Best/preferred exercise in 30 minutes
January 9, 2013 6:20 AM   Subscribe

It you only had 30 minutes maximum a day (5-6 days per week) to exercise, what would it be?

A combination of cardio (running, walking, cycling,etc.) and strength training (weights, body-weight, etc.), some interval training, exercise classes/videos, yoga, pilates? Assuming you are in reasonable health and fitness, what would you choose to get the most enjoyment and/or return on investment?
posted by aarondesk to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
3 days a week of yoga, 3 days a week of strength/core training, 1 day of cardio.
posted by elizardbits at 6:22 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would probably bounce around routines, until I found one I could reasonably commit to. The best workout is the one you do consistently and that fits into your daily life.
posted by spunweb at 6:24 AM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Swimming. Whole body strength workout + intense cardio.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:25 AM on January 9, 2013

Running for 30 minutes is probably your best bet. Though on preview swimming might be even better if you have access to a pool.
posted by Grither at 6:27 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agree with spunweb, it really depends on what you like and what sticks.

As an example, right now I do ~4 days per week of strength training (from Mark Lauren's You Are Your Own Gym workout plan, which are around 25 minutes each day) with some cardio (jumprope), and 1-2 days of yoga and stretching. I'd do more cardio, namely running, but I'm restricted to things I can do within the house right now. So you can make it work for your situation.
posted by Paper rabies at 6:28 AM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd probably split between yoga (the heavy-duty core-strengthening sweaty kind) and HIIT (high intensity interval training).
posted by instamatic at 6:28 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Calisthenics, same as I do now.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:29 AM on January 9, 2013

Seconding Paper rabies. You Are Your Own Gym has been a godsend.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:33 AM on January 9, 2013

Seconding You Are Your Own Gym. Except right now I'm doing the program in Body By You, which is tailored to women.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:35 AM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

To elaborate on the running suggestion:
It is easy to do, requires no special training or equipment or gym memberships, you can do it literally anywhere (when on vacation, home for the holidays, etc), and it requires almost no thought, so you have 30 minutes to just run. You can think about your day, what you're going to do after, or tomorrow, or that niggling problem at work, or absolutely nothing at all and just watch the scenery go by. You can listen to music, or podcasts or the sounds of nature. You don't have to worry about counting reps, counting breaths, which exercise to do next, how much weight to use, etc. It really is simple, and it really is effective. If your goal is to bulk up/build muscle, however, then it's probably not the answer you're looking for.
posted by Grither at 6:44 AM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

CROSSFIT. at home with minimal equipment or at a crossfit gym.
posted by crawfo at 6:49 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Running, because I like it and it's the only thing I've ever stuck with. Weight training, exercise videos, yoga... all those things I have started and stopped. So obviously for me, I'm not getting strengthening and flexibility but at least I do something, and it's something that I like.

Find something that you like. And keep doing it.
posted by gaspode at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2013

The question you need to ask before the question you're asking is What do I want out of my exercise routine?

Do you want to get stronger? Faster? Have better endurance? Sleep better? Look better naked?

Answer that question first, and then you can design a workout around that. "30 minutes maximum a day (5-6 days per week)" isn't "only," it's plenty of time to accomplish any of those goals.
posted by Etrigan at 7:11 AM on January 9, 2013

Erging and yoga for me, but yeah, what are you trying to accomplish here?
posted by Specklet at 7:35 AM on January 9, 2013

I would run, for the reasons listed above, and because it's what I know I can do and stick with. If my 30 minutes included easy access to the gym, I'd alternate running with circuit weight training.
posted by garlic at 7:45 AM on January 9, 2013

I don't know about effectiveness, but I need some sort of variety in my workout routine. My shorter workouts tend to involve running, weights, or bodyweight circuit training. If you have access to a punching bag, hitting that can be a great workout. I've also liked swimming in the past, though you really have to factor getting to and from the pool, changing, etc. into the time.

If you want to save as much time as possible and want something you can do absolutely anywhere, bodyweight exercises are your best bet. Running is the next simplest, but isn't always viable - sometimes it's pouring rain or you live in an area with too much car traffic to be safe.

It also helps me to have one workout a week be extra hard, so the others don't seem as bad in comparison.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:01 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good responses everyone. Thank you.

To answer Etrigan and others, what do I want to accomplish? Get fit. It's a generic answer, but hits it well. I'm not looking yet to become a body builder, a marathon runner, or a world-class athlete, but simply fight the sedentary lifestyle that so many of us have.
posted by aarondesk at 8:03 AM on January 9, 2013

RE: running and special equipment, you don't need much compared to some other types of exercise but it's a good idea to invest in a decent pair of shoes. I began doing Couch-to-5K with a pair of cheapo no-name big box store sneakers and screwed up my knee during week 2, which derailed me for a while.

I went to a running store, had them watch my gait and they set me up with a pair of shoes for about $100 that fit well and let my feet hit the ground evenly - huge difference, no knee trouble since then. (I like C25K as a way to ease into running so you don't wind up puking your guts out trying to go from 0 to jogging 30 minutes straight.)
posted by usonian at 8:09 AM on January 9, 2013

I'd alternate jogging (interval training if you're already comfortable jogging/running for 30 minutes) and strength training.
posted by mskyle at 8:09 AM on January 9, 2013

I have consistently good and easy-to-maintain results from 30-40 min, 5x a week, on an elliptical. Nobody is more surprised by this than I am--I tried and failed to get "fit" for about a decade before hitting on this.

High resistance (and increasing over time) has been key. Cardio, toning, low impact. I add dumbbells to get some upper body toning and resistance.

Lost about 25 lbs over a year and a half, my endurance is stronger, and my blood pressure is now so low that they always make me take it three times at the doc's ;)
posted by like_a_friend at 8:12 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

what do I want to accomplish? Get fit. It's a generic answer, but hits it well... simply fight the sedentary lifestyle that so many of us have.

I'd go with a couple of days of running (give Couch to 5K a try if you don't run at all, or Zombies Run has a nice C25K equivalent that presumes you have a little more running experience) and a couple of days of weights, then fill out your "extra day" with swimming or something you just enjoy doing (hiking, pickup basketball, ultimate frisbee). Adjust based on injury, fatigue or enjoyment.

And it's a cliche for a reason: consult your doctor before you begin any exercise program. This is valuable not just because your doctor will be able to say, "Whoa there, Aaron, you can't run a marathon next month," but because it will establish a baseline of your measurables (heart rate, blood pressure) and your overall feelings ("No, that's not normal soreness. You have shin splints.").
posted by Etrigan at 8:15 AM on January 9, 2013

I bought a treadmill and I shlep on it 30 minutes a day while watching TV.

I pretty much loathe exercise and I'll only do it if I can be distracted by Law and Order or People's Court.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:15 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to join in the crowd and say bodyweight exercises! You'll learn about what you like since you can do all kinds of different things: push ups, pull ups, squats, planks, crunches, running, yoga etc.

That said, intensity is key for a short workout. Not trying to sell Crossfit here, but one thing I've taken from it is that if you're going to do a 15-20 minute workout, don't take breaks. Just go from one exercise to the next with as little rest as possible. If you're looking for some structured bodyweight workouts, I found a big list of them here. (In that link, 'for time' means do all the reps/exercises as quick as you can) If you like running, intervals can add some intensity.

Also, kettlebells! There's a lot you can do with kettlebells, and they will whip you right into shape... I'd advise talking to a trainer first though, since they're very dynamic and if your form is off you could hurt yourself.

A workout is only going to work if you stick with it, and you're only going to stick with it if you enjoy it. You need something that even on the tough days is going to excite you. Something that, when you think about it before you start, reminds you not of how hard it will be to get through, but how great you'll feel afterward. So try different things... I tend to go through phases where one thing (running, biking, lifting, etc) takes priority for a few months and the others take a back seat, but the more types of exercise you try, the more you'll be able to mix into a regular, quick workout.
posted by helloitsjoe at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can I tag a related question on to this? I've read that you shouldn't run every day and that you need time to rest in between workouts. Is that true?
posted by empath at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2013

Can I tag a related question on to this? I've read that you shouldn't run every day and that you need time to rest in between workouts. Is that true?

For most people, yes. There are edge cases who run twice every day and love it and never have problems, but in my experience (years of being in the Army), varying your workouts produces better results. YMMV.
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've read that you shouldn't run every day and that you need time to rest in between workouts. Is that true?

Yes, that's true of most exercise - the rest period (usually a day, sometimes more depending on your routine) is when your muscles are healing/rebuilding, so you want to let them do that.

A good way to work out consecutive days is to vary the muscle groups you're using - e.g. on Monday do pull-ups and crunches, Tuesday do push-ups and squats. Also, if you're just starting out, 5 days a week may burn you out. 3 or 4 days a week is still great.
posted by helloitsjoe at 8:52 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

RE: running and special equipment, you don't need much compared to some other types of exercise but it's a good idea to invest in a decent pair of shoes.

Or consider the barefoot/minimal style (ducks). It's not been an easy road for me (I pushed too hard too soon and developed a micro-tear in my calf) but I enjoy running more with less on my feet.

In either case consider including the 100-up exercise as part of your routine. It's essentially a bodyweight exercise but it's taught me a lot about high reps and my actual fitness level vs what I can (sometimes unwisely) push my body to do.
posted by ElGuapo at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2013

I've been trying to solve this problem in my own life. It's too cold to go outside and if you only have 30 minutes I am presuming you don't want to waste time getting your ass to the gym or a swimming pool. So I have decided to do either dancing or hula hooping (while watching tv) for half an hour a day... It doesn't feel as 'heavy duty' as running or heavy-lifting, but it doesn't have to, and you're more likely to stick to it if you're having fun! I know you are looking for results and that you probably mean appearance-based ones, but I am trying to focus on the longevity of the exercise routine (i.e that I will actually stick to it beyond the first month) and long term health benefits. Having moved that disclaimer out of the way, if you can join some kind of team, ultimate frisbee is awesome, or like basketball or something.

Have fun! :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2013

I'd do one big lift a day very intensely and would have time left over for one accessory exercise. I'd probably do 5/3/1.

Monday - Squat
Wednesday - Bench Press
Friday - Deadlift
Saturday - Press

(Or do a MonTues,ThursFri)
posted by zephyr_words at 9:52 AM on January 9, 2013

For the most bang for your buck, Tabata sprints (or suicides) on a track or a spinning bike, as many burpees in five minutes and then pull-ups, squats, etc. The cardiovascular payoff from Tabata sprints makes them really worthwhile, though to get that benefit you really have to go flat out - if you're not panting by the third interval, you're not pushing yourself hard enough.

That being said, this isn't really 'enjoyable' because Tabata sprints are horrible. For enjoyable, bouldering at your local rock climbing gym.

Can I tag a related question on to this? I've read that you shouldn't run every day and that you need time to rest in between workouts. Is that true?

nthing this, mostly because running is awful. But yes - running is high-impact and for most people, tough on the knees, feet and hips. Running every day makes it easy to overdo it and increase chances of injury, so it's always good to take a rest, see what your body says and respond accordingly.
posted by zennish at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2013

A combination of running and yoga, but I'm not trying to get big muscles.
posted by cnc at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2013

zennish beat me to it - tabata anything gives a great return per unit time. As to what exactly to do during a tabata sprint? Find something awful (burpees, running/biking up hills) and go do that.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:42 AM on January 9, 2013

re: running / exercising every day -- If you're in pain WHILE you're exercising, it's probably time to back off, either by changing routines completely, or adding more rest for the area that's in pain between exercises. This is particularly key early on in a program when you'll be building up muscles -- breaks can benefit muscle growth. But when you get to something you want to maintain instead of build upon (I can already do 100 pushups in a set / run 6 miles in 30 minutes, etc.), you're pretty safe doing the same things everyday from an endurance perspective.
posted by garlic at 2:18 PM on January 9, 2013

nthing Tabata! I corned a gym owner at a party a few months ago and asked this exact question. You can do any exercise in the Tabata style, the key is the interval and intensity. Barebones explanation here.
posted by blazingunicorn at 2:21 PM on January 9, 2013

Is this 30 minutes 'of exercise' + travel time to the gym, showering afterwards, etc etc, or just '30 spare minutes per day that need to cover getting to, starting, finishing and returning from my exercise'?
posted by jacalata at 3:27 PM on January 9, 2013

I was thinking 30 minutes per day, ideally exercise done at home, outside, or a nearby park.
posted by aarondesk at 5:37 PM on January 9, 2013

I've been doing 40 minutes a day for a few months. What has worked for me and allowed me to keep at it is I'm going through full runs of great TV series on my computer, in front of which I have my elliptical bike. One episode is about 42 minutes. The desire to see the next episode (Battlestar Galactica is great for this), and keeping myself from watching it unless I am on the bike, gets me back on nearly every day, and helps develop the habit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:05 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Calisthenics from Convict Conditioning by Paul "Coach" Wade and kettlebell swings and Turkish get-ups from just about anything by Pavel Tsatsouline.
posted by Lexica at 9:08 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

seconding convict conditioning plus something you can tabata in a small space (jump rope, burpees, or maybe a stationary bike)
posted by leotrotsky at 6:02 AM on January 10, 2013

I'd pick something I'd be able to stick with. Like a pick up game of (insert sport here) each morning with friends.
posted by talldean at 11:08 AM on January 10, 2013

+1 free-weight tabatas (e.g., w/kettlebells or dumbells).
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 3:47 PM on January 10, 2013

Great responses everyone. Thank you. One of the best topics/answers I've seen.
posted by aarondesk at 5:25 AM on January 11, 2013

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