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The 8 Minute, No-Excuses Guide To Fitting Exercise Into An Extremely Busy Schedule

Interval Workouts | 2 Four minute workoutWhat’s the minimum time you need to do a workout? 40 minutes? 60?...

Try 8.

Seriously!  If you’re doing it right, you can achieve a lot more in 8 minutes than most of those gym bunnies do in an hour.

Have 8 minutes? Perfect! Short intense periods of exercise will give you better results anyway

The research here is pretty clear. Working out intensely for a short period of time, meaning under 30 minutes, will get you more benefits than your friend who’s wasting an hour time reading magazines on a stationary bike.

It turns out that short intense bursts of exercise regulate insulin levels, improve fitness, burns fat & improves heart health more effectively than doing longer periods of less intense workouts (1) (2). So essentially, by doing high intensity training, you’ll be getting a lot more in a lot less time.

And let’s be frank here, shall we? What busy professional really has large blocks of free time to dedicate to working out regularly anyway? Looking at my own schedule, I’d count myself lucky to fit in a single 1-hour workout each week. Two at a stretch!

But 8 minutes is more than doable. So here’s a more productive question:

How many days are there where you truly are too busy to squeeze in an 8-minute workout?

Just as I thought… Not many.

What you need to do to get results in 8 minutes

To get results in such a short period of time you’ll likely have to make some changes to the way you work out. An 8-minute jog, yoga or Pilates session for example just won’t cut it.

For 8 minutes to work you’ll need to step up the pace and follow these 4 guidelines:

  1. Break your workout into intervals (more on this in a moment)
  2. Make each exercise as explosive and intense as you can
  3. Focus on your large muscle groups. Meaning your butt and your legs (which is where you want to be working ladies, if you want to tone up)
  4. Focus on whole body movements (on top of the metabolic effects, focusing on whole body exercises will make sure you tone up evenly leaving you long and lean without any bulking. Guys, if you want to muscle up, just add weight).

Interval power and optimum timings for interval training

To get results from just 8 minutes, you’ll need to go all-out and push to your personal max. But to maintain the intensity we’re talking about, you’ll need to break the workout up into smaller alternating periods of workout time and recovery time.

And don’t be fooled into thinking the rest time = wasted time. The rest time is the very thing that lets you to push at 100% for the next interval, and the next, and the next. It gives your muscles just enough time to refuel and prepare for the next all-out burst. So essentially it’s the rests that let you push to your max, which is where all the magic happens!

To keep track of your time, you’ll need to use an interval timer. If you have a smart phone you can use one of these free apps (iPhone here & Android here), or if you want a physical (and cheap) timer that you can pin to your workout pants, pick up a Gymboss timer here.

What to set your interval timer to

There are various timing ratios that different fitness experts promote, for example HIIT timings (45:15 / work:rest) or Tabata (20:10 / work:rest) but ultimately it doesn’t matter which you choose as long as you’re pushing to your max. I tend to swap around each day, letting my energy levels and the exercises I’ve chosen dictate the times.

But to keep things simple, I’d suggest starting out with the Tabata timings, which are 20 seconds of maximum effort, and 10 seconds recovery. Then to make this even more doable, break this down into 2 x 4-minute workouts. That would look something like this:

  • 8 rounds of 20:10 = 4 minutes
  • Short break to get your breath back and drink some water = 1-2 minutes
  • 8 rounds of 20:10 = 4 minutes

Types of exercises that fit perfectly into Tabata workout timings

Now that you’ve got your timings, you’ll need to find the right exercises for the job. As I said earlier, focus on working your large muscle groups (your butt & legs) that ideally involve your whole body. They also need to be intense enough that you really feel exhausted by the end of each 20-second work period.

We all have different fitness levels, so what’ll get you there will of course depend on how fit you are now. If you haven’t worked out in a long time, you may find interval power-walking will be enough for the first couple of weeks. On the other hand, if you’re pretty active you’ll probably need to add in a lot of explosive jumps & sprints to get you there.

To get you started, here are 6 old favourites that use no equipment only your own body. They can be done in even the smallest of apartments and hotel rooms. They’re nothing fancy but they’re classics for a reason.

High intensity interval training exercises  | Workout plans

If you’re unsure about the proper form of these exercises, you can either look them up on youtube (there are endless great tutorials available there) or ask a personal trainer (which I’d highly recommend if you’re new to all this).

Putting your workout together

There really are hundreds of exercises that fit beautifully into an interval-timed workout, so much so that I rarely ever do the same workout twice. But let’s stick to these 6 for now so you can see how to build a simple 8-minute workout. Remember, there aren’t any strict rules, so feel free to improvise! Just get moving!

20:10 - Option 1. Pure and simple:

  • 4 minutes / 8 rounds burpees
  • 4 minutes / 8 rounds jump squats

20:10 - Option 2. Mixed up (= 20 seconds of exercise 1, rest for 10, then 20 seconds of exercise 2):

  • 4 minutes / 8 rounds alternating burpees & jump lunges
  • 4 minutes / 8 rounds alternating jump squats & jumping jacks

20:10 – Option 3. Outdoors:

  • 4 minutes / 8 rounds alternating jump lunges & park bench push ups
  • 4 minutes / 8 rounds sprint runs

Sound easy? Not even close. Interval training is short yes, but if you’re doing them properly they should be brutal too, as you’ll see when you try them. But that’s why they work.

Keep up the momentum

Whatever your current fitness level, expect your body to adapt, and adapt quickly. That means that every week or two, you’ll almost certainly need to step up the intensity a little, and try out new movements that keep your body challenged.

Once you’ve got into it and you’ve got some basic moves under your belt, you can branch out and get creative with your movements.

But the key thing to remember this: if you’re not finding your tabata workout difficult, then you’re not pushing hard enough to get results.

A few last things

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there’s no point in going for your Sunday morning run, or Thursday evening dance class. While these more relaxing workouts won’t exactly give you the fat burning / metabolic effects of high intensity interval training, they can be unbelievably effective in helping you manage stress and importantly, keeping you sane. And that’s invaluable.

Neither am I saying that an 8-minute workout is all you’ll ever need. I give myself around 20 minutes for a workout session on most days, and that includes a quick warm-up, 3 or 4 x 4-minute rounds of tabata and a stretch. But like you, there are days when my schedule is just too tight for even that. So on those days, when things are crazy, time is short, or you just can’t be bothered to do much more, remember this: there is almost always enough time to fit in a short but powerful 8-minute HIIT workout.

Actually, I’m off to do one right now.

How does this compare with your current workout style, and how might you mix up your workout to maximise your results in less time?


(1) Laursen,  Kristiansen,  Marott, Schnohr, & Prescott. Intensity versus duration of physical activity: implications for the metabolic syndrome. A prospective cohort study. BMJ Open. 2012.

(2) J.P Little, A.S Safdar, G.P Wilkin, M.a Tarnopolsky, & M.J Gibala. A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. The Journal of Physiology. 2010.

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  • EdelR

    Great post! I love tabata workouts – introduced to them by your good self some months ago! I am a living testament to their amazing effectiveness in sculpting the body and improving metabolic efficiency – and I’m no spring chicken. I’d plateau-ed (is that a word?) for years and had lost hope that anything would work for me again until I started the short intense workouts that you describe in your post. Fabulous stuff!

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