Kudos if you manage to set aside any time for the gym between work and life’s daily duties. If you’re struggling to find an open hour in your schedule, we have some good news. It’s very much possible to get an effective workout in half an hour or less if you use the right methods to plan a workout routine ahead of time. If that sounds like too much work, read through this article to get some ideas about what methods and exercises you can use to build a 30-minute workout that has both cardio and strength training and can help you meet your fitness goals. 

The most important thing you have to do to make sure you can make the most of a half-hour gym visit is to plan ahead, and that means knowing plenty of exercises. So that you don’t get bored or overexert your muscles, make sure you know a wide variety of workouts you can do.

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Here’s what we’re about to cover:

  • Elements of an Effective Workout
  • What is HIIT?
  • 7 Best Exercises for a 30 Minute Workout
  • How to Develop the Best 30-Minute Exercise Routine

Elements of an Effective Workout Plan

Whatever your personal fitness goals might be, there are parts of an exercise routine that can’t be left out for the long-term health of your body. Don’t behave frantically to try and fit in tons of different stretches and exercises. It will be much nicer and give you a better workout if you formulate a plan and stick to it. That plan should have the following elements.

A good warmup is key to preparing for a successful workout.

The Warm-Up

Many people make the error of skipping the warm-up when they only have a half-hour to spend at the gym. This can lead to problems, especially if you aren’t very active during the rest of the day. If you only have thirty minutes at the gym and you use that time to injure yourself during a workout because you didn’t take the time to warm up first, you’re going to feel pretty dumb. But keep in mind that the warm-up doesn’t have to take 15 minutes by any means. You can warm up in 5 minutes or less with a few stretches. 

Some fitness professionals even argue that you can warm up well in advance, from when you wake up to walking or taking a quick run to get to the gym in the first place. In fact, you can try our 10-minute stretching routine for a well-rounded warm-up. 

Workouts for Multiple Muscle Groups

After your warm-up, you’ll want to focus the majority of your half-hour on exercises that engage more than one muscle group. Since you don’t have much time, you’re better off aiming for a full-body workout. If you consistently only have 30 minutes a day to work out, then you could possibly consider doing lower body one day and upper body another, but you’ll see the best results if you just stick with exercises that work out your entire body. 

We’ll tell you more about the best exercises to add to your 30-minute workout routine later on, but some common exercises are push-ups, squats, lunges, and burpees. Some of these exercises already have a plyometric element built-in, but there are some variations of each exercise that will add some explosive movement for more fat loss. 

Rest Time

High-intensity interval training reduces the amount of time you spend resting to maximize that half-hour, but if you are just starting out and have been more sedentary in your lifestyle up to now, you should not aim to spend the whole half-hour in constant intense physical activity. You could injure yourself or burn out, and in either case, you won’t get the workout you need to see health benefits and achieve your fitness goals. 

If you can handle HIIT, you can reduce rest time to as little as 10 seconds. Some people also like to fill their rest time with exercises that keep their heart rate up like burpees, jumping jacks, jump rope, or high knees. 

The Cool Down

It’s also important not to do high-intensity exercises right up until the minute you have to leave the gym. You’ll appreciate taking the time to cool down when you have to return to the regular world and can do so not covered in sweat and breathing hard. The cool down shouldn’t be exercises to keep the heart rate up. Instead, you can try walking slowly on a treadmill for 5 minutes. Just make sure you’re doing some kind of movement. The worst thing you can do is go from an intense full-body workout to sitting down or standing completely still. That’s a recipe for sore muscles the next day.

What is HIIT?

We’ve already mentioned high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, a couple of times in this article, but it will probably help you plan your workout routine if we take the time to explain the theory behind it and why it works. 

The general idea behind HIIT is that a more intense workout will build muscle and be a greater calorie burn, even if it takes up less time than a less intense exercise. It’s the perfect method to use if you only have a half-hour per day to reach your fitness goals. HIIT exercises burn more fat in less time and keep your heart rate up throughout the duration of your exercise. 

HIIT is convenient because it doesn’t require equipment like treadmills. It also causes your body to demand more oxygen in the cool down phase, which is why it’s such an amazing calorie burn. Furthermore, HIIT exercises increase your body’s materialism even after you’ve left the gym, possibly for as much as 24 hours. 

Overall, if you want the most effective workout possible in a half-hour, HIIT is the best way to get it. But you do have to get used to doing them and HIIT exercises should not be done more than three times a week. Make sure you give your body time to rest and recover after these intense full-body workouts.

Helpful Hint: If you’re pressed for time, try our 7-Minute Bodyweight Express Fitplan!

7 Best Exercises for a 30-Minute Workout

When you’re formulating your workout routine, you can use a few of the following exercises to keep your heart rate up, get a full-body workout, and get a killer workout in less time. We’ve also left some basic instructions for each exercise to make sure you execute them with the proper form. 

1. Jumping Jacks

Jumping jacks work your glutes, quads, and hip flexors. This plyometric exercise is great for a warm-up or to make rest periods more active. Many people have heard of jumping jacks but that’s no guarantee that they’re doing them with the proper form. Here’s how it should be done:

Starting Position: Hands at your sides, legs straight and feet together.

Step 1: Jump and spread your feet. They should go out further than your hips. Simultaneously, your arms should go up above your head so that they almost touch. 

Step 2: Return to the starting position by lowering your arms and bringing your feet back together. This will require a second jump.

Jumping jacks are a great way to keep your heart rate up. They aren’t going to give you a huge calorie burn on their own, but they are simple enough and active enough to make your whole 30-minute workout more advantageous. 

2. Squats

Squats are a great lower-body exercise that works out the quads, glutes and other leg muscles. If you know the right variation, you can even get an upper-body workout at the same time. Just like jumping jacks, squats are great for a warm-up or to make your rest time more active. You can even use them during your cool-down period if the treadmill is taken. Follow these steps to do squats with the proper form:

Starting Position: Feet shoulder-width apart and pointed slightly outward. For balance, you can keep your hands straight out at chest level. You can also put them behind your head. 

Step 1: Without bending your spine, lower yourself as if you’re going to sit down by bending your knees and sticking your butt out. Your knees should stay over your heels, don’t let them go outward toward your toes! 

Step 2: Continue the squat until you can’t get down any lower. 

Step 3: Return to the starting position by pushing up through your heels. That’s one rep.

Squats are one of those exercises that form the basis of many more complicated exercises, which is why it’s so important to do them with the proper form. When you get used to doing squats, you can add a bicep curl or similar upper-body exercise to make it more challenging and get a full-body workout. 

3. Push-Ups

Moreso even than squats, push-ups are a foundational exercise and getting the proper form down will allow you to do countless variations and prepare you for planking and the multitude of exercises that are based on the plank and push-ups. Here’s how to do a push-up with perfect form:

Starting Position: Facing the floor, your hands should be flat on the ground, level with your chest, and your arms completely straight. Your toes should be on the ground supporting the weight of your legs. 

Step 1: Lower yourself by bending at the elbows only. They should extend to about a 45° angle. Don’t let your stomach touch the ground.

Step 2: Slowly return to the starting position by pushing up through your palms, reversing the movement of your elbows until they are straight.

Push-Ups are a great way to work out muscles in your chest, such as your pectorals. They also help build muscle and strength in your shoulders. You can add some plyometric explosiveness by pushing up hard enough to make your upper body go airborne. Some people clap in that period when their palms are off the ground. 

Helpful Hint: For more variation in your 30-minute workout, try our Fit in 15 Fitplan!

4. Burpees

The bane of many people’s workout routines, burpees nonetheless have tons of benefits. They combine planks, squats, jumping, and push-ups, but burpees provide a full-body workout that standard push-ups don’t, plus they’re great cardio. Here’s how you can do burpees with the proper form:

Starting Position: Begin in the same starting position as you would do perform a squat. 

Step 1: Send your butt backward until you’re doing a half-squat, then push through your heels to explode up into a jump.

Step 2: After you land softly, place your hands directly on the ground next to each other with your elbows near your inner thigh by the knee. You should be in a frog-like stance. Make sure your chest stays up and your back stays straight.

Step 3: Jump backward with your feet, sending them back so that you’re in the standard push-up starting position. 

Step 4: Do one push-up, then jump with your feet, sending them forward and back into that frog-like stance from step 2. From there, return to the starting position. That’s one rep.

It may seem like a complicated exercise, but once you get the hang of burpees they become a simple exercise. They’ll take your breath away, though.

5. Squat to Overhead Press

This is a great way to make a standard squat into an exercise for a full-body workout. You’re going to need a pair of small dumbbells to complete this exercise. Here are the steps:

Starting Position: While standing with feet about shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your hands facing each other. 

Step 1: Push backward to complete a squat. 

Step 2: When you’re rising back to the starting position, move the dumbbells above your head until your arms are fully extended. 

Step 3: Bring the weights back down to your shoulders to complete one rep.

6. Lunges

The forward lunge is a great exercise with many variations. Just like the overhead press turned the squat into a full-body workout, you can add dumbbells or medicine balls to your lunges to accomplish the same goal. You can also do horizontal or reverse lunges to let your body practice more unique movements. Here’s how to do the lunge:

Starting Position: Standing up with your feet hip-width apart, engage your core muscles. 

Step 1: With your right foot, take a step about 1.5 times longer than your normal stride. The further the better, but don’t overdo it.

Step 2: Shift your weight forward and lower your body until you’re as low as you can get. For most people, your knee shouldn’t go further out than your toes. 

Step 3: Press through the right heel to return to the starting position. 

Remember that lunges are lateral, so you need to repeat your lunge reps on the opposite side of your body as well. 

Helpful Hint: For a great 30-minute workout that includes HIIT exercises, take a look at our Bodyweight Burner Fitplan!

7. Jackknife

For working out your abs, there’s hardly a better exercise than the jackknife. It’s pretty easy to do and it’s a great variation on the standard sit-up. Here’s how you can do it with the proper form:

Starting Position: Lie on your back with your arms and legs fully extended. 

Step 1: Exhale and raise both your arms and legs, bring them together. This should engage your abs. Your head should come up off the floor as well. 

Step 2: When you’re at about a 34 – 45° angle, hold the position for a few seconds. Inhale as you return to the starting position.

Exercises like the jackknife are great for a warm-up or as part of the cool-down. They’ll help improve your core muscles and also your overall stability. 

How to Develop the Best 30-Minute Exercise Routine

Divide up your half-hour into the essential elements discussed at the top of this article. Your warm-up might include push-ups or it could just be stretching. Once you’ve got 5-6 minutes of warm-up out of the way, get into your regular exercises. 

Many of these exercises can fit into a workout routine because you can do 15 reps or so in less than a minute once you have the proper form mastered. If you’re practicing HIIT exercising, make sure to fill your brief rest periods with exercises that will keep your heart rate up like burpees, squats, or push-ups. 

You can also divide your 30-minute workout into two halves. In the second half, you can work on different exercises than in the first half to make sure you’re really getting a full-body workout. Some people do core exercises like the jackknife in the second half and some people leave it for the cool down. Whichever suits your preference is fine, just make sure you do take the time to cool down. 


It can be difficult to accomplish your fitness goals if you don’t have time for a personal trainer and you don’t have enough time at the gym to use machines meant for resistance training and things like that. However, if you have the right workout routine filled with HIIT exercises and cardio workouts there’s no reason you can’t see great fitness benefits from regular half-hour sessions. 

What’s in your workout plan really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If your goal is weight loss, you’ll want a workout routine that will elevate your heart rate and keep it there for the duration of the workout. The nice thing about a 30-minute workout is that you can hit your exercises at a high intensity, knowing they won’t last an hour or more. If you want to build muscle, consider adding a dumbbell and bicep curls to exercises that don’t already involve your upper body. 

There are plenty of lower-body exercises that will stretch your glutes, hamstrings, and quads that you can fit into a 30-minute workout. You can work out your triceps, biceps, and shoulders with some upper body workouts. If you alternate between the two, you can have a full-body workout in a half-hour or less. 

In addition to the specific exercises you choose, using the right methods will make for the most effective workout. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a great way to minimize rest time to make the most of a half-hour at the gym. When you have plenty of time at the gym, it won’t be a huge problem if someone else takes the machine you want, but if you have less time, it’s smart to plan a workout routine that doesn’t depend on having a treadmill, cable pulley, or leg extension machine to work.

(Note: Want our elite trainers to build your optimal workout? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)  

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