Making Time for Exercise Guide
Exercise is like a riddle: the more you work out and the healthier you are overall, the more energy you’ll have…to exercise. But how do you get started when you’re facing a booked-solid week and an uphill battle against exhaustion? One key starting point for getting it in when you’d really rather get in bed is to focus on reframing what “counts” as exercise.
Instead of thinking of exercise as a workout with all the bells and whistles that this entails, try viewing it just as moving around more. As long as you’re moving safely, your body doesn’t know the difference between “exercises” you copy from a YouTube workout while wearing head to toe workout gear and getting your heart rate up by going up and down the stairs.
The other key blocker is time. But just as your body is moving whether you’re doing something complex and scripted or simple and improvised, it’s also moving whether you’ve devoted a lot of time or a little. Sure, you’ll get better results the longer you keep at it, but you’ll also start getting results the moment you begin to move. And lots of movement throughout the day adds up in good ways! In other words, whatever time you can devote is time well-spent. This approach goes a long way in making fitness a sustainable part of your lifestyle, so feel free to let go of perfectionist tendencies and do what you can.
In the spirit of prioritizing that “get moving” mantra, Calibrate’s Exercise Expert Adam Rosante has shared a list of quick ways to get your heart rate going anytime, anywhere. If motivation’s a concern, keep reading, too. Below these ideas, we’ve included tips for squeezing in some movement at all hours of your day.
Take the Long Way Home
Or to work, or, wherever—the point here is to decrease your efficiency as you move around the world. All day long (or as often as feels doable), park a few blocks away from your destination. If you take the bus or the train, get off one stop too soon. If your office has a staircase, take it. The little bits of walking will add up over the course of the day, and the spaced-out segments of movement and sunlight are great for keeping your energy level steady.
Your commute is one of the easiest bits of time to repurpose for fitness. Whether you drive, take public transit, or stumble into your home office (aka the couch), you can maximize your efforts by adding weight to the walking portion of your trip. A backpack is the easiest (and least goofy looking) way to do this: simply fill up the bottom with water bottles or books in the amount of weight that feels right for your body. If the walking part of your commute is long-ish, go light on the weight. If it’s super short (as in, working from home and walking down your hallway), go as heavy as you can while maintaining good form—be sure to keep your core engaged as you lift and carry.
Pick a bodyweight movement like an air squat that you’re comfortable doing, and set a goal for the day. Forty squats in a row is a lot, and takes some dedicated time, but one or two squats while making coffee, another three while reading your emails, two more while you’re waiting for the elevator, etcetera, can feel surprisingly doable--and the dopamine hit from meeting your goal is a sweet little bonus. The next time you dedicate a day to that particular movement, up your goal by five.
3 Minute Magic
Search “3 minute workout” on YouTube, bookmark some options that interest you, and try one every morning and one every evening for a week. Three minutes is a small enough investment that even if you hate one, you can still power through and finish, and by the end of the week you’ll have sampled 14 different training styles.
Think of how you spend your time during the day, and pair regular activities with specific movements. If you take a lot of work calls, try walking (around your block, or around your office) whenever you’re on the phone. Scroll Instagram a lot? Pair it with bodyweight calf raises. Waiting on hold? Planks or stairs. Watching TV? Five pushups (or a walk around the couch) every time Netflix asks if you’re still alive. The trick is to pick movements that are easy to multitask with the activities they’re paired with.
Clean with Purpose
Turn cleaning your house into a workout simply by being mindful of your body’s positions and movements—you can even put on some gym clothes to make it feel “real.” Keep your core consciously engaged. When you do your baseboards and floors, squat with good form instead of bending over, and when you push your vacuum, think of it as a resistance exercise and perform it with soft knees, engaged glutes, and tight abs.
Instead of having a sit-down lunch, prep a filling smoothie ahead of time and spend part of your lunch hour on fitness. Pick two or three movements, like pushups, step ups, and squats, make a circuit out of them, and repeat the circuit three or five times. Strength movements (as opposed to cardio) are better choices if you need to finish the day without dripping sweat—you can ramp up the intensity and slow down the tempo of a simple lunge-squat circuit by adding a little weight. Save fifteen minutes on the back end to relax with your smoothie, and you’re good for the day.
In the morning, as soon as you get out of bed, hold a high plank for as long as you’re able. (With your hands on the edge of your bed or another solid piece of furniture, walk your feet back until your body is a straight line from shoulders to heels. With your arms fully extended, hold the position.) At night, last thing before bed, do it again, and try to beat your morning time.
Four Legged Friends
If you have a dog, take them for a walk instead of (or in addition to) letting them run off leash in your yard or a park. If you don’t have your own, ask a friend if you can borrow theirs for walks—dogs are the original experts in finding joy in movement.
As you shower, perform a few sets of Y-W Slides: First, raise your arms overhead in a “Y” position. Keep your shoulders down, squeeze the muscles in your upper back, and hold for 15 seconds. Next, slide your elbows down to make a “W” shape, squeeze again, and hold for another 15 seconds. Get one set in while you’re washing soap off your body, another while you’re conditioning your hair, and a third while you’re rinsing, and, bam: you have a daily exercise practice.
Revamp your social life by inviting friends to join you for a walk or workout instead of drinks or a meal. Doing an online yoga or fitness class in the park with a friend can be way more fun than going to a regular group fitness class, because you can chat the whole time—plus, you can pack a post-sweat picnic brunch instead of overdoing it on Bloody Marys.
If running even a mile sounds way out of your wheelhouse (or like a nightmare you’d prefer not to have), but you’re intrigued by the cardio and mood-boosting benefits, try running splits: move at an easy, comfortable pace (this can totally mean walking), and regularly intersperse short periods of faster movement (a speed walk, a light jog, or however fast you feel like moving.) Try a 1 minute slow/20 seconds fast split, and aim to move for 12 minutes your first time out.
To reap some of the benefits of a standing or walking desk without the big investment, use a small end table or stack some boxes (printer paper boxes are perfect) on your desk to elevate your laptop to standing height. As you work, perform small movements like glute squeezes: while standing, contract your glutes (aka your butt) on one side, and use the tension you create to move your straight leg back, hinging at the hip, to a few inches behind the plane of your standing leg. Repeat ten or fifteen times, then do it again on the other side.
If you’ve completed the Level 1 exercise class, you’ll remember the concept of “anchoring,” or attaching a new habit into an existing one. In this case, take five minutes before or after your work commute (bonus if you do it morning and night) to jump rope, climb up and down the stairs, or lift weights (keep in mind that any household items—books, water bottles, etc.—can work for this). If your commute is long, doing this afterward will actually give you a welcome boost of energy.
Cooking up Movement
Add some extra energy when you’re letting a dish simmer or waiting for something in the microwave with counter push-ups, jumping jacks, or lunges. Or grab a milk container or a bottle of wine and do some tricep or bicep lifts. When you’re rinsing dishes, try doing a set of squats after each dish (start with one and try to work up to five).
5 for 5 (or 3 for 3)
This one’s perfect for when you find yourself with some dead time—between work calls, when you’re waiting for a family member to get ready so you can both leave the house, if your Uber is on its way: Pick 5 exercises, then do 5 sets of 5 reps. If you have even less time, pick 3 exercises, and do 3 sets of 3 reps.
If you’re a new parent, you’ve probably noticed that your little bundle of joy is quite a strength builder. Amplify this by squeezing in some squats or lunges as you’re wearing your baby in a carrier. When your little one’s doing tummy time, hold a plank they roll over. And when you’re walking with the stroller, do some intermittent speed bursts, especially uphill.
From something as simple as having an indoor wrestling match to race in the backyard, kids are a great excuse for turning exercise into a game. Bear crawls, frog hops, duck walks, and worm/rolls are all fun movements that pack a lot of benefit. One quick do-anywhere game is to blow up a balloon, toss it in the air, and call out a movement—everyone has to do as many as possible until the balloon hits the ground.
The Nuclear Option
This is going to sound radical, but, hear us out: Delete your most-used social media app from your phone (it’s just for one day!), and every time you think about scrolling it, do five bodyweight squats and five reverse lunges instead. (If you’re in public and don’t want to be the person doing a workout in the grocery line, do standing abs: pull your belly button in toward your spine, then up toward your ribcage. Contract your core and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 5 times).
Tips for overcoming the motivation hump:
- Always be prepared. Keep sneakers in your car so if you get a surprise opportunity, you can take it.
- Reward yourself when you complete a routine. Every time you work out, put some money in a pot. At the end of the week or month treat yourself!
- Plan your routine: know the time, place, and duration of what you want to do next so you can eliminate excuses.
- If you’re using a workout video, have it preloaded and ready to go. (For YouTube videos, have them saved to your watch list.)
- Prioritize convenience—sure, the fancy gym is great, but often it’s the closest one without the line that’s easiest to commit to day after day.
Apps & sites to get you moving:
- Seven Minute Workout (No app, $0/month): The New York Times has done your homework for you and created a simple, science-based workout.
- Fitbod (Apple/Android $9.99/month): Great for beginners and uses an algorithm to build a custom program based on your fitness level
- Sworkit (Apple/Android $9.99/month): Ideal for parents, frequent travelers, and others who are limited in terms of time, space, and equipment
- Jefit (Apple/Android $0/month): Offers tracking technology as well as a range of exercises for all levels.
- Peloton (Apple/Android $12.99/month): The bike company has expanded its format to every workout imaginable, from movement to strength.
- Yoga with Adriene (YouTube $0/month): Free, high-quality yoga practices from Adriene Mischler.
- Pocket Yoga ($3/one-time purchase, Apple/Android): Yoga practices designed for anywhere, anytime.
- Glo ($18/month, Apple/Android): Yoga, meditation, pilates, and fitness—all in one app.
- Cosmic Kids ($65/year Apple/Android): Simple yoga that’s fun for the whole family.