Squeeze in activity throughout the day with these creative body-strengthening mini-workouts.
There’s no doubt that many of us pull crazy hours at work and home, with workdays that start early, end late, and call for packing in family time and other priorities around the edges. And workouts often get short shrift. But getting and staying fit requires a lot less time than most people think. Do you have 20 minutes? Ten minutes? Two minutes? If so, you can make strides in your fitness.
“It’s so important to keep moving throughout the day because our bodies are meant to move,” says David Freeman, NASM-PES, OPEX CCP, national manager of Alpha Training at Life Time in Chanhassen, Minn. “When we were kids, movement was life. As adults, we can set up times for ‘recess’ and play, just like we had in school.”
Over the course of a single month, nudging even a few five- to 15-minute sessions into each day can make a huge difference in your energy, mood, and fitness. The secret lies in using every opportunity to move, stretch, and strengthen.
What follows is an entire day of movement, starting from the moment you hit the alarm until the time you hit the sack. Pick and choose among the suggestions to create a plan that works for you.
First Thing in the Morning
Mornings may be the best time for you to fit in a heart-pumping, body-strengthening workout. Many people initially resist the idea of exercising at this time of day, but “if you are able to get your workout in at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m.,” says Freeman, “you will be ahead of the game.”
Start with a few moments of deep breathing or meditation to prepare your body for action. Next, focus on multijoint strength-training movements like those below to engage your entire body and raise your heart rate in under 10 minutes. Start with slow, controlled reps, gradually building to a quicker pace. For maximum effect in minimum time, complete your last few reps by holding each exercise at its most difficult point for 15 to 20 seconds, or until you simply can’t hold it any longer.
“Your workouts don’t need to be lengthy to see, and feel, results,” says Jennifer Blake, NASM-CPT, RKC-II, a personal trainer and powerlifting coach at Life Time in Minneapolis.
Lunge: Step forward with your right foot, bending both knees until they’re at 90-degree angles. Push off your front foot to return to the start position. Repeat for one minute, alternating the lunging foot.
Pushup: Get on the floor in a plank position, with your knees either on the floor (easier) or off (harder). Lower your chest until it’s about 4 inches from the floor, then press back up. Do as many as you can in one minute with good form.
Yoga boat pose: Sitting on the floor, balance your body weight on your sit bones as you lift your feet off the floor. Keep knees bent with shins parallel to the floor. Extend your arms parallel to your shins. Hold for up to one minute.
Triceps dip: Sit on the edge of a chair. Place your palms on the chair with hands partially underneath your thighs and fingers pointing toward your knees. Lift your butt off the chair, then shift it forward, supporting your weight with your hands. Extend your feet away from you to make this move harder; keep them closer to your body to make it easier. Lower your butt toward the floor by bending your elbows until they reach a 90-degree angle. Press back up until the arms are fully extended. Repeat for one minute.
Plank and side plank: Get on the floor in a plank position on your forearms, with elbows directly under shoulders and legs extended. Hold one minute. Then move directly into a side plank. Rotate your body sideways, balancing on your forearm and the edge of your bottom foot. Raise your opposite hand toward the ceiling. Move back into a regular plank, then transition into a side plank on the other side. Continue alternating between these positions for one minute.
Wall sit: Stand with your back against a wall. Walk your feet forward and slide your back down the wall, bending your knees up to 90 degrees. Hold for one minute and then move on to the next exercise.
Reverse plank: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and palms on the floor just behind your buttocks. Press into your hands as you lift your hips so your body is straight, and squeeze your glutes together. Lower and repeat for one minute.
At the Office
The longer your workdays, the more crucial it becomes that you squeeze in breaks for movement. The value of little movements adds up fast: You can build fitness while keeping your energy high, your mood positive, and your focus strong.
Not sure how to make those breaks happen? Start by avoiding the elevator whenever possible. Don’t sit when you can stand or pace, and don’t call or email when you can walk to a colleague’s office.
Additionally, consider adopting an intermittent strength-training routine that you can perform over the course of the day, turning out a series of distinct body-weight exercises whenever you have a one- or two-minute break. Or, schedule two 10-minute activity breaks into your day, taking advantage of those low-energy moments when you tend to get distracted and lose steam (or feel tempted to hit the vending machines).
Try this 10-minute routine that builds strength without producing too much sweat. Some of the moves require a resistance band, which is a relatively inexpensive and portable piece of equipment for the office.
Chair pose: Stand with your feet 6 inches apart. Bend your knees slightly and push your rear backward, as if you were sitting back into a chair. Lift your arms as high as possible. Keep your body weight over your heels. Hold for 30 seconds.
Bridge: Lying on your back, place your arms at your sides next to your torso, palms down. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Lift your hips as high as possible. Hold for 15 seconds. Release and repeat four times.
Plank: Lie on your stomach. Place your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms on the floor. Lift your body off the ground so you are balanced on the balls of your feet and forearms. Hold 30 seconds. Lower and repeat one time.
Back extension: Lie on your stomach with your arms by your sides. Squeeze your legs together as you lift your head, upper back, and arms. Keep your feet on the floor. Lower and repeat 15 times, holding the last repetition for 15 seconds.
High lunge: Stand and step forward into a lunge, sinking down until your forward thigh is parallel to the floor. Raise your arms overhead. Reach back through your rear heel and forward through your front knee. Hold 30 seconds.
Negative pushup: Starting from a high plank position with hands directly under your shoulders, slowly lower your body toward the floor. Try to take 15 seconds to reach the floor.
Squat: Stand on a resistance band, holding one end in each hand. Bend your elbows and lift your hands to shoulder height while squatting until knees are bent 90 degrees. Rise and repeat.
Chest press: Lie on your back on a resistance band and bend your knees. Get a good grip on the band with each hand. Starting with your elbows bent, press your hands upward until your arms are extended. Lower and repeat several times.
Seated row: Sit on a chair with your legs extended and heels on the floor. Place a resistance band under your feet, holding an end in each hand. Pull your elbows back as if you were rowing a boat, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Release and repeat several times.
Lateral raise: Stand with your feet on the middle of a resistance band. Grasp an end of the band in each hand, placing your arms at your sides. Raise your arms outward to shoulder height. Slowly lower and repeat several times.
Triceps extension: Hold one end of a resistance band with your right hand and raise that arm overhead. With your left hand, grab the other end of the band behind your back, near your waist. Extend your right arm, then lower. Repeat several times with each arm.
Overhead press: Stand with your feet on a resistance band and grasp a handle in each hand. With hands at shoulder height, press your arms upward, extending them overhead. Slowly lower and repeat.
Granted, some days are too hectic to find even five minutes to spare. Take advantage of the busyness and make the most of in-between moments at the office with these ideas.
While on the phone:
- Use a hands-free headset so you can stand and move around as you talk.
- Step up and down on a stair or step stool.
- Do a wall sit.
- Stretch in your office doorway. Place your hands on the frame at shoulder height. Lean through the doorway to stretch the front of your shoulders. Hold 20 seconds. This stretches your chest and shoulders, both of which tend to tighten up from lots of sitting.
At the copier:
- Do shoulder-blade pulls. These will strengthen your upper back and combat the forward slump that comes from working at a desk. Straighten your back with your head up, inhale, and pull your shoulder blades together, holding for a count of five.
- Release and exhale, and repeat 12 times. Do three or four sets.
- Practice optimal posture. Stand as straight as you can, lift your head, drop your shoulders downward, and pull your bellybutton in toward your spine.
- Breathing deeply, maintain this at-attention posture until your copy job is complete.
- Do single-leg calf raises. Place your hands on the copier for balance. Lift one foot off the floor. Rise onto the ball of your standing foot. Hold for a count of five. Lower and repeat 15 times. Then switch legs.
During a meeting:
- While seated, focus on drawing in the deep abdominals as if you were zipping into tight pants. This strengthens the transverse abdominis, an important muscle that helps support your back and reduces your vulnerability to backaches.
- Stretch your forearms. This helps counteract the tightness that comes from typing and moving a mouse. Hold your right arm in front of you, your hand flexed upright. Use your left hand to gently pull back on your fingertips. Hold for 30 seconds. Release and repeat, this time with your fingers facing down to stretch the top of your forearm. Then repeat with the other arm.
While working at your desk:
- Place a medium-size ball (roughly the size of a kid’s soccer ball) between your knees and squeeze. Hold five to seven seconds, release slightly (without dropping the ball), and repeat until your inner-thigh muscles are fatigued.
- Sit tall, bringing your bellybutton toward your spine. This will strengthen your abdominal muscles, which will help you sit with proper posture. Try to sit this way all day long.
- Pull your shoulders back and down. This will strengthen your upper back, counteracting that forward slump — and resulting headache and neck tension — that’s so common when working at a computer. Hold for a count of five, release, and repeat 10 times.
- Grab one knee, pull it to your chest, and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with the other knee. This will help release tension in your lower back.
- Stretch your neck, which can get tight if you allow it to jut forward as you work at your computer. Bring your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds, then repeat on the left. Rotate side to side, too. Finish by resting your head on the back of your office chair for 20 seconds to stretch the front of your neck.
- Explore the benefits of yoga while at your desk with these three seated poses.
End of the Day
As soon as you get home, drop your briefcase or bag by the door and get active. Head out for a quick walk with the dog, either on your own or with your roommate, your partner, or a friend. Put on some music and dance while you do housework or prepare dinner. Go for a relaxing bike ride around your neighborhood or play a game of catch with your kid.
Or drop to the floor and stretch to send the stress of the workday packing. Here are two suggestions.
Cat-cow: On all fours, inhale, and on your exhale round your back upward, reaching your midback toward the ceiling for cat pose. On your next inhale, slowly arch your spine, lowering your belly and lifting your tailbone, shoulders, and head. Look up slightly, creating a stretch in your neck for cow pose. Repeat, synchronizing breath with movement.
Seated hip stretch: Sit cross-legged, your right shin in front of your left. Bend forward from the hips until you feel a stretch in your right buttocks. Hold for a count of 20. Release, switch legs, and repeat.
While we may feel stretched for time and distracted by the busyness of work and everyday living, working movement into our daily routines can actually help us feel more grounded,” says Blake.
Don’t worry about what your coworkers will think, and don’t buy into the idea that you’re too busy: Finding ways to work fitness in around the edges is as beneficial for your productivity as it is for your well-being. On the days you can manage to hit the gym, you may not need all these bite-size fitness breaks. But when making space for a full-size serving of fitness is all but impossible, these mini workouts are your body’s best defense and your schedule’s best friend.
“The trick is to create habits that you would hate saying no to, so you don’t,” says Blake. “And then a year later, when you look back on how far you’ve come, and hopefully how much fun you’ve had, you can’t imagine life any other way.”