Time Crunch: Eight Ways to Add Exercise to Your Busy Day

By Amanda N. Wegner

If this were a perfect world, we’d all have ample time in our days to devote to our fitness and well-being. But it’s not. Instead, this is the “real world,” where 24 hours is never enough time to do all we need to do—go to work, be a parent, run errands, take care of things around the house, maybe sleep—and still have time to work on our fitness.

“You have to create opportunities to move in your day,” says Patty Kivlin, an American Council on Exercise (ACE)-certified personal trainer with the Geneva Lakes Family YMCA. “There are a gazillion things you can do to get moving, but first you have to decide if you want to participate more fully in your health. You’re doing it for your life, you really are. If you don’t move and use your body, it will not be there for you in your later years at a quality you had hoped it would be.”

Not only is physical activity important for having the quality of life you want, now and into the future, it offers plenty of short-term benefits as well. For instance, exercise produces serotonin in the brain, which relieves stress and anxiety, says Greg Clausen, owner of Lake Geneva’s Body Logic Fitness. “Not exercising will only increase stress and lead you down a self-destructive trail.”

Here, four local fitness professionals offer eight suggestions for effectively adding more exercise to your life without overloading your already overloaded schedule.


When working, set a timer on your phone, watch or computer to go off once an hour … and then get up! “Setting your phone to go off every hour to get up and walk around is important. Use this time to grab a few minutes to get up and do squats, wall sits, lunges, push-ups, tricep dips … something,” says Kivlin. “Just move. You’ll feel so much better when you do.”

Also, carve out time for exercise in your day by setting your morning alarm 15 to 30 minutes earlier to squeeze in a quick workout. “Healthy living does take some commitment. It has to be a priority,” she adds.


Schedule activities with friends that include walking, bike riding or any physical activity as a part of your social calendar. “In a group, you have accountability,” says Greg Clausen, Body Logic Fitness. This could be meeting friends for a recreational bike ride on a Saturday morning or committing part of your lunch hour to a walk and talk with colleagues.


No equipment? No problem! “If you look around your environment, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for exercise,” says Kivlin.

For instance, use the curb for toe taps or do step-ups on the play structures while at the park with your child or grandchild. Do push-ups or planks off the back of a park bench.

In an office environment, do some intervals on the stairs between meetings or do a wall sit while on a call. (To do a wall sit, which is great for lower body strength, place your back against the wall and then slide down until your knees and hips are a 90 degrees. Be sure to keep your knees over your ankles.)


If you spend your days at the office, stock your space with a few basic pieces of exercise equipment, such as a set of hand weights, resistance tubing or a medicine ball.

Easy exercises to do at your desk, either seated or standing, include bicep curls, tricep extensions or dips, and a variety of shoulder exercises, such as:

  • Shoulder presses: Hold a set of hand weights and extend your arms straight overhead.
  • Front raises: Holding the weights, bring your arms up in front of the body to just about shoulder height, keeping a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Lateral raises: Extend your arms straight out to your sides to about shoulder height.

Many of these exercises can also be completed with a resistance band. The benefit of a resistance band is that you can increase or decrease the work by tightening or slackening the tension on the band by simply changing your grip.

“Find little moments where you can do a quick set of something,” says Kivlin. “It all adds up.”

For the lower body, you can stand on the resistance tube, cross the handles and hold them at your hips. From this position, you can do squats, side steps and rear extensions (kicking one leg and then the other back at about 45 degrees) which all work the lower body.

The medicine ball, says Andy Sieberer, general manager and partner at Four Lakes Athletic Club (FLAC) in Elkhorn and a NASM-certified personal trainer, is another versatile piece of equipment. “One of the things I love to do with clients is send them away with just a medicine ball. With it, you can do lunges with rotations, squats as you hold it in front, push-ups, and much more. A med ball can be used a million ways and in limited space. You can get a full workout with just your body and a medicine ball.” The key, he adds, is to make sure you hit all the major muscle groups for body symmetry.


For busy clients who have a small window of time, Sieberer likes to focus on combination exercises that incorporate upper and lower body work and core training. Exercises that achieve this include a low row with a squat, lunges with a shoulder press and a dumbbell chest press on a Swiss ball. “If you incorporate this practice in every single exercise, you get more done in less time,” says Sieberer.

Functional exercises are also good additions for a quick and effective workout. They use multiple muscles and joints at the same time to improve endurance, strength, balance, posture, coordination and agility. Functional exercises include, but aren’t limited to, planks and push-ups.

Speaking of push-ups, if you find them intimidating, don’t think you have to be a G.I. Jane to benefit from this exercise. “Push-ups can easily be modified,” says Tim Forster, FLAC’s fitness director and an ACE-certified personal trainer. “You can also do them on a wall, the edge of a countertop, the bank of bench. All those are great options to help you build strength to move down to the floor.”


Kivlin likes to do HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts both in her classes and with her busy personal training clients. With HITT, you bring your heart rate up for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of recovery, completing eight cycles before taking a longer rest. “It’s a really great way to burn significant calories. It’s pretty popular and blasts the calories if done at a pretty high level. It’s also a nice way to switch up your cardio.”

But even if you’re just a beginning exerciser, you can apply the same concept on a less intense level: “It doesn’t need to be something high impact; it can be walking faster for 20 seconds, slower for 10, or turning up the incline on a treadmill for a bit to challenge yourself.”

Twenty seconds on, 10 second off isn’t the only way to do intervals (a variety of interval training workouts can be found online), and Clausen agrees that this kind of exercise is great for people with limited time. “A good idea for an exerciser is to include interval training with little or no rest between exercises,” he says. Good exercises to include that don’t require any equipment include pushups, sit-ups, burpees, plyometric jumping and mountain climbers.


Time is just one of many potential barriers to physical fitness. Access to equipment and a facility, scheduling logistics, childcare concerns, personal comfort, motivation and more might all stand in the way of getting out and getting active.

Luckily, there are more options than ever to stay in and get active. Unlike fitness DVDs where you get the same workout and same music every time you pop it in, on-demand fitness programing and apps offer variety of workouts, current music and quality training on your computer, TV or mobile device.

Some options to consider include DailyBurn, Les Mills On Demand, YogaGlo and BeachBody On-Demand. Most offer a free trial to get started; once you find something you like, there’s often a small monthly fee to access the classes. And because these classes are always in your pocket, you can take them on the go when you travel.


Working with a personal trainer, even just a few sessions, can also help you craft strategies and devise plans to fit exercise into your time-crunched schedule. “Everyone can benefit from working with a personal trainer,” says Sieberer. “We’re here to give you knowledge, and that can be the make or break point for some people on creating a habit and reaching and attaining their goals.

Adds Forster: “A trainer’s job is to teach you how to self-train, not just take you through a workout. We want to teach you how to do it on your own and the science behind what you’re doing, so you have the confidence and knowledge to keep doing it tomorrow, next month and next year to keep moving and stay healthy.”

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