Summary: Not everyone has time to go to the gym several times a week. For many people, especially for adults, it is a luxury. The idea is to spread the workouts into short periods. I am not talking about the 7-minute work out here. Even that kind of exercise is a drag to many people. Here, the motto is “Small things add up.” Do not change your daily routine for work outs. It will not stick. Try squeezing very very short workouts in your daily routine. You can do basic moves at home or at work. The idea is to start small and when you feel comfortable increase it to a level that is barely challenging. When feeling lethargic even to do a minute workout, try the 10 second countdown trick.
It’s a common complaint: “I have zero time for working out. Between my job, family and errands, I just don’t have time for a work out.”
Some people address this problem by trying to create time: getting up early or sleeping late or squeezing in a week worth of workouts during the weekend. However it’s a known fact that these approaches tend to be short lived – unless you’re very, very, I mean, very determined. But the reality is most of us do not simply have that much determination. Even when we are super pumped, that motivation fades away after some time.
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I always did some sort of exercise. In college I used to go to the indoor pool that was right across my dorm. On top of it I used to run regularly. Then, during graduate school on top of running I used to hit the gym. I would do three days of strength training and two or three days of running. I’d watch my diet – still do- and I was always active. Then when I was 35 years old I took it up a notch. I joined a private gym that worked with high school and college athletes. Started off with only three days then ended up going there 5 days a week. It was really intense. Even the warm up felt like a work out. I’d spend 1.5 hours flipping huge tires, squatting with chains, pushing prowlers, pulling sleds with weights on. Several times I actually threw up because my body would reject water. I did all of those on a 1,650 calories per day. As a result I was in the best shape of my life. My metabolism was at its peak level.
Then I moved to İstanbul, Turkey in 2012. Everything changed because it’s a different life style. Between commuting 2.5 hours every day, the hustle and the bustle of the city life, delicious foods available at every corner, going out to dinners with family and friends, it was extremely difficult to keep up with my old routine. I am not saying that I put 30 lbs or anything – I tried to watch my diet as much as possible- but it was a tall order to exercise with the same intensity As a result I put on 10 lbs in a very short amount of time. I signed up at a local gym and paid for the yearly membership. It was 15 minutes away from home on foot. I’d get home around 6:30 pm and get my gym bag and walk there, work out for 40-45 minutes, shower and walk back home. Well that didn’t last long. I did get back to my older self but the routine was hard to keep up with. I ended up not going there after the third month. What a waste of money ! I spent a full year without any workout. Then I joined another gym that was close to the bus stop on my commute. I tried there for 3 months. Gave up again.
You see, the daily life in İstanbul is different from other places, especially from my old place in NJ. The traffic is a problem, the commute is brutal and when you get home you just want to shut down and watch TV. Many people do that and as a result you don’t see a community of people that are into working out.
On top of everything else, I started to feel the effects of aging. I’m 42 years old and I don’t have the same level of energy that I used to have even 5 years ago. So it is even harder to get going.
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So, I tried to find alternative ways for keeping active. I’ve been following this for about two years now and it seems to be working – at least for me. The idea is to make incremental progress with your physical activity. Instead of pushing yourself during certain days, find short periods of time and make use of that precious time.
The motto is “small things add up.”
First and foremost I should note here that if you have the time to work out, you should by all means do that (By the way I’m jealous of you). But keep in mind that a workout should not be more than 30 minutes. But you should use those 30 minutes very effectively. Warm up for 5-10 minutes prior. You should wear yourself out and breathing heavily. If you’re weight training do different things in order. Try 3-4 exercises in a row and do them 3 times in rotation. And rest only 1-2 minutes between.
Anyway, for those who are busy for a separate workout time, below are some of the strategies I use throughout my daily life. I’m not saying that these would have the same effects of a regular workout routine – I mean you won’t become a beast and be ripped like an athlete – but you will at least be healthy and fit and more energetic.
Here we go:
1) Remember to walk as much as possible.
Walking is the best thing you can do to your body. So incorporate that into your daily lives more. Several tips for that:
- If you drive often, try to park all the way at the end of the parking lot. Force yourself to walk that extra distance.
- If you live on the second or the third floor, try to climb the stairs. Maybe not all the time, but on the weekends at least or only in the mornings… Or at least once a day.. Try to make a habit of it but don’t force yourself.
- If you can get to your destination on foot in less than 10 minutes and if you’re not in a rush, just don’t drive. Enjoy a brisk walk.
2) Get up, Stand Up
Human body is not designed to sit for extended periods of time. We almost all spend our days sitting down. It is one of the curses of the modern life. Many of us spend the entire workday at our desks. We cannot avoid it. Yes, there are treadmill desks but they are not only expensive not always suited for every profession. Instead try get up every 20-30 minutes and walk around or stretch. Another great idea is – again not suited for every job- get one of those exercise balls and use it as chair. It’ll force you to activate your core and legs while sitting.
It is mind boggling to me that people are so eager to grab a seat to sit their asses down in public transit. If you ask them they would say “you’ve no idea how tired I’m. I need to rest” Well guess what? Unless you’re in physical pain you’ll not die by not sitting for 15-20 minutes. I tend to not sit down when going back home from work (in the morning I do sit down most because it gets way too crowded and I want to read up). Try to avoid sitting. You’ll be fine.
Remember: Small things add up.
3) Short Workouts
I mean it: very short ones. I am talking about 5-10 minutes. You can do the following types of workouts:
- Push-ups / body weight squats / pull-ups / lunges
- Rubber band workouts
- Skipping ropes (I challenge you to do it for three minutes straight)
- Jumping jacks / burpees / stationary running with knee raises
I do a combination of the first two in the mornings before breakfast and the first thing when I get home in the evening. I prefer it in the morning because that helps me to wake up at 6 am. It gets the heart start pumping. I do 4-5 minutes stretching and then I do 30 body weight squats, 30 push-ups, 12 pull-ups and 10 hanging knee raises. I finish off by doing 30 secs of kneeling hip flexor stretch (look it up if you don’t know what it’s. Great for back pain)
I also do one more round of these at select days. For example on Tuesday and Thursday evenings I do back to back of these exercises (takes about 12-15 minutes) and do extra 30-40 push-ups before hitting the sack.
4) Location Doesn’t Matter
People have this preconceived idea that workouts are done at a gym. Absolutely not! If you know how to effectively work out, you can do it anywhere. By effective workout I mean hitting the large muscles and doing them with short breaks in between. You don’t need dumbbells, barbells, kettle-bells, benches and all those machines your see at the gym. To be able to perform the basic moves you need none of those. Basic moves are push-ups, pull-ups, squats, dead-lifts and press. The following will help you do these at home.
- An over the door pull up bar: cheap and effective (Link)
- Heavy resistance bands (Link).
- Resistance band tubes (Link)
- Door anchor (Link)
- Resistance band tube handles (Link)
- Exercise ball (Link)
Of course you cannot replicate the same heavy squats with a rubber band as you do with a barbell attached with several 45 lbs plates, but do you really need to do a 300 lbs squat? You are not a professional athlete, and our goal here is not bodybuilding. It’s – as my trainer friend used to say- to age gracefully. When you’re 60 or 70 you will not be able do those heavy bench press or squats but you will need to climb stairs and carry grocery bags.
5) Plan and Track Progress
You should keep a check list of these activities and keep track – no cheating. Pick a target work out first. You can start off with just following 5 minute of exercise per day – your choice. But try doing that every day. Prepare a check list on your computer, print it out and hang it on your fridge. Make sure to check it every day. If you feel comfortable then the following week you can bump it up to 10 minutes. Or add other activities such as running for 5 minutes per week. Or 100 push-ups per week. All depends on you. But it should be doable. You shouldn’t turn yourself off by making it too hard.
6) Lethargy Killer: Countdown
However the important issue here is getting started. I know we all feel lethargic. That’s why the key idea is to be able to start at small doses and fit them in your daily routine. In other words, do not try to change your whole daily routine which you’ve been following for years and hope that it’d stick. Simply try to squish those 5-10 minutes of workouts during dead times. There is a great lecture (a bit cheesy at times) on TED talks about this issue (Link). For example, do stretching while the coffee is brewing, do some push-ups while you’re endlessly waiting for your wife to get ready, or do several lunges while brushing your teeth.
However if you’re still having problems getting started try the 10 second countdown rule: Say that you will do some push-ups and start counting down from 10. When the countdown hits zero, get off your ass and do it. The problem is getting started. You’ll see that once you start you’ll have no problems doing even more. A similar method is used by the CEO of Instagram to stop procrastination (Link)
Just don’t quit. In the words of great Vince Lombardi: “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit”
Remember: It is not: ‘you cannot workout because you are tired’. It is: ‘you are tired because you do not work out. ‘ You’ll discover this newborn energy even with these short workouts.