Less Time, More Results: The Science Behind Shorter, More Frequent Workouts

Cathe Friedrich's X10 workouts are an example of more frequent workouts


When it comes to exercise, too many people still subscribe to the idea that longer is better and an hour workout is better than a 20-minute one. However, studies show that shorter, more frequent workouts are beneficial too. Forget the fitness culture obsession of spending hours on the treadmill. Science shows that shorter bursts of exercise spaced over a week can improve physical fitness and help you reach your goals.

Why shorter? Our bodies respond best to intensity. Short, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, for example, can trigger a cascade of beneficial changes. These workouts have the added benefit of being efficient, you’re accomplishing more in less time. Yet they ramp up your metabolic rate and improve your cardiovascular health.

Think of it like this: imagine your fitness is a fire. Longer, moderate workouts give a slow burn. In contrast shorter, intense bursts are like throwing kindling on the flames. You get a powerful jolt that keeps the fire burning brighter for longer.

What Science Says about Shorter, More Frequent Workouts

Does science support the benefits of briefer exercise sessions? According to a meta-analysis published in the journal Sports Medicine, accumulated exercise (i.e., multiple short bouts) led to greater reductions in body fat and LDL cholesterol compared to a single continuous session. This held even when the workouts were of the same total duration and intensity.

Another study in the journal PLOS One compared the effects of sprint interval training (three 20-second all-out cycling efforts) to traditional endurance training (45 minutes of continuous cycling). The study took place over a 12-week period. Though the interval sprinters engaged in 5-fold less exercise volume, cardiometabolic health markers were similar to those who did endurance training.

What explains these findings? As mentioned, one factor is intensity. When you do a shorter workout, it’s easier to ramp up the intensity to a level that may not be sustainable for longer durations. Intensity triggers greater physiological adaptations, such as increased mitochondrial density and improved insulin sensitivity.

Plus, doing more frequent exercise sessions, even several short sessions a day, helps prevent the negative cardiometabolic consequences of sitting too much. It can boost insulin sensitivity, help with blood sugar control, and help you stay productive and motivated.

Physiological Mechanisms

What’s happening at a deeper level when you do shorter, but more frequent, workouts?

  • Mitochondrial biogenesis: High-intensity interval training stimulates biogenesis, the making of new mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy generators of the mitochondria. So, more mitochondria improve fat burning and cardiovascular fitness.
  • EPOC: Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or the “afterburn effect,” is a phenomenon where your metabolism increases for hours after exercise. The more intense the workout, the greater your EPOC will be.
  • Muscle protein synthesis: When you train your muscles against resistance, you get a higher rate of muscle protein synthesis for 48 hours afterward. When you spread resistance training over the week, you can maximize the anabolic effects you get from a workout.
  • Glucose regulation: Short bursts of exercise improve insulin sensitivity. By working out more frequently, even if the sessions are short, you extend this effect.

Sample Workout Schedules

So how can you incorporate shorter workouts into your routine? Here are a few sample schedules:

Option 1: Full-Body Circuit Training

Monday: 20-minute full-body strength circuit

Tuesday: 20-minute HIIT cardio

Wednesday: Rest or active recovery

Thursday: 20-minute full-body strength circuit

Friday: 20-minute HIIT cardio

Saturday: Rest or active recovery

Sunday: 30–60-minute low-intensity cardio (e.g., hiking, biking)

Option 2: Upper/Lower Split

Monday: 25-minute upper body strength training

Tuesday: 25-minute lower body strength training

Wednesday: 20-minute HIIT cardio (Use a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1 or 1:2)

Thursday: 25-minute upper body strength training

Friday: 25-minute lower body strength training

Saturday: 20-minute HIIT cardio

Sunday: Rest or active recovery

Option 3: Mini-Workouts

5-10 minutes of bodyweight exercises (e.g., squats, push-ups, lunges) spread throughout the day, aiming for 3-5 mini-workouts per day.

1-2 longer workouts per week (30-60 minutes) for activities you enjoy (e.g., yoga, cycling, running).

Try different approaches and see how you fare with each one.


Working out more frequently and keeping your workouts shorter can be as effective as doing longer, less frequent training sessions. There are many approaches you can take – high-intensity intervals, resistance training, and adding regular activity breaks into your routine. So don’t be afraid to break up your workouts and get moving throughout the day – your body will thank you!


  • Lindberg S. Fit It In: Mini Workouts Are a Great Option When You’re Crunched for Time. Healthline. Published September 22, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2024. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness/fit-it-in-mini-workouts
  • Murphy MH, Lahart I, Carlin A, Murtagh E. The Effects of Continuous Compared to Accumulated Exercise on Health: A Meta-Analytic Review. Sports Med. 2019 Oct;49(10):1585-1607. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01145-2. PMID: 31267483; PMCID: PMC6745307.
  • Ducharme J. How Even Super-Short Workouts Can Improve Your Health. TIME. Published December 27, 2022. Accessed June 1, 2024. https://time.com/6242876/short-workouts-health-benefits/
  • ‌ MacInnis MJ, Gibala MJ. Physiological adaptations to interval training and the role of exercise intensity. J Physiol. 2017 May 1;595(9):2915-2930. doi: 10.1113/JP273196. Epub 2016 Dec 7. PMID: 27748956; PMCID: PMC5407969.
  • ‌ Valstad SA, von Heimburg E, Welde B, van den Tillaar R. Comparison of Long and Short High-Intensity Interval Exercise Bouts on Running Performance, Physiological and Perceptual Responses. Sports Med Int Open. 2017 Dec 18;2(1):E20-E27. doi: 10.1055/s-0043-124429. PMID: 30539113; PMCID: PMC6225958.
  • Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ. Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training Despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PloS one. 2016;11(4):e0154075-e0154075. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154075.
  • Physiological Adaptations to Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training. Gatorade Sports Science Institute. Published 2015. Accessed June 1, 2024. https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-139-physiological-adaptations-to-low-volume-high-intensity-interval-training
  • ‌ Schmidt WD, Biwer CJ, Kalscheuer LK. Effects of long versus short bout exercise on fitness and weight loss in overweight females. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Oct;20(5):494-501. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2001.10719058. PMID: 11601564.
  • Lindberg S. Fit It In: Mini Workouts Are a Great Option When You’re Crunched for Time. Healthline. Published September 22, 2021. Accessed June 3, 2024. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness/fit-it-in-mini-workouts

Related Articles By Cathe:

Get Ready to Get Stronger: The Benefits of More Frequent Workouts

Several Short Workouts or One Long One: Is One Better Than the Other?

Don’t Be Afraid to Split Up Your Exercise Sessions

How to Fit in a Workout Even When You Have No Time

Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

STS 2.0 Muscle & Recovery Workout Series

Fit Split DVD Workout Series

X10 Workout DVD

Tabatacise Exercise DVD

Hi, I'm Cathe

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