Every year, swaths of the population try in vain to stick to an exercise program. More often than not, these efforts cease after just a few weeks or months. People earnestly desire to improve their health and fit in the exercise they know they need, but working out and eating well is hard. These goals fly in the face of our environment. Feeling the squeeze of escalating responsibilities and distractions, people eventually make the unconscious choice to sacrifice their health. One day turns into a week, which snowballs into a debilitating belief that fitness is just impossible in this busy world.
Most people attempting fitness improvements are relatively inexperienced exercisers or have had a significant hiatus from consistent exercise. Still, the overwhelming impulse is toward brutal, exhausting workouts. They see the images portrayed on TV, and look at the fitness enthusiasts who haven’t missed a day in years, and assume that is what they have to do to meet their goals.
Rather than approaching this as a lifestyle change which can only be accomplished over time with intentional habit formation, they attempt to overhaul the patterns they established over a lifetime. Then they become overwhelmed when this painful work doesn’t bear fruit in the first few weeks.
The Concepts and Constraints That Keep Us Unhealthy
The media and the fitness industry has fed the public a model that doesn’t work for most people. To create lasting change, a few essential concepts must be properly understood:
- Goals don’t drive success. They provide a vision, but motivation waxes and wanes. Achievement comes from lots of tiny, consistent actions. It comes from habits. While the concept is about as sexy Jim Gaffigan eating Cheetos in his underwear, it remains the truth.
- Willpower is like a muscle, which means it can be grown. However, it is also like a muscle in that it grows gradually. It’s far more effective to start small, gain momentum, and then increase intensity, time, or difficulty than to bite off too much early on.
- Everything has a cost. Most people think they will just add in the time to work out at the end of the day. Never mind that the day has drained a lot of their willpower. More importantly, they don’t factor in what they may have to give up: time with family, space to accomplish necessary household tasks, or maybe just rare freedom from responsibility. Every decision is a tradeoff.
- The 21st century has too many distractions and pulls on your attention to not have a systematic process of prioritization and attention management. If we don’t clarify priorities, establish boundaries, and take deliberate steps to set habits and shape our environment, then we are doomed to fail. This is the focus of my work with clients in my Inspired Lifestyle consultations.
These understandings led me to create an adaptable workout program that works for even the busiest people. Most people seeking to begin exercise should start with a plan like this. It can be scaled to any level and should become a staple of most people’s lives, whether they grow a passion for fitness or not.
Sneak In Your Daily Workout
Here’s how it works. You will pick five times each day to take a three-minute movement break. For example, you could choose 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, and 5 pm. Set daily alarms on your phone for these times. Each time the alarm chimes, you will do the same 3-minute circuit.
Create a balanced circuit that suits your personality, your fitness level, your work attire, and your environment. Preferably you would need no equipment, although throwing a couple resistance bands in your work bag significantly increases options. I recommend something like this:
- Side plank: 20 seconds/side
- In and out squat, pulsing split squat, reverse lunge, or mountain climbers: 30 seconds of work
- Bent-over y-raise (thumbs up, no equipment) or band pull-apart: x20
- Donkey kick backs or x-band walks: 10/side
- Push ups, push up position plank or break dancers: 30 seconds of work
Done seamlessly, that will take less than three minutes. There is no need to waste time setting up music. Consider it a mindfulness break as well, freeing yourself from the digital leash to be present for a minute or two.
Say you are concerned about sweating too much or messing up your clothes. Planks and wall sits are a great combination to hit most the body. Doing a circuit of isometric holds requires no noise that would call attention to yourself, little movement that will mess up hair and clothes, but a tremendous metabolic demand that will vastly increase fitness. For people in this category I recommend:
- Wall sit (knees at 90°): 30 seconds
- Push up position plank: 30 seconds
- Right leg forward split squat: 15 seconds
- Left leg forward split squat: 15 seconds
Any of these exercises can be advanced or made easier. Play with the times to fit your needs. If this is too many exercises, simplify. Most people can see tremendous results from something as simple as five circuits a day of the following:
- Right arm side plank: 30 seconds
- Wall sit: 30-45 seconds
- Left arm side plank: 30 seconds
I like to make the first alarm a wakeup movement circuit. This sets the intent for the day and is a reliable cue. If you have kids to handle first thing in the morning or have some other responsibility that precludes you from working out upon waking, that is fine. Set alarms for later in the day, or even let your infant’s nap schedule become your exercise schedule. Innovate, adapt, and overcome.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, I suggest you try either my at home workouts – The Will and The Way – or my workouts for any gym – Push, Pull and Thrive. Depending on your choice of where you want to workout, you can see how I integrate this philosophy of a commitment to movement into more structured routines. The great part is that I have designed the programs to deliver results whether you’re a beginner or more advanced like myself.
Less and More Than You Realize
Not sold? Does this seem too easy? Follow even your most committed gym rat around with a stopwatch. Chances are, they don’t do more than 15 minutes of exercise during their 45-minute gym session. Five 3-minute breaks make 15 minutes of solid work. You aren’t going to turn into a runway model doing just this, but it will increase strength, metabolism, and work capacity, decrease back pain and mobility restrictions and create a jolt of energy. You’ll feel steady progress and with consistent efforts, you will make huge strides over time. Of course, a balanced approach to nutrition will make your efforts far more fruitful, but this plan alone is a tremendous first step.
This approach to fitness might feel awkward at first. You might be worried that passersby will look into your office and see you planking on the floor. My suggestion is to own it. Own the fact that you are taking control of your life. Following the masses is a certain recipe for physical decline and mental anguish. The masses normalize sitting all day and staring at a screen, eating chemically engineered creations rather than actual food, and knowing more about the Kardashians than the principles of a republic. In the 21st century, it’s become weird to stretch after a 6-hour flight, and weirder not to check work email on a weekend. I implore you to be weird for you own sake.
What makes this plan possible and effective for anyone is the portability, adaptability, and ease. It is only three minutes or less. Habits require consistency. Guard the habit all costs. I have to opt for brutal honesty when it comes to people falling off the habit because they aren’t in the mood for planned exercise breaks. Health is everyone’s number one priority when it fails. Families drop everything to rush to the hospital and, however briefly, the hospitalized resolve to begin taking care of themselves.
Don’t fall in this camp of the overly reactive. Allow yourself no wiggle room. We are talking about three minutes. Plan the times, set the alarms, and make yourself do it. Take the weekends to refresh if you feel burdened, or if inspired use them to go hike, bike, or explore more creative movement options.
Even consistent exercisers can see improvements from breaking up the workday with a little more movement. Many regular gym-goers punish themselves for an hour, four days a week, just to spend the other 164 hours in uninterrupted sitting and lying. Furthermore, fitness lovers would benefit from implementing the principles of this program with more challenging exercises. The best way to improve at pull ups, handstands, push ups, or any such movement is grease the groove style training. So regardless of level, lifestyle, or goal, you can utilize the concepts of this program to create a more movement-rich lifestyle.