The Minutes

Fitness and wellness insights from experts to help you hit your Paceline Minutes

5 Mini Workouts and Their Benefits

You know that you should make fitness a priority—it’s an essential part of maintaining overall health and well being. But when life gets hectic, the hour or so out of the day for a proper workout is often the first to go. 

The good news: Maintaining your fitness doesn’t have to mean every sweat session is a commitment. Working “mini” workouts into your routine has a host of benefits—the first being you can dump the excuse “I don’t have time.”   

What is a mini workout?

Pretty much like it sounds, a mini workout is any bout of physical activity that gets your heart rate up, taxes your muscles, or just gets you moving. “These mini workouts can range anywhere between two minutes (something that could be done during a commercial break of your favorite tv show) to 15 minutes (something that could be completed during a coffee break from work),” says Alex McBrairty, CPT, an online fitness coach based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

What are the benefits of mini workouts?

There are a number of pros to mini workouts. In fact, according to one older study, going for three 10-minute brisk walks may have the same cardiovascular benefits as one 30-minute walk (assuming the intensity is the same), says McBrairty. Below, he highlights five other reasons to give mini workouts a try.

  1. They’re easier on a busy schedule. It’s much harder to justify not having a spare five minutes to get up and move. And if you can only make time for shorter workouts, you’re still doing your body good if you keep those up: Research has suggested that accumulated shorter activity sessions are just as beneficial to coronary heart disease risk as longer sessions, as long as you’re expending a similar amount of energy overall.
  2. They (probably) require less motivation. “Instead of facing the mountain of a full-length workout, the small foothill of a mini workout can be more encouraging to complete when you’re already pretty tired from a long day,” McBrairty says.
  3. They might benefit your brain. A 10-minute bout of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity boosts cognitive performance, according to a study published in 2018. 
  4. They’re beginner-friendly. For those who are new to regular exercise or have fallen off their routine, starting out with shorter bouts is less likely to lead to significant DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and may reduce risks of getting injured from taking on too much, too soon.
  5. They can be habit-forming. Exercise is best if you figure out how to make it work in your life. That might mean that mini workouts could become your go-to over a more structured fitness plan—or even become your gateway to longer workouts, once you’re in the habit of getting moving more regularly. “While consistently performing longer workouts is a great habit to adopt, the increased frequency of these mini workouts can help you establish the exercise habit more rapidly,” McBrairty says.

How can you make mini workouts more effective? 

To maximize your mini workouts, McBrairty points to one of the CDC’s physical activity recs: a weekly target of 150 minutes of “moderate intensity” exercise. 

“You should aim to make it intense enough that you reach 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate,” he says. “Brisk walking, stairs, and full-body strength movements are good examples of exercises that can elevate your heart rate to this level.”

What are the drawbacks of mini workouts?

There are no negative effects of doing mini workouts—but mini cardio workouts might have a more comparable effect for heart health than mini strength workouts have for muscle building. “Because of the time limitations, the use of strength training equipment may not allow for effective short-duration workouts once you factor in setup and transition time,” says McBrairty. “By nature, mini workouts are easier to complete when performing cardiovascular or bodyweight exercises; for more advanced exercisers, the need for this equipment becomes more important.”

What are some mini workouts to try?

  1. When you have any amount of time. The simplest mini workout you can perform, for any duration of time available, is to go for a walk, says McBrairty. “If you’re trying to generally be more active while juggling a busy schedule or working your way up to more intense exercise, going for multiple short walks throughout the day can burn extra calories, reduce stress, and give you a mental boost,” he adds.
  2. When you have two minutes: Set a timer for two minutes and perform as many reps of a single exercise as possible, such as squats, lunges, push-ups or jumping jacks. You may be surprised at just how long two minutes can feel—McBrairy says you may even need to rest for a few seconds during that time, and that’s A-OK. “If you can perform this at least four to five times throughout the day, choosing a new exercise each time, by day’s end you will have thoroughly challenged your body,” McBrairty says.
  3. When you have five minutes: Choose two exercises and perform them back-to-back in a repeating fashion until your five-minute timer expires. For example, you could do 10 push-ups, then 10 squats, going back and forth until time expires, resting only as needed. Or try planking for 30 seconds then wall sit for 30 seconds, repeating for five rounds.
  4. When you have 10 minutes: Perform two supersets consisting of four exercises total, for two rounds each. Rest for 45 to 60 seconds between sets. For example:

Superset 1:

8 rounds of alternating reverse lunges

28 jumping jacks

Rest 45 to 60 seconds, then repeat.

Superset 2:

10 push-ups

20 rounds of mountain climbers

Rest 45 to 60 seconds, then repeat.

  1. When you have 15 minutes: Do a four-exercise circuit for three sets. Rest 60 seconds after each round of the circuit with minimal rest between exercises. For example:

10 squat jumps

15 resistance-band rows

15 leg raises (lying on back, raise and lower legs as a unit)

10 bench dips (you can use a stair or a sturdy coffee table)

Rest for 60 seconds, then repeat the circuit two more times.