When you've only got 30 minutes to train, you've might think you’ve got two choices -- grind away on the stepper for half an hour or skip the gym altogether. After all, what good is 30 minutes? Stop right there. A third option exists that burns more fat than steady-state cardio, builds lean muscle and strength, and sends your metabolism through the roof: the 30-minute, full-body weightlifting workout.
Contrary to popular belief, weight training doesn't just build slabs of muscle -- it also burns calories, increases your metabolic rate, strengthens bones and joints and prevents injury. Half an hour of weight training can burn up to 266 calories for a 185-pound person, according to Harvard Health Publications. Full-body workouts elevate the positive effect on your metabolism too. The more muscle groups you work and the more demanding your workout, the more calories you burn. Forget split workouts -- performing 23 different types of biceps curl might give you great guns, but it'll do nothing for the rest of your body.
If the more muscles you work in a session means more calories burned, the same goes for individual exercises too. Take two examples -- a leg extension and a squat. Both mainly focus on your quadriceps. The difference is that squats also hit your hamstrings, glutes, calves, lower back and core stabilizers. They're much harder work and burn loads more calories. Hitting so many muscle groups at once also means you can do fewer exercises and must put increased effort into every set. The key is to get bang for your buck on every exercise. Base your workout around squat and deadlift variations, lunges, pull-downs, dumbbell presses and rows, and body-weight exercises such as chin-ups, dips and pushups.
Sets and Reps
This is where many people get confused. Are light weights for high reps better, or heavy weights for less reps? In reality, it doesn't matter all that much. The crucial aspect is that you're working hard, be that on five sets of three or two sets of 20. As you've only got 30 minutes, a good place to start is three sets of eight to 12 reps on four different exercises -- two lower body and two upper body. Aim to increase the weight or reps every workout and add in an extra exercise if you have time left over.
You may be asking, “What about cardio?” Don't worry -- a fast-paced full-body workout works well for cardio conditioning, especially if you don't rest too long between sets, or superset, where you perform one exercise immediately followed by another. If you're still concerned though, give metabolic circuits a go, advises strength coach Jen Comas. Pick five exercises that hit your whole body and perform each for 20 to 30 seconds with no rest in between. Rest for one to two minutes and repeat a further two or three times. You should be able to get two circuits like this done in half an hour.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.