How to Exercise If You’re Short on Time and/or Motivation

In a past post I gave you the good news that we don’t lose muscle mass very easily; before the age of 50 you can take a break from resistance training and not experience huge losses in strength (read more about that here). Unfortunately, taking an extended break from aerobic training WILL result in major declines to your aerobic fitness. In Exercise Science this is known as the detraining effect or the principle of reversibility – basically just a fancy way of saying “use it or lose it.”

The rate of decline in aerobic capacity (VO2max) from detraining varies from person to person. Some research has shown that just after training to improve VO2max, onedetraining can lose up to half of those gains in just three weeks of being sedentary. However, others may not decline as rapidly.

So what do you do if you’re short on time and/or motivation but really don’t want your aerobic fitness to go down the drain? The key is to just do something.

People make the most rapid gains in fitness when they first begin an exercise program. That is because the body is trained to adapt at the greatest rate when the stimulus (the exercise) is new and unfamiliar. This applies to an entire training program but also to each individual workout.

See, over time, even if we’re just talking about an hour, the stimulus loses its potency. So if you were to do three sets of a particular exercise (and each set is the same intensity), the greatest gains are actually occurring in the first set. Therefore, doing something is MUCH better than doing nothing – in fact, that’s where the rate of gain is at its highest.

Many people do not know that even just 10 minute bouts of exercise can improve/maintain your aerobic fitness. It may not seem like much, but it’s FAR better than doing nothing. Also, keep in mind that as the intensity of exercise becomes higher, the duration can become shorter, since the rate of improvement increases with exercise intensity. Therefore, even a few one-minute high intensity intervals in between short rest periods can be very beneficial.

While many firefighters are granted a workout hour on-duty, these can be interrupted. But even if a call comes in when you’ve only been exercising for 10 minutes, those minutes still count, so that’s no excuse to skip the workout altogether. You can also strategize by making your on-duty workouts short and intense, therefore getting the same benefit of a long, lower intensity workout, while reducing the chance that you’ll be interrupted.

What’s your take on this subject? Have you tried doing 10 minute bouts at a time or high intensity intervals? Let me know in the comments below.

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By | 2018-06-01T06:15:35+00:00 January 14th, 2015|Uncategorized|6 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Karlie Moore has a PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and specializes in firefighter health. She has conducted fitness testing on hundreds of firefighters and has created the most comprehensive online wellness program for fire departments called the FitCulture program. Dr. Moore is also married to a firefighter and so understands their lifestyle and the health challenges associated with it.


  1. bob May 15, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    as a result of an inflamed achilles i had to stop long distance running. my choices to replace running were swimming, cycling, or walking. in the northwest all 3 have limits. i happen to come across an article on tabata workouts and have found them intense, limitless, and after 4 years easy on my healed achilles.
    16 minutes 3-4 X a week along with lifting- good bye 40-90 min runs!

    • Karlie May 15, 2013 at 4:54 pm

      Hey Bob, thanks for letting us know about tabata, I’m excited to look into that. When it comes to improving your aerobic capacity, the key is to get your heart rate up; as long as that element is there, you can do any workout style that keeps you interested (and doesn’t cause overuse injuries)!

  2. Trevor Riant May 15, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    My station a 1 hour PT session is mandatory, we also have a PTI on each Watch together with annual fitness assessments using the BMI scale together with a VO2max test via the shuttle run/bleep test method on the 20 metre scale.
    As I approach 50 (August this year) I find it harder to get motivated & reach my fitness target for my assessment, I prefer the circuit training format with all the crew joining in as apposed the the gym as I get bored. My role is mainly desk bound as the station manager but I am operational & ride out on emergency incidents. I take onboard your comments with interest.

    • Karlie May 15, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      Hey Trevor, circuit training is very popular and I definitely recommend it for improving/maintaining overall fitness. Typically a person’s heart rate stays high through each “station” so it functions well as a cardiovascular, interval style workout. Keep it up!

  3. Jon May 15, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    I enjoy variety, and find that both the higher intensity short duration, and the moderate intensity long duration have a place in my weekly activities. I definitely find it important to complete a general warm up and dynamic stretching prior to any workout, but especially prior to a higher intensity workout. Otherwise I find myself being sidelined for several days with minor injuries. Whatever type and intensity of exercise is chosen consistency is key. I definitely agree that even if the morning PT is interrupted by a call, getting in even 10 minutes beats making excuses and sitting around. Great article!

    • Karlie May 15, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks Jon 🙂

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