We get it: Some days, you literally only have 10 minutes to exercise. So that means it’s either a 10-minute workout or nothing at all.
But some people question whether they should even bother to exercise if they only have 10 minutes to devote to it. While doing that a workout that quick might not seem worth the effort to pull on a sports bra and lace up your sneakers, there are actually a ton of compelling reasons to squeeze in a super-short session.
In fact, the most recent version of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans removed time duration guidelines for a session to “count” as exercise, since it determined that exercise of any length contributes to benefits. These health benefits of exercise include lower blood pressure levels, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced feelings of anxiety and depression, and better sleep.
“Any quality workout is better than no workout,” Sivan Fagan, ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of Strong With Sivan, tells SELF. “There’s a lot you can do in 10 minutes.” With proper form, good mind-muscle connection, consistency, and progressive overload—continuing to add challenge to your muscles over time—you can actually see big physical gains from brief workouts, Fagan says.
But working out isn’t only about those physical gains, and a workout doesn’t necessarily have to reach toward them to be considered a quality session. Sometimes we exercise simply to make ourselves feel a little better, get an energy boost, or work out the tension from our muscles.
Then there’s the fact that a 10-minute workout can feel less intimidating—and a lot more doable—than a longer routine. “A lot of times people don’t even want to start the workout because they think, Oh, I have 45 minutes of working out now,” says Fagan. A 10-minute workout, by contrast, can feel like no big deal—it can be over before you know it, leaving you ready to get back to your busy day.
So what’s the best 10-minute workout to do, then? As with everything in fitness, it’s very individualized: The best 10-minute workout for you is going to be different than the best one for your workout buddy, for instance, and it’s going to vary based on your goals, energy levels, and what equipment (if any) you have access to, as well as what you’re looking for mentally and physically from it that day. And the best 10-minute workout for you might not be the same each time you’re looking to work out.
There are tons of options out there for a quick routine that can make you feel amazing. We asked 10 trainers to share what they do when they have 10 minutes to work out, so you can get a solid list of options that you may want to give a shot too.
1. Mobility and core work
The stay-at-home emphasis we’ve dealt with during the pandemic has left a lot of us feeling super tight and achy—fitness professionals included. Fagan tells SELF that even though she considers herself an active person—she aims to get 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day—she still spends a big chunk of time sitting on Zoom meetings, which makes her hip flexors feel tight.
“It’s so important to mobilize your hips and your thoracic spine,” says Fagan. Doing so can improve your posture, reduce your risk of injury, and simply make you feel better.
So if Fagan has just 10 minutes to work out, she often spends that time doing mobility movements with some core work sprinkled in. She starts with weighted dead bugs, followed by torso rotation striders with a downward dog in between each rep for hip and upper-body mobility. Then, she finishes with oblique work.
2. Functional strength work
Kollins Ezekh, certified personal trainer and founder of Built by God TV, tells SELF that short workouts are a regular part of his routine. “I’m in the gym all day long,” he says, “and I have clients who run 10, 15 minutes late. So instead of just sitting there doing nothing, I’ll try to get some sort of workout in.”
Ezekh says that for a 10-minute workout, he typically keeps things simple and focuses on just one exercise. By sticking with a single move, he only has to warm up and cool down based on just one movement pattern, which saves time.
For that one exercise, Ezekh picks an intense, functional movement that hits multiple muscle groups at once (think squats, deadlifts, push-ups, bench presses, and pull-ups). He first warms up by practicing the movement pattern with no weight and then adds lightweight. He also does a few jumping jacks to get his heart rate up.
Then, he performs the move for sets of 10 reps, resting no more than 30 seconds in between sets. For the subsequent sets, he makes each set progressively harder by adding weight or increasing the time under tension, continuing until time runs out.
3. Mindfulness meditation to carry the calm into your next workout
Fitness isn’t just about the physical body; it also encapsulates the mind. So when Alicia Jamison, certified personal trainer and trainer at Body Space Fitness in New York City, has minimal time to exercise, she often opts for mindfulness meditation. It’s essentially a workout for the brain, she tells SELF.
“You can get pretty deep into yourself internally” with just 10 minutes of mindfulness, Jamison says.
Jamison typically does guided meditations via the Calm app and says it helps bring her into the present moment. She also believes it helps boost focus and concentration—skills which can carry over and benefit your next physical workout.
“When you’re able to focus more on your breath or the sensations of your body as you’re working out, you try not to think about your day of work that you just had, or maybe the day of work you have coming up,” Jamison says. “You can make your workout more of a time of mental stillness while you’re getting that physical stimulation.”
4. A joint-by-joint warm-up and a walk
Certified athletic trainer Anna Hartman keeps her 10-minute workout super simple. She starts with a two-to-three-minute joint-by-joint warm-up to wake up her body and stimulate her brain. That would include moves like ankle circles, knee circles, pendulum leg swings, hip circles, and spinal roll-ups. Then she goes for a walk outdoors.
“There are so many benefits of being outside and walking,” Hartman, ATC, CSCS, founder of MovementREV in San Diego, tells SELF. Walking can improve your mood and make your aching body feel better, as SELF previously reported. It can also be a great active recovery and may help you manage and reduce your risk of a wide range of diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Walking is “a lot of bang for your buck, which is so important when you only have 10 minutes,” Hartman says. “You want that 10 minutes to really maximize how your whole body feels.”
5. Form work
Oftentimes we’re in a rush to work out, Ava Fagin, CSCS, CPT, instructor at Body Space Fitness, tells SELF. That hastiness, she explains, can cause our form to falter. Fagin admits that even she, a fitness professional, sometimes sacrifices good technique in her quest to complete a full workout.
So if Fagin had just 10 minutes to workout, she might spend that time trying to perfect the form for one move, like the kettlebell swing, push-up, or squat. That could mean watching videos of certified trainers properly demoing the move and then doing her best to replicate their form. Or it could mean doing five reps of a move with what she already knows is good form and then repeating five perfect reps every minute until the 10 minutes is up.
Fagin encourages other exercisers to try this approach. “Use those 10 minutes as a learning opportunity,” she says. “I think in the long run, you really benefit from that.”
6. One big, strength-focused lift
Every time trainer Jason Pak works out, he has a main compound lift—one of the “big” ones, like a squat, bench press, deadlift, or pull-up—and everything else he does serves as “accessory work” to help with the development of that main lift, the NASM-certified personal trainer, USA Weightlifting–certified sports performance coach, and cofounder of Achieve Fitness Boston, tells SELF.
So when Pak has just 10 minutes to work out, he forgoes the accessory work (which typically includes five or six different exercises) and spends all his time doing the main lift. That would typically look like five sets of five reps, repeated every two minutes. By keeping the reps relatively low, Pak keeps the focus on building strength.
“I know if I can get at least the main lift done,” Pak says, “then I’ve done something to make progress that day, and make sure that my body continues to make progress and gains.”
7. Gentle recovery work
For Tara Nicolas, Nike master trainer, certified personal trainer, and instructor at the Fhitting Room in New York City, her go-to 10-minute workout depends on the day. If she were craving something high-energy, she would bang out a bodyweight HIIT routine, Nicolas tells SELF. But if she felt the need for something gentler, she pulls out her Melt ball (basically a squishy massage ball) and Melt roller (a soft foam roller) and uses them for easy recovery movements.
For example, she’ll use the roller around her back to open up those muscles, or use it to roll out tension in her quads, calves, and even on her head. (Because the roller has a soft surface, it feels good against the head, says Nicolas).
She also spends a few minutes slowly stepping her feet over the ball, which she says can help alleviate tension that’s stored up her kinetic chain, meaning the muscles and joints that are connected to her feet. Taking time to do gentle rolling and stretching gets “the proverbial cobwebs” out of her body, says Nicolas. “And that can give me energy.”
8. A bodyweight mobility and strength flow
When you’re already strapped for time, make your workout as fuss-free and effective as possible by opting for a no-equipment routine that offers multiple benefits. At least that’s the philosophy of Nadia Ruiz, a NASM-certified personal trainer and running coach in Los Angeles.
Ruiz tells SELF she uses a 10-minute break to do a bodyweight mobility and strength flow that gently elevates her heart rate, boosts circulation, loosens chronically tight areas like the neck and shoulders, and strengthens major muscle groups including the core and legs. Such a sequence—which would include moves like shoulder circles, single-leg knee hugs, high knees, glute bridges, and bicycle crunches—could help combat sedentary-induced aches and pains while also offering important strength work that may otherwise get neglected, Ruiz explains.
9. Burpees. Lots of burpees
Certified personal trainer Christina Ashe, M.S., is a big fan of burpees. That’s because the bodyweight move is super challenging, hits a bunch of muscles at once, and can easily be modified to fit different fitness levels, the Washington, D.C.–based trainer tells SELF. So for her 10 minutes, she does a one-minute warm-up of stretching or foam rolling followed by one minute of burpees performed continuously with good form. Then she would rest for one minute and repeat the burpee-rest pattern three more times. Afterward she’d cool down with one minute of walking, stretching, or foam rolling.
That 10-minute routine would deliver total-body strengthening, cardio, and mobility work, says Ashe. In other words, it’d provide a great bang for her exercise buck.
10. A full-body circuit workout
Circuits are an effective way to program compound exercises for increasing endurance as well as strengthening and stabilizing the body, since they incorporate lots of different moves in a short period of time, Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder and CEO of TS Fitness, tells SELF. That’s why if Tamir only had 10 minute to exercise, he would do a full-body circuit workout built around compound exercises.
His 10-minute workout includes a brief warm-up (think: internal and external hip rotation, child’s pose with a thoracic spine rotation, and glute bridges) followed by a two-round circuit of squats, renegade rows, and hollow-body holds, where each move is performed for 30 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between. His second circuit, which he’d also repeat for two rounds, features reverse lunges, push-ups, and side planks.
Put together, the warm-up and two circuits would create “a really well-rounded workout” that incorporates mobility, strength, and stability work, says Tamir. “It kind of gets everything in that 10 minutes.”