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Ask JJ: Designing an Efficient, Effective Workout

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Dear JJ: I don't have the money for a personal trainer or the time to spend at the gym. What's the best way to get in shape for upcoming beach season when I don't want to make fitness a hobby?

Sometimes people assume I spend hours at the gym. "Where do you find the time?" they ask, fully aware I run two businesses, raise two teenage boys, and regularly get a solid eight hours' sleep.

Even if I did have copious free time, I wouldn't dare spend it at some stuffy gym or the latest fitness class.

The good news is that you need neither extra hours nor a budget to get lean, muscular, and healthy. You want to work out smarter, not harder.

Start With Movement, Period

If you're a complete exercise newbie, you should start with 60 total minutes of movement daily. Real exercise counts, but so does walking the dog, gardening, or cleaning.

Park far away from the grocery-store door, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk rather than drive to your nearest Starbucks to meet your bestie for green tea. Everything counts towards that hour quota.

Take it Up a Few Notches with Burst Training

Burst training, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), becomes the best way to (literally) step up your workout.

"HIIT can blast calories, build muscle and boost endurance with impressive efficiency in just 20 minutes a day, but the catch is finding the right level of intensity outside the comfort zone, fitness trainers say," writes Dorene Internicola.

In other words, to get those benefits you need to go all out. You should be breathless and it might become unpleasant. To do that, you'll complete 30-60 seconds of all-out, full-throttle bursts followed by active recovery for twice as long. Do this all at once or break up into multiple bouts.

My favorite ways to do burst training include sprinting or bursting up a hotel stairwell. This becomes a killer workout when I'm at, say, a weekend conference and can't hit the hotel gym.

Work in Weight Resistance

Weight resistance is your metabolic Spanx that holds everything together so you look lean, toned, and fabulous.

Sarah Klein mentions a 2014 Harvard School of Public Health study that found:

... men who completed 20 minutes of weight training each day saw a smaller increase in belly fat than men who spent the same amount of time on a cardio workout. And the men who added both strength training and cardio to their daily routines fared even better. Yet so many of us still believe that the only way to really slim down is by sweating it out for hours on the treadmill.

Guys, you will not become the Hulk lifting heavy a few times a week. Gals, you will not become She-Ra lifting heavy dumbbells, so please put down those wimpy pink weights and stop being afraid of the weight room!

The concept with weight resistance is simple:

  • • Hit each body group at least two times a week
  • • Allow 48 hours of recovery for each body group
  • • Work in sets of eight to 12 reps for optimal hypertrophy
  • • Divide workouts into four groups: upper body pushing, upper body pulling, hips and thighs, and power core
  • • Do three to five exercises per body group
  • • Do the heaviest weight you can handle in good form
  • • Allow 60-second rest breaks between sets
  • • Warm up prior to resistance training
  • • Stretch in between sets or after workout
  • • Do multi-joint free weight, body weight, or cable exercises

Pulling Everything Together

Burst training combined with weight resistance becomes my favorite workout for efficiency and effectiveness. You can get lean and toned in less time than it takes to find a gym parking spot on a busy Saturday afternoon.

I've combined both in my 4 x 4 Workouts, which provide an intense, full-body workout in just 15 minutes, three times a week, in the comfort of your home with minimal equipment. I created eight workouts, and you can sample a free one here.

How do you fit fitness among your busy schedule? What do you believe is the most effective type of exercise? Share your thoughts below. And keep those great questions coming at