THE BLOG
11/12/2014 11:23 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Ask JJ: Time-Efficient Workouts During the Holidays

Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

Dear JJ: I have cravings under control. Trust me, Thanksgiving dinner or a holiday party will not be my undoing. Instead, I struggle with fitting fitness into my plan, especially during the coming months when work deadlines, holiday shopping, and other obligations mean I probably won't hit the gym as often as I like or need to. Have any suggestions about how to get a great workout without investing hours?

Why don't people exercise more? I honestly don't think laziness constitutes the answer. In today's scheduled-to-the-max, over-committed frenzy, we simply lack the time to consistently workout. Factor in driving, finding parking, changing into workout clothes, and oh yeah, actually working out, and you've easily created a two-hour commitment.

"I just can't schedule in an hour class," clients sometimes say. When I tell them endurance exercise can actually become counterproductive, they reply with equal parts frustration ("I've wasted hours on that stupid treadmill!") and relief ("No more miserable spin classes!").

Besides becoming a giant time suck, endurance training raises cortisol, your stress hormone. Cortisol elevated beyond its prime begins storing fat and breaking down lean muscle tissue. One study among 304 cyclists, runners, and other endurances athletes found significantly higher cortisol levels compared with control subjects.

Burst Training Is the Fastest, Most Efficient Exercise

The good news is that you can get an intense, fat-blasting workout in just minutes a day, without going anywhere near the gym and without endurance exercise's detrimental consequences.

Burst training -- also called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT -- involves intermittent short, intense 30-60-second bursts with one-to-two-minute active recovery periods. Active recovery means you're moving at a low intensity to regain your breath and normalize your heart rate.

Burst training makes the ultimate fat-burning workout. One study found burst training makes an effective strategy for overweight women to burn fat more effectively because it demands post-workout metabolic repair. Steady-state cardio doesn't make those same recovery demands.

In another study, researchers assigned young adults to either a 20-week endurance training or 15-week HIIT program. The HIIT group became "significantly greater" at burning fat. Compared with steady state exercise, one study found young women doing HIIT three times a week over 15 weeks created "significant reductions in total body fat, subcutaneous leg and trunk fat, and insulin resistance."

Burst training can deliver those results quickly. One study found moderately active women got impressive fat-burning benefits doing HIIT for just seven sessions over two weeks.

Those benefits go beyond fat loss. One study found a two-week burst training program substantially improved insulin sensitivity in young, healthy males, reducing their risk for Type 2 diabetes. Another found compared with endurance training, HIIT proved a time-efficient way to boost cardiovascular health in adolescents.

Getting Back to the "Fast" Part...

Researchers conclude burst training "can be used as a strategy to reduce metabolic risk factors in young and middle-aged sedentary populations who otherwise would not adhere to time-consuming traditional aerobic exercise regimes." You know, like those one-hour classes that become two hours once you factor everything in.

To incorporate burst training, shoot for four to 12 total minutes of high-intensity bursts. Interspersed with active recovery, you're looking at about a 20-30 minute workout. Burst training is fast but intense: You should be breathless by the end or you're not working out hard enough.

You can do burst training nearly anywhere. If I'm at the airport stranded with a three-hour layover, stairs make perfect burst training. Ditto hotels when you don't have an hour for their microscopic stuffy gym rooms. Got a nearby park? Burst up the hill. You can even burst train on an elliptical machine.

Jenn Zerling provides four great burst training modalities in this HuffPost blog. I've combined burst training with weight resistance -- my two favorite exercises on the planet -- with my 4 x 4 Workouts. You can knock out an entire workout in 15 minutes, or less time than it takes to find a parking space at your gym. Grab a free 4 x 4 Workout here.

How do you fit a workout in among the holiday craziness? Share your strategies below. Love your questions, so keep them coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.