Fully 80% of Americans don’t get the CDC-recommended amount of exercise every week. It’s easy to understand why. Between working long hours, taking care of kids, hobbies, and Netflix, finding time to work out is a challenge. That’s why we’ve compiled tons of tips from experts to help you find time to workout with a busy schedule. Read on to learn how to set a workout goal, find time for a workout in your busy day, choose a time to work out, choose a workout routine, and how even working parents can find time for exercise. Let’s get started!
1. Setting a goal to work out
The CDC recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or at least 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Research shows that just this much movement can offer an amazing assortment of benefits, including better memory and cognition, reduced anxiety, a lower risk of dementia, heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers.
So that’s a great place to start when setting a workout goal. You’ll increase your likelihood of reaching that goal if you establish a daily or weekly habit. Pro-tip from Atomic Habits: Pick a routine you already do, and then hook your new habit onto that routine so you always have a cue to perform the habit. So if you want to work out every day, do your workout after you do something you’re going to do every day regardless, such as brushing your teeth, eating lunch, or taking the trash out. Speaking of lunch, not only does a lunch hour workout help you get your weekly minutes in, but it also boosts productivity.
Another way to establish and maintain a workout habit is to move your workout from your to-do list to your calendar to help ensure it gets done. Amoila Cesar, celebrity trainer, NBA private strength coach and creator of the fitness program, 6 Weeks of The Work, recommends treating each workout as an appointment. "Schedule your workouts like you would schedule a meeting with your boss," suggests Calabrese. "You wouldn’t cancel a meeting with your boss to do something else. Similarly, once the alarm goes off, quickly wrap up whatever you are doing and get ready for workout.” Scheduling your workout on your calendar also helps you avoid last-minute meetings that might prevent you from working out.
In addition to scheduling it on your calendar, you could also set a reminder on your phone and/or put a Post-it on the refrigerator. “Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you can’t forget this important task," Cesar says.
One hack for making, and keeping, your workout appointments is to hire a personal trainer. That worked for my friend Nick, who made all his appointments and established a workout routine because he didn’t want to disappoint his trainer.
2. Finding time to workout
The big question: How do you find time in your busy day for a workout? The good news is that you don’t need to go to the gym for an hour every day to get your 150 minutes per week in. You could go two times per week and then sneak in a half hour session. Or, work out every day for 22 minutes. However you break it up, you’ll get very similar, if not the same, results.
Try getting your minutes in without going to the gym by literally running your errands. That’s what works for Writer Megan Harrington. She’ll put her son in his stroller and run the mile and a quarter to his daycare, then run home with the empty stroller. “I also run to the post office and the grocery store,” Harrington said.
Another tip: Always keep your workout clothes on you. Journalist Garret Woodward is constantly on the move and works odd hours. “I always keep a pair of running shoes and some clothes in my car,” Woodward said. “That way, wherever I am, I can get a run in. Plus, it’s fun, because you never know where you may end up running and what you’ll see along the way. It can be hard to make the time, but there’s also fun in that challenge, even if it’s just 20 minutes.”
"Pack your gym bag and leave it in the car, that way no matter where you go it’s always with you," says Amoila Cesar, celebrity trainer, NBA private strength coach and creator of the fitness program, 6 Weeks of The Work.
If you don’t have a car, walk around in your tennis shoes and stow an outfit in your backpack.
Speaking of workout clothes, CNET writer Caroline Roberts recommends multipurpose clothing. You can save time by wearing gym clothes that can double as office-wear. “That could mean buttoning a blazer over a breathable t-shirt, choosing chinos made from technical fabric, or throwing on some fashionable gym sneakers so that you don't have to change shoes,” Roberts writes.
3. Choosing the best time of day to workout
We know you’ve heard it before. But we’ve just got to say it. One of the best ways to ensure you get a workout in every day is to do it first thing in the morning, before anything else can distract you or make your second-guess whether this is the best use of your time.
“Aim to do everything in your power to get up early and take care of your fitness goals before you get caught up in the daily grind, says Calliet. Calabrese recommends setting your alarm for 30 minutes earlier to get your workout in. As mentioned, it only takes 22 minutes per day to meet your 150 hours per week. And you don’t need to go to the gym to do it. A few bodyweight exercises and a walk around the block or HIIT can be more than enough.
Another benefit to establishing an early-morning exercise routine: Cesar points to research indicating working out first thing in the morning on a nearly empty stomach can jump-start your metabolism and help break down stored fat.
The key to working out before work is all about what happens the night before. First, lay out everything you need to work out, including your clothing, shoes, and any gear you might need. Second, make a plan for breakfast and pack your lunch that night to save you time in the morning. CNET writer Caroline Roberts prefers overnight oats and mass-prepped frozen breakfast burritos.
4. Choosing the best type of workout
As the old adage goes, the best workout is one you’ll actually do consistently. But if you want more guidance beyond that, experts like Corey Calliet, celebrity trainer and body transformation specialist likes to take a quick break during the day to do a 15- to 20-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout when he can’t work out first thing in the morning.
What’s so great about HIIT? It’s super-efficient, making it perfect for time-constrained exercisers. According to Autumn Calabrese, Beachbody Super Trainer and creator of the 80-Day Obsession workout plan, "HIIT workouts offer more fat loss benefits than any other workout.” In just 20 minutes of push-ups, burpees, squats and lunges you can burn up to 15 calories per minute, nearly twice as much as you’ll burn during a long run. Plus, HIIT counts as high-intensity aerobic physical activity, which you only need to do for 75 minutes per week to get the same benefits of 150 minutes of less-intense exercise according to the CDC. That means that if you do a HIIT routine every day you can work out 75 minutes per week with just under 11 minutes per day.
You can also speed up your workout and pump up the intensity even without intervals. Michael George, author of Body Express Makeover: Trim and Sculpt Your Body in Less Than Six Weeks, has a routine for doing weight training and cardio at the same time.
“Hop on a treadmill holding a three- to five-pound dumbbell in each hand, and set the speed to a brisk walk,” George said. “Do a one-minute set each of shoulder presses, biceps curls, triceps extensions, side laterals, front laterals, and standing triceps kickbacks one after another as you walk. It's an amazing upper-body challenge that also gets your heart pumping. Do this series two or three times each week. As you improve, work up to doing four-minute sets."
5. Finding time to workout as a working parent
This is the big one. If you’re a working parent you don’t need us to tell you that you have a ton on your plate, and calendar. Luckily there are hacks for getting a workout in while working and parenting.
First, play with your kids! Parenthood can also offer some great opportunities to get your cardio in and your heart rate up. A great way to stay fit is to sweat while your kids are sweating. "Run circles around the hockey rink or do down-and-back from the ballet studio," Cesar suggests. If your kid is smaller, cover some ground without shelling out for a sitter by investing in a jogging stroller or strapping your kid into a carrier and doing squats with some extra resistance.
Another hack: Tone at your desk. When it comes to how to workout at work, the key is multitasking. You can use resistance bands while you sit at your desk throughout the workday. Or, swap your chair out for a stability ball to strengthen your core while you grind. "Keep dumbbells or exercise tubing at your desk,” suggests Gregory Florez, personal trainer and CEO of Fitness First Inc. “Squeeze in 12 to 15 reps of exercises like dumbbell curls, overhead presses, and ab crunches; aim for two or three sets of each."
The other big winner for finding time to workout is multitasking. This is how you can regularly get a great workout in without sacrificing other aspects of your life. Roberts likes to workout while dinner cooks. She recommends an Instant Pot. “Throw a bunch of ingredients in, set it for thirty minutes, and do your routine -- by the time you're done, you'll have a delicious and nutritious dinner waiting,” Roberts writes. “You can even workout in front of the TV while your meal is cooking.”
Autumn Calabrese, Beachbody Super Trainer and creator of the 80-Day Obsession workout plan, also likes to move her body while watching TV. “Think jumping jacks, push-ups, crunches, lunges, squats and burpees," she says.
Go forth and get swole
If 80% of Americans aren’t getting the CDC-recommended amount of exercise every week, aspire to be the 20%. It’s not easy to find time to work out, but it’s possible. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise every week. Try to work out in the morning, or anytime where you can set a consistent habit. Consider HIIT training. And if all else fails, get a few minutes of exercise in while the kids are playing, while you’re working, or even in front of the TV.