How to Fit in an Advanced Workout in Just 30 Minutes a Day

A senior airman completes one minute of traditional push-ups during a physical fitness test.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Allen Santos, of the 129th Logistics Readiness Squadron, 129th Rescue Wing, California Air National Guard, completes one minute of traditional push-ups during a physical fitness test at Moffett Air National Guard Base, California, Nov. 18, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Crystal Housman/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

I was recently tasked with creating a few weeks of workouts that limited a competitive, high-performing athlete to 30 minutes a day. Whether you’re pressed for time due to travel, family commitments, holidays, or a needed break, a week of 30-minute-a-day workouts can serve as the main part of the maintenance week. However, you will need to stretch and move lightly later throughout the day.

This plan is for someone who works out between one and two hours five or six days a week. But if you are limited to 30 minutes a day, you might also find these ideas helpful.

Day 1: Cardio: Start your busy week in the right mindset to pull back and use each day as a mental and physical break from more intense workouts. Day 1 can be a simple 30-minute cardio day. Nothing hard: just a run, bike, swim, or even a walk mixed in with stretches throughout the time slot. This cardio session can be a steady-paced and easy workout or a mix of speed and slow intervals, depending on how you feel. Stretch throughout the day as needed. This way, if you decide to do a hard workout on the weekend, you can opt for an “easier” cardio day for the first day of the week.

Day 2: Upper Body: Lifting, calisthenics, or a mix of both? This is up to you and your facilities. My advice is to go with calisthenics exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, dips, and plank poses. But you can add variety with suspension straps like the TRX. A compromise is to add a weight vest and do calisthenics with the Speed Pyramid.

Day 3: Lower Body: Quick leg days can be a pure weightlifting workout such as a 5 x 5 of deadlift or squats, or a mix of calisthenics, lifting and cardio. For instance, perform a lift of 5-10 reps or a large rep set (20+) of calisthenics such as squats or lunges, then jog or bike for two minutes. Continue that circuit until you hit the 30-minute limit.

Day 4: Mobility: Do 30 minutes of any cardio you have access to – but every five minutes, stop and stretch for a few minutes. You can apply this “mobility day” to running, walking, biking, rowing, elliptical, stair stepper machines, or swimming laps and treading water skills. If part of your training involves swimming, consider a quick swim workout mixed with stretching and even pushups on the pool deck if you want to work your upper body.

Day 5: Full Body: A 30-minute full-body workout requires constant movement to be effective, but you can use active rest periods to work other areas of the body to achieve it quickly. Try something like this:

  • Lift: Bench, pull-ups, deadlifts or push-ups, pull-ups (or rows), and squats (all with a weight vest) is a round-robin circuit. If you can do four or five rounds in 30 minutes, you have a great full body workout. You may not want to go the full 30 minutes and even have a few minutes for stretching or extra cardio.
  • Cals and Cardio Pyramid: A solid workout that requires no equipment is a run of 100 meters followed by a burpee, squat and pull-up. This will pyramid each set with a 100-meter jog near an outdoor pullup bar/playground with monkey bars. Keep going up the pyramid until 30 minutes is completed. The second set is 2, 2, 2, then run 100 meters. The third set is 3, 3, 3, then run 100 meters. Keep going up to level 10, 10, 10 if possible, then either return in reverse order or continue to go up until the time is reached.

Day 6/7: Optional Add-Ons: An optional day or two may be possible during the weekend if your schedule allows for longer workouts. If you choose this option, give yourself days off or mobility days during the week.

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