The December holidays are the busiest time of the year. With parties, dinners and other occasions, the only thing most of us do for our bodies is decorate them with new clothing. Meanwhile, the effects of your hard-earned training plummet. Muscles and cardio fitness begin to atrophy. Then, you try to repair the physical slacking by making the most common New Year’s resolutions: to go to the gym, to lose weight, to “get in shape.”
So, in a crowded gym with other similarly resolved slackers, there’s a line for most of the machines and weights, and you waste time waiting to use them. Worse, your body—now no longer accustomed to physical work—protests with next-day pain when you do work out. By the end of January, all your resolve fades.
But there’s a way to prevent becoming a physical slug. It’s the “five-minute workout,” a system used by many athletes and often suggested by personal trainers for busy clients who don’t want a decrease in conditioning. If fact, search the keywords “five-minute workout,” and you’ll find dozens of different routines. The problem with most of those workouts is that they tackle only one thing. They’re rarely for overall fitness.
Here’s a five-minute routine for muscles and cardio. While it won’t replace a carefully planned training program, it will maintain—and perhaps improve—your total conditioning. Five minutes of intense activity is just enough to get your heart rate up and work some muscles, without causing you to get all sweaty or mess up your hair or clothing. Do six of these five-minute sessions every day, and you’ll have worked out for a half hour. You can even do most of the exercises at work.
The exercises below are listed by category. Choose an exercise from each category and create at least three five-minute routines. Do each chosen exercise for one minute; change your routine every week.
Jump rope: One of the quickest ways to get your heart rate up. Jump until you miss, then go to the next exercise category.
Carry and sprint: Place a pile of differently weighted objects at each end of a 50-foot line. Pick up one object and sprint to the other pile. Grab something from that pile and run back to the other pile as fast as you can.
Backward treadmill: Stand backward on the treadmill, feet on the side edges. “Dab” your feet until you find the proper balance, then get on the moving belt and run backward. Push the speed as high as you can handle.
John Swenson jogs backward on a treadmill, which puts more load on the glutes and hamstrings. Go as fast as possible for one minute, then quickly perform the next part of your chosen routine.
Bench pushup: Put feet and ankles on a bench or chair, with hands on the floor. Keeping your body straight (no sagging), lower your head to within a few inches of your hands. Make it more effective by bringing one knee up to the elbow on that side once you’re in the down position. Works the upper body.
The most effective version of the bench pushup is demonstrated by Gary Vigil, who alternates lifting each knee to his elbow.
Walking lunge: Hold the heaviest dumbbells you can handle and still maintain proper form. Put one foot in front of the other and lower your back knee almost to the floor. Switch feet and repeat. Never let the knee of the front leg go past the toes. Works the lower body.
Do the walking lunge quickly enough to get your heart pumping, walking 30 seconds in one direction, then 30 seconds back, as demonstrated here by John Swenson.
Core twist: Holding a medicine ball or dumbbell, sit on the floor with legs in front. Put the weight to one side. Twist to that side, pick up the weight, twist to the other side and put it down. Repeat from side to side. Works the core.
Stair hops: Hop up a flight of stairs, landing on each step with knees flexed and your weight on your toes. As you gain strength, try hopping on just one leg, doing the same repetitions on the other leg.
Dumbell swing: Using a kettlebell or dumbbell and a wide stance, squat to the floor with the weight between your legs. Jump up explosively, bringing feet in to shoulder width while swinging the weight up and overhead.
Begin in squat position, with thighs parallel to the floor and weight between legs. Stand up while swinging weight overhead, keeping arms flexed, never locked out, as demonstrated by John Swenson. Inhale deeply, bend to squat again and repeat for one minute.
Vertical jump: Stand in front of a wall and squat down. Explosively jump up, pushing off the floor with your feet and extending your body, feeling the power of the jump moving in a sequence—to your knees, hips, core, shoulders and arms. Reach up as high as possible and touch the wall.
Begin in a squat position, facing close to a wall. Push off the floor with all your power, letting the force extend upward through your body, touching the wall at the height of your jump, as demonstrated by John Swenson.