Fast and Intense: Quick Workouts for Real Results

You’ve got 30 minutes to work out and you want to lift weights and maybe squeeze in some cardio. Are you ready to get pumped? Because shorter workouts mean higher intensity!*

As I said in my post about compound movements and 30-minute workouts, you can do a traditional weights routine and still see results over time. You can always increase the weight or reps or decrease your rest time. But if you’re ready for some variety and major time savings, check out these ideas for keeping your quickie workout challenging. Remember to warm up and cool down – it’s part of your workout.


Circuits are hugely popular and massively intense. With a typical circuit, you get your heart rate up by integrating cardio and weights into one short, intense routine. For example, one set in a circuit could include four to six different exercises that hit various muscle groups without resting. After a brief rest you would repeat for two more sets.

You can include stairs, jogging, or another type of cardio into each set, but a circuit can most definitely include only weights or bodyweight exercises. I recently swapped workouts with Kris O’Connor, a fellow fitness blogger and friend. She created an endurance-focused circuit routine for me and I created a full-body weights workout for her. Her circuit kicked my butt so give it a try!

For maximum calorie burning, plan your routine ahead of time. Make sure all necessary equipment and/or machines are easily accessible (you’ll be going from one exercise to the next very quickly). To get around the machines-in-use dilemma, just grab some dumbbells instead. You’ll need to use lighter weights than usual because of the high repetitions and intensity.

HIIT (High Intensity Training)

HIIT  is any workout that’s performed in intervals; that is, a session with both high intensity periods and recovery periods. HIIT can be done as a circuit of weightlifting exercises, sprinting, or cardio machines. An example would be cycles of 30 seconds all-out effort with a 60 second rest at lower intensity. Form is of utmost importance and you need a solid foundation of fitness.


I love doing supersets and use them almost every time I train. Supersets fatigue your muscles quickly, burn more calories, and give powerful results. Even if you don’t need to save time in the gym, you should use this technique for getting cut.

A superset is two different exercises performed back to back with no rest (you rest briefly between sets). Supersets are designed to progressively overload the muscle, but they also save time.

You can perform super sets in a wide variety of ways, so don’t feel like there’s only one correct type. For example, you can:

  • Train the same muscle group, opposite muscle groups, or more uncommonly, two totally unrelated groups
  • Ramp it up to tri-sets or giant sets (three or four sets)
  • Use pre-exhaust, compound, and isolation supersets

If you want more information about supersets, see my article on advanced techniques or contact me.

Now that you have some ideas for quickie workouts, you have no excuse to squeeze your weight training into 30 minutes. I’d love to hear about your favorite quickie weights techniques!

*Please note: You need a basic level of fitness to try these techniques. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have doubts. If you need to start out more slowly, contact me and we can toss around ideas.

19 thoughts on “Fast and Intense: Quick Workouts for Real Results

  1. Always a great post Suzanne! Any way to mix it up, right? Vary the intensity, time, reps, order – it’s infinite what we can do! I’m a heart girl, so I’m always paying attention to my HR in workouts – and the monitor shows how much stronger I’m getting. Love your part about the raising intensity = greater fat burn/calories. My new pet peeve are those “heart charts” that show you in the “fat burning” zone in the lower range. SO MISLEADING! We raise our metabolism and long term calorie/fat burning by higher intensity stuff. Have a great Thanksgiving!


    • If you thought I did the subject justice then I scored :). I love the idea of weight training and cardio at the same time and I’m doing more and more of it. You’ve already got it down! Yeah, those heart charts are probably based on a man’s average – real useful. Thanks for writing and you have a great holiday too.


  2. Either your advice is going give me that boost to get me over the slump I’m in or it’s going to finish me off.

    You MIGHT be the greatest person on Earth. OR perhaps you are the devil. 🙂


  3. Great post! I spend a lot of time doing High Intensity Interval Training. It’s an excellent effective workout that can be done in a third of the time that traditional workouts take. The kicker is that recent research is showing that it actually causes your body to BURN MORE FAT that the traditional workout. The key is just keep it moving and there is so much variety here. You can do it with weights, bodyweight, sprints, cardio – you name it! Because it’s a very challenging way to train, I always recommend starting with bodyweight exercises. For example, do 60 second set of jumping jacks, squats, pushups and mountain climbers. Rest 30 secs between each exercise and 90 secs after a set. Doing just that will get your body used to that form of training. After that you can try it with sprints and then weights. You don’t want to add the weight right away in my opinion because it’s easy to get hurt. Besides, if you are NOT used to this form of training, the simple exercises will be challenge enough!!


  4. Suzanne, I’m a big believer in circuit training. Started getting better results from 30 minutes of strength with maybe 10 min of cardio bursts inbetween than I used to spending an hour on the elliptical and then adding a few minutes of basic weights. Have been dealing with foot injuries and have to take it light with the cardio parts lately. Since I can’t run stairs or hangout on the treadmill, I’m using the recumbent bike, short amounts of time on the elliptical and even the hand crank bike machine to help my heart rate in between sets.


    • I know you are, Shira, and you list some great modifications when you can’t do higher impact cardio. I’m one of those too – a foot problem, and more problems if I tried jumping jacks! Thanks for writing.


  5. Great post & advice! I love intervals! Recently I tried a workout where I would do 20 reps-then 8 reps (so a lot heavier) then 20 reps again (3 different exercises). I took about a 2-3 minute rest between and repeated 5 times. Loved it for legs & think I’m going to give it a go for some other body parts that I feel are lagging.


  6. Love it love it love it. I’m very big on supersetting upper and lower body compound movements together. While my legs are resting, my back or chest is working, and vice-versa, so there is ZERO need for down time. And the intensity it fosters might the best drug on earth.

    And for those who might not believe you can get that much intensity from 30 minutes; an intense 30-minute workout is simply a reflection of what one puts into it. Typically mine go 40-45, but I teach a 30-minute workout that would make a goat puke 🙂


    • I could not have put it better: “And the intensity it fosters might the best drug on earth.” I really do feel that high from lifting weights! Once I get going, I could be flying. It’s an amazing drug. I do end up lifting for an hour or more, but I do two muscle groups and enjoy it immensely. Most people need to get in and out and they need ways to make it count. Thanks for your input Roy!


  7. Okay. The vacation week is at an end (so sad) which means that not only do I go back to work, I also have to get back on track with proper diet and exercise.

    I’m going to spend some time here today and pick up ideas. I’ll let you know very soon if you are the devil or not. 🙂


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