6 Hacks to Get Fit in Less Time

Learn six tips that will get you more fit in less time.

Ben Greenfield,
November 14, 2016
Episode #311

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I recently tweeted the results of a recent study that indicated “…no difference in increased fitness with swimming 50's vs. swimming 100's.” In this study, twenty-four swimmers were equally divided into a short-interval training group that performed eight weeks of workouts that consisted of 12-16 × 50m with 15 seconds rest or a long-interval training group that performed 6-8 × 100m with 30 seconds rest, and finally, a control group. The researchers then measured predictors of aerobic performance such as lactic acid threshold and heart rate recovery, and also measured overall swim performance.

It turns out that, after eight weeks of training. the short-interval (50m) and long-interval (100m) protocols conferred very similar improvements in swimming performance and aerobic adaptations. Problem is, once you match the workouts for distance and time, they’re actually pretty similar. At first glance, there really isn’t much of a time-hacking exercise takeaway, but rather just an indication that doing short, hard repeats is just as effective as doing slightly longer repeats.

However, when training for an Ironman triathlon for nearly a decade, I would quite often forego the traditional 45-60 minute long, grinding, continuous swim workouts and would instead get in and out of the water fast, performing 20-30 minute workouts that consisted of short and explosive 50 and 100 meter repeats. And yes, I was still very competitive in the 2.4 mile Ironman swim distance, typically completing it in 54-59 minutes.

How can this be? As I explain in great detail in my book Beyond Training, the amazing thing about the human body is that it has two different pathways to trigger mitochondrial and cardiovascular fitness adaptions: a pathway that responds well to long and slow workouts and a pathway that responds best to short and explosive workouts.

In other ways, there’s two ways to build fitness: LISS (low intensity steady state exercise) or HIIT (high intensity interval training). So in addition to doing short, frequent swims instead of long, slow, time-sucking swims, what are some other time hacking fitness tips? Here are six more:

Time Hack 1: Tabatas

Tabata sets, which are appropriately named after a researcher named Dr. Izumi Tabata, involve four minutes of very intense exercise. During those four minutes, you alternate between 20 seconds of your maximum effort and 10 seconds of complete rest. 

You can perform a number of exercises with Tabata training— including jump squatspush-ups, sprints, cycling, elliptical—you name it! They key is to go as hard as you can possibly exercise during the 20-seconds-on and then rest for the 10-seconds-off. Tabata training is not only a great way get a better body fast, but it will boost your metabolism and improve both your aerobic and anaerobic (sprint-style) cardiovascular and muscular endurance in a manner very similar to longer training sessions, but in far less time.

In fact, in Dr. Tabata's 1996 study, published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, subjects improved their fitness by 28% after just 6 weeks of training, with 5 days of Tabata sets each week. I’ve also written an article about how even extreme athletes can benefit by including Tabata sets and high intensity interval training into their training routine.

If I’m pressed for time and I only have one workout I can do, it’s a Tabata set that incorpates any of the full body calisthenic exercises I highly in time hack #5 of this article. You can also learn more about Tabatas in my “8 Minute Fat Loss” article.

Time Hack 2: Hurricanes

The majority of treadmill workouts that I see people performing at a health club or gym go something like this: get on treadmill, set treadmill for X amount of time (typically an extremely boring 20-60 minute death-march slog), move on treadmill at steady pace for allotted time.

Frankly, this is a waste of time. Using something called a “Hurricane” approach (which I first discovered in the MMA training book “Warrior Cardio: The Revolutionary Metabolic Training System for Burning Fat, Building Muscle, and Getting Fit”), you can squeeze the equivalent of a 60-90 minute run into just 15-20 minutes on a treadmill, and be highly entertained and “busy’ in the process, making time go by quite fast.

So how do you do a Hurricane?

Simple. Get on a treadmill. Set it for maximum pace and maximum incline (e.g. 10 miles per hour and 10% incline). Get on, begin sprinting and hang on for dear life possible for 30 seconds (don’t literally hang on – stay off the treadmill railing/handles!).

Hop off the treadmill and do two back-to-back exercises, such as push-ups and mountain climbers, or squats and kettlebell swings. Get back on the treadmill for another bout. Do 8-10 repeats.

You’ll feel as though you’ve just finished slogging for hours on the treadmill, and burn many, many calories for a long time after the workout (in exercise research, this phenomenon is termed excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC).


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