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Efficient Workouts: Why Brief is Best

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Woman performing a push-up

After a long day at the office, heading to the gym might be the last thing on your mind. The good news? An effective workout doesn’t have to be lengthy.

Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainers Ryan Sheppard, MSEd, and Melissa Stansell discuss the benefits of efficient workouts and provide a circuit you can perform in less than an hour.

Brief is best

When it comes to exercise, longer isn’t always better. In fact, a 2018 study by the Journal of the American Heart Association found several 10-minute exercise sessions throughout the day can be just as effective for heart health as a continuous 30-minute workout, something Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper preaches in his 8 Steps to Get Cooperized.

“Studies have shown that intensity, not time, is the main factor in an effective workout,” says Sheppard.

Quick, high-intensity workouts produce beneficial hormones which help build lean muscle. These hormones are released during an intense workout and plateau around the 45-60 minute mark.

“Workouts lasting longer than 60 minutes start moving the body towards a tearing down state called catabolism,” says Sheppard. “We want to build our bodies up and become stronger, leaner and more resilient rather than weaker, fatter and overtrained.”

Keeping workouts under an hour and increasing the intensity can also help your body burn fat longer.

“Adding intensity helps rev up your metabolism and results in higher excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” says Stansell. “This means your body burns calories even after your workout, as it works to restore the oxygen debt you’ve created.”

Creating a plan

Small Group Training (SGT) at Cooper Fitness Center is the perfect efficient workout as classes are just 30-45 minutes long.

“Each SGT class combines cardio, strength and mobility in less than an hour,” says Sheppard. “These classes are done in a small group format so they encompass the social aspect of fitness as well.”

Interacting with others and having friends to keep you accountable is one of the main factors in people achieving their fitness goals.  

“Working out with a small group of peers can be incredibly beneficial whether you are a competitive person or just someone who enjoys the socialization,” says Stansell. “SGT creates an atmosphere where you can use those around you to push you harder.”

If you don’t have group exercise classes near you, no sweat! Stansell says you can still get a heart-pounding workout no matter where you are.

“Even a 10-minute walk on your lunch break can be beneficial,” says Stansell. “Any activity you can squeeze in, even if done in bouts, helps increase your metabolism, puts you in the mindset to start working on you and prioritizes exercise and healthy living.”

Stansell says when exercising at home, aim to get your heart rate up and incorporate body weight exercises for resistance.

Try this circuit routine, designed by Sheppard. He recommends performing the following circuit for three rounds, resting 1-2 minutes in between.

  • Shoulder tap plank  (10 reps/arm)
  • Inverted row  (12 reps)
  • Reverse lunge  (10 reps/leg)
  • Push-ups  (10 reps)

Whether you exercise at home or in a gym, Sheppard says the best way to succeed is to have a plan.  

“You need to have a plan or you can plan to fail,” says Sheppard. “Keeping the time commitment low will help make the workout easily attainable, no matter how busy your schedule may be.”

“Too many people want a ‘quick fix’ and think if they go all out after being sedentary, their body will produce the results they want,” says Stansell. “What ends up happening is people get hurt, discouraged and defeated. Start slow, pay attention to how your body responds, write down the positives and use them for fuel to keep moving in the right direction.”

For more information on Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a professional fitness trainer, visit