Thursday, 26 November 2009

The joy of short workouts

Getting your daily exercise quota in can sometimes be difficult – life just gets in the way! Maybe it’s work, or family commitments, commuting or availability of nearby facilities because you are on the road. Regardless, some days it can feel like there is a conspiracy to stop you maintaining your healthy lifestyle! If time is short, it’s all too easy to cut exercise completely from your daily schedule but if you have just a few minutes free, it’s possible to get an effective workout “on the go” which won’t take up too much time but will still be beneficial.

Many exercisers fail to see the benefit of shorter workouts but I believe this has a lot to do with the fact that historically, most people’s workouts usually come in at a fixed duration such as 45 minutes or 60 minutes. In addition to the time spent exercising, we also have to get to and from the gym, get changed into workout clothes, pass pleasantries with fellow exercisers, shower after exercise, change back our regular clothes and then get ourselves home. That 60 minute workout could end up using 2 or more hours of valuable time! It’s no wonder that sometimes it’s just not possible to fit in a workout if time becomes short.

Luckily, there is a solution – the periodic inclusion of mini-workouts that can be performed anywhere from the home to the office which use a minimum of gym equipment and take a maximum of 30 minutes from start to finish. Now I’m not suggesting you forgo your regular gym visits in favour of these mini-workouts but when it comes to beating the time crunch any exercise is better than none. You can view these workouts as “break out in case of time emergency” sessions to use when you can’t stick to your normal routine.

Make sure you spend a few minutes warming and before and cooling down after any exercise session.

1) The out and back
This cardio workout will get your heart racing, your blood pumping and burn plenty of calories whilst requiring nothing more than a stopwatch and your regular exercise clothing. Simply head out the door (either walking, jogging, running or cycling) at a steady and comfortable pace (preferably on a flat road/pavement) and continue for 10 minutes and then try to make it back to the start faster than you went out. This first 10 minutes should be graduated (i.e. start easy and build up progressively) and constitutes your warm up. After the turnaround and as you get closer to home, really begin to push the pace so that you race to see how quickly you can complete the return journey. On completion, spend a couple of minutes walking slowly before performing a few stretches for the lower body and you’re done. Adjust the timings of this workout to suit your individual fitness levels e.g. 5 minutes out instead of 10 etc.

2) Alternating sets of squats and press ups for 10 minutes
A great little workout that will keep the major muscles of the body ticking over nicely until you make it to the gym again. All you need is bit of floor space and a stopwatch or a clock with a second hand. When you feel ready start your stopwatch and perform a set of bodyweight squats. At the begging of the second minute perform a set of press ups. For the third minute perform another set of squats and so on. Continue alternating sets of press ups and squats until you have done 5 sets of each and 10 minutes have elapsed. In terms of reps, you have a couple of options...perform as many reps as possible in each minute or choose a number of reps you are comfortable with for each minute and stick to that for the duration of the workout. When I do this particular session I do 20 press ups and 30 squats but you should modify it to suit your individual needs.

3) The Spartan Circuit
I found this workout over on and have modified it slightly to suit my own exercise preferences. It’s a great 20 minute workout which really “does it all” in terms of cardiovascular benefits and whole body muscular endurance. All you need is a programmable timer or view of a clock with a second hand, a skipping rope, a mat and a strong exercise band although this is not essential. Appropriate footwear is also a good idea because of the impact associated with skipping...

2 minutes skipping (easy to warm up)
1 minute lunges
2 minutes skipping
1 minute of ab crunches
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of press ups
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of squats
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of rubber band rows
2 minutes of skipping
1 minute of prone back extensions
2 minutes of skipping (easy to cool down)

(Perform as many reps as possible in the 1 minute time blocks but make sure you work within your own fitness limits resting when necessary)

The exercises are interchangeable so feel free to slot in your favourites so long as they are adhere to the legs/upper body/core format described above. If you haven’t got a rubber exercise band available you could use a light weight (e.g. a medicine ball or even a bag packed with books) and perform bent over or upright rows instead. Not a proficient skipper? No worries – just substitute the skipping with step ups, jogging on the spot, shadow boxing or your favourite aerobic move from your exercise class...the workout will be just as effective.

4) The 3 exercise whole body workout
Inspired by the following sessions are simple but very effective. You will need something to do pull ups or body rows from. If you can’t find anywhere suitable then its okay to perform bent over rows with whatever weight you can find e.g. a sand bag, filled sports bag or even a small child! Our three exercises can be arranged in a number of different but equally effective ways to get a whole body workout from just 3 exercises...

a) 5 pull ups/10 press ups/15 squats – perform as many laps as possible in e.g. 20 minutes

b) 10 pull ups/20 press ups/30 squats – perform 1 lap every 3rd minute for 15 minutes

c) 50 pull ups/100 press ups/150 squats – just chip away at the reps until they are all complete trying to perform the whole workout in as little time as possible

d) 5 pull ups/10 press ups/15 squats/20 double unders (double turns of the skipping rope)/skip to next 2 minute point and repeat for 10 sets/20 minutes

e) Perform 3 minute rounds of 5 pull ups/10 press ups/15 squats doing as many laps as possible in the allotted time before resting for 1 minute and repeating for 4 – 5 rounds

As you can see, lots of variation even though only 3 exercises (or 4 if you use the skipping variant) which works every muscle in the body either directly or indirectly. The reps can be adjusted up or down depending on current fitness levels, as can the number of sets/duration of the sessions. Simple and effective!

5) Burpees!
The burpee is one of the classic whole body exercises which are hard to beat when it comes to whole body conditioning. Combining a squat with a press up means the majority of the body’s main muscles get a great workout and also there is a large cardiovascular demand. There are numerous ways of making use of the common burpee and getting a very challenging workout in minimal time. For info on how to perform a burpee check this link...

a) The 20-1 Burpee Challenge
This is a classic! Perform 20 burpees and then rest a few seconds before performing 19 burpees, rest again, 18 burpees, rest, and 17 and so on down to 1. The rests are intuitive but should only be as long as is necessary – the aim is to compete the challenge as fast as possible. 20-1 too much of a challenge? Try 15-1, 12-1 or 10-1.

b) Timed Burpees
Set your countdown timer for e.g. 10 minutes and perform as many burpees as possible in the time. The aim is to do more reps each time this session is repeated!

c) Repetition Burpees
Set yourself a repetition goal e.g. 100 burpees. Perform the 100 reps as fast as possible. The aim is to do the 100 reps faster each time this workout is performed.

d) The Burpee Pyramid Workout
Start your stopwatch and without any rest between exercises, perform the following...5 burpees/10 press ups/15 squats/20 hill climbers or double unders. Repeat for 5+ sets beginning each set every 2 minutes. The faster you work the longer you get to rest...

e) Burpee drop sets
Perform 5-10 full burpees (press up and jump)Perform 5 -10 burpees (no press up but still jumping)Perform 5-1 burpees (no press up or jump)Rest 30–90 seconds and repeatAdjust the rep count and number of sets according to your individual fitness level. For “fun” you could also work your way back up the sequence for a real challenge!

f) 10 burpees, 10 reps, 10 sets, 10 minutes!

Do a set of 10 burpees every minute for 10 minutes – simple! Adjust the rep range according to you own fitness levels.

There you have it - lots of short, sharp and effective workouts to help the time-crunched exerciser get their training done even when there aren’t enough hours in the day. So, no more excuses for missing workouts (sorry about that) and like Nike says “Just do it!”

Belly Busting Bonus!

All of the above workouts will use the muscles of the core, albeit indirectly. If you want to add some core workout at the end of one of the mini-workouts try the following sequence...

Side plank (left) – 30 seconds
*Front “Cossack” plank – 30 secondsSide plank (right) – 30 seconds
**Supine hip bridge – 30 seconds
Rest 30 seconds and repeat 1-2 more times (increase or decrease the durations as appropriate)

Side plank

*Front “Cossack” plank – in the press up position, brace your abs and spread your feet to give a good base of support. From this position alternately slowly lift one hand off the floor and touch your opposite shoulder. You should feel a shift of weight through the core muscles as they attempt to stop you rotating. Avoid holding your breath and make sure your spine remains in a neutral position – no sagging or rounding allowed!

**Lie on your back as if you were going to perform abdominal crunches. Pull your feet in close to your buttocks and keep them flat on the floor. From this position drive down through the heels and push your hips up towards the ceiling using your hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles – make sure you don’t use your hands! Perform either for reps or as a timed static hold.


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