Trimming the fat — that’s what fitness is all about. But taking the very notion of slimming things down and applying it to all aspects of your life can be equally as difficult, and equally as satisfying, as becoming more fit and muscular. Imagine if you could trim the proverbial fat from your workday, commute, or any other number of responsibilities? Chances are, you’d reclaim a good amount of time, and be a lot happier.
For the uninitiated, playing the architect and devising a fitness routine can be difficult — so difficult that we’ve trimmed things down to six simple exercises that can get you started on the path to success.
Squats will always be a workout staple. | iStock.com
We discuss squats a lot — and for a good reason. Squats are basically the founding lift or exercise that everything else builds on top of. Squats not only help you build a powerful lower body, but also work your abs, back, and really to some extent, your entire body. You’ll become stronger, faster, improve your range of motion, and your balance as well. There are many, many reasons why squats are integral to a balanced workout, so be sure to get them in.
This is why they tell you not to skip leg day.
Chin-ups and pull-ups are the ultimate display of strength. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Think of pull-ups as the squat of the upper-body. It’s an exercise that incorporates nearly every muscle in your personal northern hemisphere, and forces everything to work in conjunction: your back, chest, abs, and arms. Hell, you’ll even get a little cardio going. Of course, there’s a steep curve for pull-ups, as a lot of people can’t even do one. But that shouldn’t deter you — do what you can, focusing on form. Before you know it, you’ll be busting several out over a few sets.
3. Power cleans
This lift works your entire body. | Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The clean is an excellent lift, with the only potential downside being they require access to barbells and gym space. Even so, this is one of those lifts that, similar to squats, will get your whole body into action. Not only will you be using your lower body to get a powerful lift off, but you’ll need your back and core, and finally your arms to handle the weight once you get it above your waist. You’ll develop explosiveness and definitely build a lot of muscle by incorporating cleans into your workout. There are substitutes, like rows, but if you can, get your hands on a barbell and some plates for the full experience.
Planks will give you the abs of your dreams. | iStock.com
Here’s an exercise that can be done in a barren fitness center, devoid of any equipment, or even in a hotel room or airport. Planking is so much more than just a passing internet video fad — it’s one of the better exercises that can be adopted into your regimen. Planks will give your core and upper legs a real workout and even help sculpt your abs. And there are a ton of variations you can throw into the mix as well to ensure you don’t get bored.
Lunges are great for your booty. | iStock.com
As if we haven’t given your lower body enough of a run-through, we’re going to add lunges to the list. Lunges, like planks, can be done in a much more convenient setting, and only require a set of barbells — or anything weighty that can be carried, really. Lunges will train your glutes and quads, helping you build explosive muscle that will also help with cleans, squats, and deadlifts. Use them in addition to your other lifts, or if you can’t do anything else, use the simplicity of lunges to your advantage.
Burpees are tough, but they’re seriously effective. | iStock.com
Yes, the exercise you probably hate the most is, indeed, one of the most effective. Burpees are the whole package — they raise your heart rate with the jumping movement and offer strength gains with the squat, plank, and push-up positions. If you’re unfamiliar with how a burpee works, you begin by jumping up and then immediately lowering to the ground to perform a push-up. Once the push-up is complete, hop your feet back in, and jump skyward once more. This is just one rep — do as many as you can in a minute to complete a set, or try out one of these difficult variations.
It’s no secret that there are a plethora of factors that might make your workouts less frequent. When you’re stuck juggling work, running errands and still trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour, there just aren’t enough hours in the day! Or, perhaps you simply haven’t grown fond of the whole fitness scene, and working out just feels like a daunting chore.
Working out, however, is an essential ingredient in maintaining a healthy body—mentally and physically. But, the best part is, you don’t have to devote hours every day to hitting the gym to see results. We spoke with celebrity trainer Ashley Borden, and YouTube fitness star and founder of Fit Strong and Sexy workout regimen Amanda Russell, to figure out the least amount of time you can work out and still transform your body.
It all comes down to quality over quantity. “It’s really not about the time at all—it’s about the quality of what you’re doing. So you could put in 80 hours a week and see no results, and you could but in three hours a week and see incredible results,” says Russell. In fact, working out for longer at a high intensity can bring you less-efficient results because the longer you work out, the more you have to lower the intensity, which completely changes the exercise. “If you’re doing [high intensity exercises] right, you physically couldn’t be able to do them longer,” Russell explains.
Borden is on the same page when it comes to intensity over time. Her 10-minute workout suggestion is to warm up for two minutes using a foam roller and doing active stretches, and then take eight minutes to do the following: 20 seconds of mountain climbers and 10 seconds of rest four times; 20 seconds of lateral bounds and 10 seconds of rest four times. “That is 10 minutes and you have worked out your entire body with just your body weight. Pushing your intensity and pace is what will dictate the speed of your results.” Her minimum recommendation, however, is full-body strength training and high intensity interval workouts three times each week.
The best part of using just your body weight is that you can do it anywhere, no equipment required. Russell, whose online platform is based on the idea of programs that take up less time, is a huge advocate of that workout technique. “You want something you can literally do in your hotel or bedroom. Your body is hands down the best tool you have.”
All that said, not everyone is built alike, which may be a factor in how often you need to hit the gym. As Borden explains, ectomorphs are on the leaner side and have narrow hips, mesomorphs have round and long muscles and a small waist and endomorphs have thicker bodies with wider hips. One is not better than the other, but it just means you have to work out differently. “An ectomorph would have to focus on eating and getting enough healthy calories in a day,” whereas an “endomorph body would like more of a mix of steady state cardio and short high intensity type of workouts.”
While you make your workouts less frequent, you can make some lifestyle changes to help out your health in the long run. Borden recommends focusing on your posture throughout the day, and emphasizes the importance of water. “Start with half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 160 pounds, you would try to drink 80 oz daily.” Striving for a nutritional diet is also a huge factor, as the foods you put into your body are reflected on the outside. According to Russell, your diet is 90 percent of the deal.
So, luckily for all you busy-bees or gym foes, the overarching point is that, as long as you give it your all, you do not have to stress over the time commitment of exercising. “The busiest people on the planet will either say that they don’t have time to work out, or that they never skip a workout. That’s where it falls into the priority zone for them,” says Russell. No more excuses—grab your sneakers or your yoga mat, and get to it.
If you feel standard Push-Ups are too easy, perhaps it’s time for some variation. Hindu Push-Ups are a fantastic option for athletes of all ability levels to obtain the muscular pectorals that are necessary for strength, power and effective posture, movement and stability—all things athletes should be concerned with.
Hindu Push-Ups can be superior to Bench Presses for a few reasons:
By being able to manipulate the position of your body, you can create more tension in your chest, a key component for building muscle.
Bodyweight exercises are excellent for improving the mind-muscle connection, so you can create greater tension within the target muscle.
Because no external weight is involved, most athletes aren’t tempted to do more than they are capable of just to appear stronger or to stroke their ego.
The best way to include Hindu Push-Ups in your programming is to use them as an assistance exercise. Assistance exercises can be used for injury prevention and/or muscle hypertrophy, making them more suited to moderate to high reps (6-12-plus).
Although you can manipulate your body to make this movement more difficult, it isn’t a great option for maximal strength development. Instead, you should perform Hindu Push-Ups after you’ve done a maximal strength-focused movement like the Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press.
To start, perform 3 sets of 6-12 repetitions after you finish your maximal strength exercises for the day. For example, start your workout with Barbell Bench Press for 3 sets of 3 reps. After you finish all sets and reps of the Bench Press, do Hindu Push-Ups for 3 sets of 10 reps.
Programming Push-Ups as a finisher (the last sets of the training session) also works extremely well on upper- and full-body days.
How to Perform Hindu Push-Ups
1) Assume a push-up position with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your core tight and back flat.
2) Push your torso backward and raise your butt up to move into a pike position so your body forms an inverted V.
3) Bend your elbows to lower your upper chest to the ground while keeping your butt up. As you lower your chest, drop your butt down so your body is in a straight line when you’re closest to the ground.
4) Straighten your arms to push your chest up, but allow for a slight arch in your back similar to the yoga Upward Dog position.
5) From this position, push your torso backward and repeat the sequence beginning at Step 2.
Obviously the theme this week is eight. Eight years … eight lessons … and today … an 8-minute workout that’ll kick your ass as much or as little as you want it to. It’s full-body and requires no equipment besides a watch or a timer, a place for you to get sweaty and a good attitude. But you already have the good attitude down, right? Now let’s do this!
This 8-minute workout is broken down into 16 different 30-second intervals — including moves to warm you up and cool you down some. For each interval, you can take it as hard or as easy as you want. If you want to make it a true HIIT session, then really push yourself to do as many reps as you can of each move per interval. If you’re wanting to take it easier (say, you’re doing this over your lunch break and don’t have access to a shower), then take your intensity down a notch. It’s up to you! No matter how fast you do it, you’ll be working your entire body — and getting strength and cardio work in at the same time. Plus, we think it’s totally fun. And, only 8 minutes, so totally doable!
1. March in place. Think about what you want to get out of this workout today.
2. Jog in place. Think about why you’re doing this workout today.
3. Jumping jacks. Be sure to reach all the way up and touch your hands overhead.
Anyone can use the app — all it takes is a smartphone, a spare wall, and a chair.
The 7-minute session (which was so successful it inspired the New York Times to release their own version of the app a few months after the original came out) consists of 12 relatively standard exercises like jumping jacks, sit-ups, and push-ups. Ten of them require nothing but your own body (you’ll need a chair that can support your weight for the other two).
Here’s the Times app counting down: 18 more seconds of jumping jacks.Screenshot
Here’s the full set of exercises, which I tried out myself:
1. Jumping Jacks
2. Wall sits
5. Step-up (on chair)
7. Triceps dips (on chair)
9. High knees/running in place
11. Push-ups and rotations
12. Side planks
Between each exercise, you rest for 10 seconds.
Worth The Hype?
The workout is quick, unpleasant (in the way only a good workout can be), and came with some pretty quick results — I was slightly sore in two areas of my body that my 5-day-a-week yoga regimen hasn’t seemed to have reached. I also noticed a little bit of extra mental clarity and decreased anxiety (which is why I do yoga) immediately after the workout.
Another plus to the 7-minute-regimen: I live in a New York apartment with very little extra space, but I was nevertheless able to do the whole workout in a corner of my living room using just my phone, a yoga mat, and a fold-up chair.
A Few Caveats
The Times app illustrates how to do a wall sit.Screenshot
As expected, the physical benefits didn’t seem to last quite as long as my 1.5-hour yoga sessions. While my heart raced and my mind cleared for a few minutes immediately after the workout, those side effects wore off within a few hours. I only did it twice, though, so perhaps if I committed to a daily 7-minute workout the benefits would persist.
Also, since this specific workout is so new, there are no long-term studies comparing its results to those of longer cardio and weight-training workouts. In general, though, the evidence researchers do have supports the benefits of high-intensity intervals, both in terms of building muscle mass and improving heart health.
Even for patients with coronary artery disease, short bouts of intense interval training were found to be more beneficial in helping them regain heart function than traditional, continuous workouts — though anyone with a heart condition should consult a doctor before trying a new exercise routine.
The most important thing when doing interval training is committing as much effort as possible throughout the whole workout, making sure to push yourself. After all, each exercise only lasts 30 seconds.
For anyone who has followed me for awhile knows that I am intrinsically a bit lazy. I don’t particularly hold a fondness for exercise nor do I particularly detest exercise. I nothing exercise in the sense that it is just something I have incorporated into my life in order to stay healthy. It’s kind of like kids and high school. There are those who spring out of bed everyday with a ear-to-ear smile who truly adored high school. There are those who absolutely hated every waking moment of high school. Then there are those of us mucks who endured it because it was a necessary milestone to endure. Fitness to me is just that – a necessity to staying healthy – not a choice.
This is the primary reason that my personal fitness motto is ‘biggest bang for my workout buck!’ (BBWOB) Essentially, I want to do the bare minimum in the least amount of time. I need an exercise which will build muscle, tone / define, and can be accomplished in as few movements as possible. And let me just toss out a disclaimer that I am not certified personal trainer nor am I any sort of fitness expert. I do however, am a little nerdy and spend hours in researching the latest & most efficient workout trends so that I can always maximize the results with minimum effort. This BBWOB approach is just what has worked for me in not only keeping the near 40lbs off for 2+ years but it has given me body definition I never thought possible. So please keep in mind what works for me may not be the right answer for you.
Now that is out of the way …
When I was transitioning from weight loss to maintaining, I slowly shifted my workout from all cardio to cardio with some form of strength training. Now when I hear strength training, my knee-jerk reaction is to think of traditional weight lifting; which sucks the happiness right out of my soul! Not because I hold any malice inclination towards the activity but because I know enough to comprehend the amount of time required to invest in it (refer to first sentence). I have always found the ‘heavy / serious’ lifting section of any gym to be very intimidating. It just makes me feel absurdly out-of-place, awkward, and reminiscent of being back in junior high school at that very first boy-girl dance. You know the one where all the girls tries to play it cool making small talk on one side of the gym while the boys awkwardly contemplate the distinct possibility of a public ‘no’ on the other? YES – that level of awkwardness. I can’t even tell you why but the minute I step on to the thick rubber mats in the free weight section of any gym I immediately feel like a fish out of water.
Aside from a major case of the inept, for the Ordinary Jane / Joe who is only looking to tone and define, who is not looking to bulk & exponentially increase muscle mass, enter physique/body competitions, or have any aspirations to be a serious weight lifter, the abundant time investment seem to be a bit of an overkill. However, the core concept of working muscle groups was a good one and it inspired me to look for exercises which targets the largest muscle groups in one or two movements.
Enter compound exercises. Compound exercise is defined as “… any exercise that involves the use of more than one major muscle group at a time. Typically, there is one larger muscle group that ends up doing the majority of the work, and then one or more smaller muscle groups that are recruited secondarily” (Source: A Workout Routine).One of the major benefits of many staple compound exercises can be done equipment free also known as bodyweight strength training. The dynamic dual allows me to work multiple muscles at once and no or very little equipment required was a natural win-win for me.
So here is a sample of my typical workout:
WHAT: Elliptical in various squat positions
DURATION: 30 minutes on high resistance. When the resistance gets too easy I bump it up. Started at Level 2 now I am at Level 6.
BBWOB TIP: Quality over Quantity – In order to maximize the benefits form matters. For the first few workouts, do push ups long ways of a mirror to check body positioning. Generally in the upright push up position, visually the body, arms and floor should form an almost right angle (See fitness model photo above).
WHAT: Three forms of Planks (Regular, High, Arms Up)
At a petite 4’ 11″, Kacy Catanzaro invokes the fearsomeness of a Peter Pan understudy. It’s a bit hard to imagine she’s the leading woman on American Ninja Warrior, a show that asks contestants to scale walls, run up vertical ramps and fling themselves between wobbly polls like a flying squirrel. She was also the first woman to complete their near-impossible finals course (you can see this in all its glory here). Catanzaro, who is now sponsored by Pom, and boyfriend, coach, and fellow ninja Brent Steffensen believe that even non-ninjas can mirror their daily strength workout — though we’ll understand if you’re skeptical after watching the video. They break it down in this six-move workout that will ready you to Spiderman up a 30-foot elevator shaft along with look and feel a whole lot fitter.
The Three Rules of Ninja Workouts
1. No weights.
Other athletes use weights to increase the difficultly of their workouts and gain strength. This agenda isn’t for ninjas, because their aim is to be as lean as possible. Ninjas are concerned with high, fast reps at bodyweight and transitioning quickly from movement to movement to work different muscle groups, and simulate the diverse challenges of the course.
2. No rest. Ninjas focus on increasing the number of reps in a given work period and decreasing the rest time between intervals. This makes sense because each obstacle on the course takes one or a few “reps” of a given movement and there’s no down time between obstacles. That means that need to keep muscles and lungs primed, and practice getting in the headspace to keep going.
3. No show-off moves You’d think ninjas would be looking constantly for things to jump onto. In fact, their movements are often equipment-free and low-risk. No box jumps, for instance, because they can lead to twisted ankles or nasty scrapes. No one-arm push-ups either, which have little pay-off in strength terms, and force shoulders to contort in awkward ways. Their rule of thumb: If you’re doing a movement just because it looks cool, skip it.
Beginner Do a traditional push-up. Focus on good form: Keep back flat, abs engaged, and elbows tight to your body; chest should hit as close to the ground as possible without using belly to press off the ground to the top.
Intermediate Pike push-up using a box or a bench. Keep your feet on the box or bench, and plant hands in front of you so your torso is vertical or near vertical. Perform a push-up, keeping hips piked high in the air. This helps build shoulder strength and mobility, and gets you used to being upside down.
Ninja-Level Go for the full handstand push-up. Facing a wall, kick up into a handstand. Hold a hollow-body position, tightening your glutes, and keeping your shoulders down and abs engaged. Lower head down to the floor, then push through the floor back to start. When this becomes easy, practice deficit HSPUs, with your hands on weight plates, to increase the range of motion.
Beginner Start with a traditional lunge. Keep your front knee over your ankle and tap back knee to the ground, practicing balance and control throughout the movement
Intermediate Lunge with a kick. At the bottom of the lunge, push through the heel of your front leg to stand up and kick; return to start. Switch legs and repeat. This progression helps build explosive power one leg at a time.
Ninja-Level Jumping lunges/Jumping kicking lunges. Explode out of the bottom of the lunge to switch legs. Progress to kicking out of the bottom of the lunge, and then switching legs.
Beginner Static hangs from the bar and ring rows. With shoulders down and engaged, hang onto a pull-up bar, aiming to increase your time with each hang. Build shoulder strength with ring rows, increasing your angle to the ground over time by putting your feet on a chair or box until you are horizontal.
Intermediate Pull-ups. Practice control throughout the whole movement. Start from a dead hang, and pull yourself fully over the bar, so it’s level with your clavicle.
Ninja-Level Push ups + lateral movement. Use a neutral grip, and at the top of the pull-up, shift your weight so you move your upper body to be centered over your right hand, then shift it so it’s centered over your left hand, chest moving laterally across the bar. (This is an exception to the “don’t look cool” rule—it is both functional and a crowd-pleaser.)
Beginner Arms-free jumps. Squat to just above parallel, arms to your sides, jump up and point your toes, then land softly on the balls of your feet. These help you build leg strength and explosive power.
Intermediate Tuck jump. Begin with knee bent at 90 degrees, then explode up, bringing knees as close to the chest as possible while recovering in enough time to land softly. This takes the place of box jumps and has two major advantages: It forces you to practice landing softly to avoid injury, and it’s a better cardio workout, because the box jump forces you to take a momentary rest at the top before you make your way down.
Ninja-Level Perform one leg tuck jumps, trying to maintain your balance from the start of the movement through the landing. Like all single-legged movements, this will help identify strength differences and improve balance.
Beginner Tuck up. Lie flat with your arms extended behind your head. Keeping your back straight and shoulders away from your ears, lift your torso and knees simultaneously, reaching your fingers toward your toes. Hold for a second at the top, then lower slowly.
Intermediate V-up. Same as the tuck-up movement, but keep your legs and arms extended. Work on increasing the number of reps and slowing the time you take to lower to the ground while maintaining a hollow position.
Ninja-Level Straight leg bicycle tuck. Lie on your back and kick your legs straight up. Put your hands behind your head. Lift your torso, and scissor your body to touch your left elbow to your right knee while maintaining straight legs. Repeat on the other side. This one is more about speed and keeping your core engaged, so work on increasing reps in short periods of time.
This is an often-overlooked skill that’s essential to your workouts (think gripping a barbell or rower handle), as well as everyday life (like playing guitar). Unlike the other five moves, these exercises may feel more foreign. Progress slowly as you gain strength and familiarity to avoid injury.
Beginner Counterbalanced static holds. Stand on a bench or box positioned under a pull-up bar. Grip the bar with only your fingers, and bend your knees to use some, but not all of your bodyweight, to pull you down. Hold on for as long as possible.
Intermediate Static holds with full bodyweight. Practice increasing your time in the finger-hold position.
Ninja-Level Shifting static holds. Shift your bodyweight between your hands, holding on with just your fingers.