If I told you you could get in great shape by investing less than 10 minutes daily to exercise, you’d probably think I’m selling you a product. I’m not selling a product, but I am selling you on the idea that a small amount of daily exercise is all you need to get in shape. I want you to stop believing that getting in shape has to take over your life or require an hour or more of exercise each day because it doesn’t.
If you are willing to push yourself, you can abbreviate your workouts and still achieve great results. Perhaps even better results than longer workouts because you’ll have an easier time recovering from these shorter, more intense sessions.
I know that many people will scoff at the effectiveness of a 5-minute workout, but there is a growing body of research showing that 5 minutes or less of intense exercise can produce real and meaningful results. And you’d have to agree that it is infinitely better than doing nothing.
Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, whose research on the physiological and health benefits of high-intensity interval training has attracted enormous scientific and media attention, says that elite athletes might require more exercise, but “For the rest of us—the people who just want to get in shape and stay there—the answer, based on current science, is a minute. A minute of hard exercise. You sprint as hard as you can for twenty seconds, and then repeat that twice more for a total of three sprints.”
In his book, The One-Minute Workout, he says ultramarathoner Andy Magness can compete in a half-dozen big races a year, like the 250-mile Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, while reducing his weekly training to a remarkably condensed thirty minutes a week. Of course, the intensity of his workouts would probably kill you or me, but he is an excellent example of what can be achieved from a small amount of exercise.
This brings me to an important point. Your workouts should be challenging to you but not an all-out effort. We want to train hard enough to promote improvement but not so hard that we overtax our body’s ability to recover from workout to workout. I recommend you ease into this or any program, especially if you have been inactive.
When performing intervals, you should feel a slight burning sensation in the muscles, which is the buildup of lactic acid and signifies you have crossed your anaerobic threshold, the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the muscles. For interval training to be effective, you must exceed this threshold, also called your ventilator threshold. At this point, oxygen delivery to the muscles becomes a limiting factor, forcing your body to rely more on its anaerobic energy system.
Most of my weekday morning cardio sessions are over in less than 10 minutes, with most sessions lasting 5 to 7 minutes. Yet, I’m able to maintain a relatively high level of aerobic conditioning with an average resting heart rate of 46 beats per minute.
I’ve discovered that this small amount of training is enough to maintain a solid foundation of aerobic fitness while helping me avoid overuse injuries. These short priming sessions also rev up my metabolism, improve my mood and focus for hours, and prime my mind for peak performance without adding much time to my morning routine.
For those worried that a minimalist approach to fitness will cause you to do less, that is just wrong. Before I shrunk down my cardio sessions, I rarely did any cardio. Now, I do it every weekday, and my cardio fitness is better than it has been in years.
When it comes to fitness, consistently repeating a small amount of effortful work reaps superior results than the heroic efforts of a weekend warrior. Your effort and consistency count most, not the amount of time spent.
I usually do the minimum amount of cardio training because it isn’t what I enjoy, nor is it my exercise priority. I have always prioritized strength training over cardio training. For this reason, I spend a lot more time strength training. I lift during lunch because I have more time available to train.
You could take the opposite approach based on your preferences and priorities. Keep your strength training sessions short, closer to the minimum requirement, and devote more time to cardio.
Taking a single set to failure has been shown to produce excellent results and should only take a minute or two to perform. Like high-intensity interval training, you can abbreviate your workouts when you push the intensity to the limit.
The beauty of this minimalist approach is that you can do as much or as little as you want after you meet the minimum requirement. You have complete autonomy.
I’ve designed a program free of all the usual fluff so you can focus on the basic exercises that will produce the best results. This program only requires a small daily time investment, and you can do it at home with equipment that won’t set you back more than $150, and you can find everything on Amazon.
The dip bars will allow you to perform dips and inverted rows. The resistance bands can add resistance to push-ups, dips, and squats. You can also use the resistance bands to make pullups and dips easier. You place a band across your shoulders to add resistance when performing push-ups, dips, and squats. You anchor the band to the bar and put your foot or knees on top of the band to remove resistance when performing pull-ups or dips. If you need clarification on how to use the bands, many YouTube videos exist that will show you how.
You don’t need any equipment to perform cardio, but I recommend downloading a free Tabata Timer [Google or Apple] to track your interval sessions. The scientifically designed Seven Minute Workout is another free app that will give you a great workout.
When traveling, I start the day by either performing the 7-minute workout in my hotel room or using my Tabata Timer to perform a combination of calisthenics – jumping jacks, mountain climbers, burpees, step-ups, step-back lunges, shadow boxing, high-knees running in place, squats, and leg raises.
You can add kettlebell swings and goblet squats to the mix when training at home if you have a kettlebell. If you want to purchase one, I recommend 15-18 pounds for women and 30-35 pounds for men.
If you are already following a program you like but aren’t consistent, shorten your workouts, try my program, or do a combination of both. If being consistent is challenging, starting the day with a short, albeit intense, workout is an excellent strategy for improving your consistency.
Adopt Dieter Ram’s design philosophy, “Less but better.” Simplify your routine. Concentrate on the essentials. Don’t be burdened with non-essential filler exercises. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
In my soon-to-be-published book, Lean by Habit, I recommend establishing triggers, like working out immediately after having your first cup of coffee and tracking your consistency. You could use a habit tracker or a calendar in which you put Xs on every day you exercise.
Most experts consider exercise the most important habit we can develop because it triggers widespread improvements. When people exercise regularly, they become more productive, watch less T.V., eat better, drink less alcohol, and report feeling less stressed.
For me, exercise was the one thing that changed EVERYTHING. The purpose of this blog and my book is to combine the best exercise and behavioral science to make exercise effective and doable so people will look and feel better.
So what are you waiting for? Start looking and feeling better today!
- Download the Minimalist Fitness Program (2023).
- Download the Apps.
- Order any equipment you need to execute the program.
Start beginning each day in the best way possible with mood-enhancing exercise. If you enjoyed this article, please share it and the workout with someone you care about. If you or your friend have any questions, please get in touch with me at LeanByHabit@gmail.com.