Between parties and shopping, time is short these days. But that doesn't mean your exercise routine has to be second-rate. A 20- to 30-minute workout done at a high intensity can increase the heart rate and tone muscles equally as well as a longer workout done at a lower intensity.
"Who made the rule that a workout has to be an hour?" asks Amy Dixon, group fitness manager at Equinox in Santa Monica. "If people can wrap their heads around the fact that it's OK to do a shorter workout, especially if you do it right, that's all you need."
The key, these trainers say, is to keep moving. Taking breaks between exercises -- even short ones -- will lower the heart rate and not provide as much calorie burn. While some of these routines require equipment such as cardio machines or light weights, you can easily make your substitutions. Run at a nearby track, park or playground and use stairs and bars for exercises such as pull-ups. Use soup cans for weights. And scale back or increase the level of intensity according to your fitness level. No need to be a superhero -- or a slug -- just because it's the holidays.
Master trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Chino
We'd start with five minutes of cardio, and that could be on a machine such as an elliptical trainer, a stair climber or a treadmill. If you're exercising first thing and using this as a warm-up, do it at a low intensity. If you're already warmed up, choose a moderate to vigorous intensity that gets your heart rate up.
Then do walking lunges for five minutes. This uses all the leg muscles, is a great fat burner and gets your heart rate up. You're also using your core. If you're a beginner, do stationary lunges, holding onto a chair if necessary. After doing 10, alternate between those and 10 ab crunches. Do three sets of each.
Get on the treadmill for five minutes at 3.5 miles per hour (or a moderately fast pace -- not a slow walk). At the same time, do biceps curls and shoulder presses with light weights (3 to 5 pounds), or no weights. When you do this while you're moving, you get a better calorie burn and you're toning the muscles. You should always concentrate on your form. For beginners, only do this if you're comfortable on the treadmill, and slow the speed if necessary.
Next, go to a mat and do push-ups -- straight-legged if you're advanced, or on your knees if you're not. Do 10 to 20 depending on how conditioned you are. Alternate those with triceps bench dips on a chair, also doing 10 to 20. Do three sets of each.
Then it's on to the StepMill (a stair climber with rotating steps) for five minutes. You can push it here a little bit because you're warmed up, but beginners who have never done this before can stay at Level 1. If that machine isn't available, you can use another form of stair climber, or just go up and down some stairs.
After that, do 25 standing squats with no weight, then 50 side bends. For the side bends, stand with feet hip-width apart and bend your torso from side to side, trying to reach below your knees. This is for the obliques. This also brings down the heart rate a little bit.
Exercise physiologist and group fitness manager at Equinox, Santa Monica
With only 20 to 30 minutes, I would do a treadmill workout that's interval-based, alternating bouts of resting and pushing. You're going to burn the most calories, get your heart rate up and spike your metabolism.
For beginners, walk on the treadmill at a comfortable but challenging pace, and up your intensity with the incline. When you're pushing, it won't feel easy. If you're starting to feel uncomfortable, you're in the upper end of your endurance zone, so stay there and get to know what it feels like. You shouldn't feel like you have to step off the treadmill to catch your breath. When you come down to a slower pace, you'll feel a little spike in your heart rate, but then you should be able to ride it out.
If you're more advanced and want to run, keep your speed between 5 to 7 miles per hour and start at a 3% incline before increasing to about an 8% incline. If you're in better condition, you should be breathless on the push.
For all fitness levels, try alternating between two minutes of the easy phase and a minute of the difficult phase. Do this workout a maximum of three times a week if you're fit. For beginning exercisers or those who haven't done intervals before, do it twice a week. If you don't have a treadmill and can go outside, do hills for the hard part of the intervals, or push the pace. This can also be done on an elliptical trainer or stationary bike.
Personal trainer at Crunch, Los Angeles
I like to do short workouts, circuit-training style, moving at a relatively quick pace to keep the heart rate up, and incorporating plyometrics. Each of these sets should take about a minute, and the entire circuit should be done three times. By the third set you'll be pretty fatigued. You still want to push yourself, but also pace yourself.