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Science Says You Only Need to Work Out for 13 Minutes to Make a Difference

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A new study suggests that a short workout can lead to big gains in strength.

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You know that a good workout plan includes cardio, strength training, and stretching. But when your day feels like a relay race of taking charge at work to being CEO of your household, it’s tough to squeeze it all in. The solution: recent research suggests that exercising just 13 minutes, three times a week, can be enough to make a difference if you’re looking to feel stronger. In the study, 34 people did a strength-training routine consisting of seven exercises three times per week, and did each exercise either once (approximately 13 minutes long), three (approximately 40 minutes long), or five times (approximately 68 minutes long). Those who did the shorter session had similar gains in strength after two months as those who did the longer ones.

“I think this study provides evidence that with a fairly minimal time commitment, the average person can achieve very good increases in muscular fitness, and that spending more time might not provide a substantial cost-benefit for many of these individuals,” says one of the study authors, Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, assistant professor of exercise science at Lehman College. Basically, music to a busy parent’s ears!

For the biggest results, you need to turn up the intensity of short workouts, says Adam Friedman, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer and owner of Advanced Athletics. He developed the following total-body ladder routine to get your heart pumping. “Each of the moves works multiple muscle groups,” he says. The reps build gradually, so you can focus on your form while safely working up a sweat. Just remember that intensifying your workout can leave you sore at first; keep an OTC pain reliever like Advil on hand to banish those muscle aches if you have them and get back to your busy life.

The best part is that you can do it anywhere, whether that’s your backyard or the local park. His well-rounded routine takes about half an hour total (you can’t forget warm up and cool down!), but all you need is a pair of medium-weight dumbbells. For beginners, that’s usually about 10 to 15 pounds, Friedman says (you should be able to do about 10 reps max with that weight). Start by doing an easy 10-minute warmup, such as walking or jogging in place, and finish with 10 minutes of stretching.

13-MINUTE TOTAL-BODY LADDER WORKOUT

Rest for a few seconds between each exercise and move from one circuit to the next without pausing.

10 walking lunges up a hill*: Holding the dumbbells in each hand, stand with your feet at a comfortable distance apart. Draw your belly button inwards as you step your right foot forwards, bending both knees to lower into a lunge. Push off with your left foot and step it next the right foot. This is one rep. Repeat, starting with your left foot. Alternate sides.

Walk back down the hill

1 pushup: Lie face-down with your palms on the ground, just outside of your shoulders. Breathe and draw your belly button inwards. Exhale through pursed lips as you push yourself up into plank position, keeping your head and spine in one line. Inhale as you lower back down to the ground.

1 dumbbell bent-over back row: Hold the dumbbells in each hand, palms facing inwards. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward. Push your butt backwards and bend your knees until your back is parallel with the floor. Your arms should be extended towards the floor, with your dumbbells in line with the shoulders. Slowly bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells towards your waist by drawing your shoulder blades together. Pause, and lower the dumbbells back downwards.

12 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

2 pushups

2 dumbbell bent-over back row

14 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

3 pushups

3 dumbbell bent-over back row

16 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

4 pushups

4 dumbbell bent-over back row

18 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

5 pushups

5 dumbbell bent-over back row

6 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

4 pushups

4 dumbbell bent-over back row

14 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

3 pushups

3 dumbbell bent-over back row

12 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

2 pushups

2 dumbbell bent-over back row

10 walking lunges up the hill

Walk back down the hill

1 pushup

1 dumbbell bent-over back row

* If you’re not near a hill, do a step-back lunge: Holding the dumbbells in each hand, stand with your feet at a comfortable distance apart. Draw your belly button inwards as you step back with your right leg, bending both knees to lower into a lunge. Press into your left leg as you step your right leg back to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat, stepping back with your left leg.

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