These tough economic times have a lot of us pulling crazy hours at the office. Is it really possible to stay fit when your workday starts early, ends late, and you’re squeezing family time and other priorities in around the edges?
Indeed it is. Getting and staying fit requires a lot less time than most people think. Do you have 20 minutes? Ten minutes? Two minutes? If so, then you can make strides in your fitness.
“Schedule exercise into your day and remind yourself that the break you take will pay you back in terms of increased productivity — even if that break lasts mere minutes,” says Peter Park, CSCS, fitness coach for Livestrong.com and owner of Platinum Fitness in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Over the course of a single month, nudging even a few five- to 15-minute activity sessions into each day can also make a huge difference in your energy, mood and fitness. The secret lies in using every possible opportunity to move, stretch and strengthen.
What follows is an entire day of fitness, starting from the moment you hit the alarm until you hit the sack. Pick and choose among the suggestions to create a fitness plan that works for you.
First Thing in the Morning
Mornings may give you your best shot at fitting in a heart-pumping, body-strengthening workout. “Many of my clients initially resist the idea of working out in the morning because they don’t want to get up any earlier than they already do,” says Tom Venuto, a fitness expert and author of The Body Fat Solution (Avery, 2009). “Once they get used to it, however, they find that morning exercise is a really positive way to start their day.”
Start with a few moments of deep breathing or meditation to prepare your body-mind for action. Next, to engage your entire body and get your heart rate up in under 10 minutes, focus on multijoint strength-training movements like those included in the workout below, designed by Kelli Calabrese, MS, master trainer for Adventure Boot Camp in Flower Mound, Texas. Calabrese suggests starting with slow, controlled reps and 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:
Lunges: Step forward with your right foot, bending both knees until they’re at 90-degree angles. Push forward off your front foot to return to the start position. Repeat for one minute, alternating the lunging foot, then move on to the next exercise without a break.
Pushups: Get on the floor in a plank position, either with your knees on the floor (easier) or off (harder). Lower your chest until it’s 4 inches from the floor, then press back up. Do as many as you can in one minute and then move on to the next exercise without a break.
Triceps dips: Sit on the edge of a chair. Place your palms on the chair so they are partially underneath your thighs with your fingers pointing toward your knees. Supporting yourself with your hands, lift your butt off the chair, then shift it forward, extending your legs as straight as you comfortably can and supporting your weight with your hands. 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 the lower-and-press movement for one minute, then move on to the next exercise.
Wall sit: Stand with your back against a wall. Walk your feet forward as you 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.
Yoga boat pose: Sit on the floor. Balance your body weight on your sit bones as you lift your feet off the floor. Extend your legs and lift your arms until your body forms a V shape. Hold up to one minute.
Plank and side plank: Get on the floor in a plank position, with your legs extended and forearms under your chest. Hold one minute. Then move directly into 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 regular plank then transition into side plank on the other side. Continue alternating among these positions for one minute.
Reverse plank: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place your 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.
Don’t have time for the whole routine? Do a set of pushups, which work the chest, back, arms and core muscles, making them one of the most efficient exercises around.
At the Office
The longer your workdays, the more crucial it becomes that you squeeze in breaks for movement. From a fitness-building perspective, says Venuto, “little movements really add up.” A bonus: They also help keep your energy high, your mood good and your focus strong.
Not sure how to make those breaks happen? Start by avoiding the elevator at all costs. Don’t sit when you can stand or pace, and don’t call or email when you can walk to a colleague’s office instead.
Additionally, consider adopting an intermittent strength-training routine that you can do over the course of the day, turning out a series of different 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 suggested by Park: It builds strength without getting you too sweaty, and can be done all at one time or divided into single-exercise intervals.
Chair pose: This move helps to reverse the forward slump that’s so common with desk sitting. It also works your core, lower and upper back, hamstrings, and glutes. 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 overhead as high as possible. Keep your body weight over your heels. Hold for 30 seconds.
Bridge: Lie on the floor 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 torso off the ground so you are balanced on the balls of your feet and forearms. Hold 30 seconds, lower and repeat one time.
Back extensions: Lie on your stomach with your arms by your sides, legs extended and feet touching. 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.
Warrior pose: 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. Follow up with some other favorite yoga poses.
Negative pushup: Starting from a plank position with your arms extended and palms under your chest, slowly lower your body toward the floor. Try to take 15 seconds to reach the floor.
You’ve only got five minutes? Not to worry. Try this resistance-band workout instead.
Squats: Stand on the middle of the band, holding one end in each hand. Bend your elbows and place your hands at shoulder height. Bend your knees to 90 degrees as you squat. Rise and repeat several times.
Chest press: Lie on your back on the floor on top of the middle of the band and bend your knees. Grasp a handful of the band in each hand. Starting with your elbows bent, press your hands upward until your arms are extended. Lower and repeat several times.
Seated row: Sit with your legs extended. Place the middle of the 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 raises: Stand with your feet on the middle of the 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 extensions: Stand with your feet squarely under your hips. Holding the band with your right hand, raise your right arm overhead and drop the rest of the band behind your back. With your left hand, grab the lower end of the band behind your back, near your waist. Gather up the slack in the band. Extend your right arm, then lower. Repeat several times with each arm.
Overhead press: Stand with your feet on the middle of the band. Grasping part of the band in each hand, press your arms upward, extending them overhead. Slowly lower and repeat.
Biceps curls: Stand with your feet on the middle of the band. Grasp part of the band in each hand. Turn your palms upward and bend your elbows as you bring your hands toward your shoulders. Lower and repeat.
Can’t find even five minutes for fitness during your hectic day? Try a healthy version of multitasking:
While on the phone:
- Use a hands-free headset so you can stand and move around as you talk, suggests Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at the Human Performance Lab at Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala.
- Step up and down on a stair or step stool.
- Do a wall sit.
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 to the 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 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’re zipping into tight pants. This strengthens the transverse abdominus, an important muscle that helps support your back and reduces your vulnerability to backaches.
- Stretch your forearms. This helps to counteract the tightness that comes from typing and mousing. Hold your right arm in front of you, your hand flexed as if you were telling someone to “talk to the hand.” 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 small-to-medium 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 muscles are fatigued.
- Once or twice a day, swap your desk chair for a fitness ball. Build your ball-perching time from 10 minutes to an hour. The ball will force you to sit with proper posture as well as give you a mild core workout as you shift around to stay balanced. You can also use the ball to stretch and strengthen your body. Periodically relax your back over the ball and rest your arms out to the sides to stretch your chest, which gets tight from typing and
- Do chair curls. To strengthen your hamstrings, sit on the edge of a rolling chair. Extend your
legs, but keep your feet flat on the floor. Then slowly bend your legs as you pull the chair in. Roll the chair backward again and repeat 10 to 15 times.
End of the Day
As soon as you get home, drop your briefcase or bag by the door and do something active. Head out for a quick walk with the dog, either on your own or with your family. 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 do some stretches to send the stress of the workday packing. Two suggestions:
Upward facing dog: Lie on your stomach with your legs extended. Place your hands on the floor near your armpits, palms down. Exhale as you press into your hands and lift your head, neck and shoulders as high as is comfortable. Keep your hips anchored on the floor. Hold for a count of 10, release and repeat two times.
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.
So that’s it: If you have time for a little more activity, or for a full-fledged workout, terrific. If not, just make a few moments to meditate, journal, take a bath or otherwise center yourself. Then hit the sack early enough that you’ll wake up with enough energy to do it — and the rest of your new workday fitness routine — tomorrow.
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 you. On the days you can manage to hit the gym, you may not need all these bite-size fitness breaks quite so urgently. But on the days when making space for a full-size serving of fitness is all but impossible, these mini-workouts are both your body’s best defense and your schedule’s best friend.
Alisa Bowman has collaborated on six New York Times bestsellers, including The Skinny (Broadway, 2009). She also writes the popular marriage blog ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.