legs to squat, pushing your butt back as if sitting into a chair. Squat until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor then straighten your legs to stand. Do 8 to 10 reps.
Move 2: Chest Supported Row
Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on an incline bench set at a 45-degree angle with your chest pressed against the incline. Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other. This is the starting position. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as your pull your elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the dumbbells to your ribcage. Pause, then slowly lower the weights, and repeat. Do 8 to 10 reps.
Move 3: Front Plank
Lie on your stomach on the floor with your elbows bent and directly under your shoulders so your hands face forward, palms down, and your forearms rest on the floor. Pull your toes toward your shins, tighten your legs, and contract your core as your lift your body up on your elbows. Avoid arching or sagging your lower back or shrugging your shoulders. Work toward holding this up position for 30 seconds, breathing as you hold.
Do these three moves two more times through. Then, you can move on to Set 2.
Set 2, Move 1: Reverse Lunge
Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them next to your sides with palms facing each other. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and pull your shoulders back. Now, step backward with your right leg. Then lower your body into a lunge. Your right knee should nearly touch the floor and your front lower leg should be perpendicular to the floor. Pause, then quickly push yourself to the starting position. Complete 8 repetitions stepping back with your right leg, then do the same number stepping back with your left leg.
Move 2: Pushup
Get down on all fours and place your hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Straighten your arms and back. You should be on your toes, feet together. Brace your abdominals to keep your body rigid, forming a straight line from your ankles to your head. Now lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause at the bottom, then push yourself back to the up position. Do up to 12 reps.
Move 3: Side Crunch
Lie faceup with your knees together and bent 90 degrees. Without moving your upper body, lower your legs to the right until they touch the floor. Place your fingers behind your ears. This is the starting position. Raise your shoulders toward your hips without pulling on your head; that will strain your neck. Pause, then slowly lower to the starting position. Do 10 reps with your knees to the right, then 10 with your knees to the left.
Do this Set 2 circuit two more times through, and you're done!
Now that your body is on the fast track toward getting in shape, start working on your mental game: Doing This Can Cut Your Stress Levels by 25%, a New Study Says.