The Ultimate 15-minute Workout
Two years ago, Carol Zechman, 43, had an exercise epiphany. She realized that even though she didn’t have an hour a day to devote to sweating (she’s a mother of three who also works for a healthcare program in Portland, Maine), she could still fit in short workouts. Almost daily, she started doing a 15-minute program of cardio and weights designed for her by a trainer at her gym. Now Zechman sleeps better and feels reinvigorated—and the short workout bouts “give me stamina to deal with everyday life.”
LESS IS MORE. As Zechman proves, exercise doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing pursuit. “Exercising for as little as ten minutes can reduce stress and increase energy,” says Dixie Stanforth, M.S., a lecturer in the department of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Austin and a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. Recent research backs up her claim: A study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Physiology found that 15 to 25 minutes of high-intensity biking just three times a week is as good for your heart as 40 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity biking five times a week.
THE RIGHT COMBO. To help you make the most of a miniworkout, we turned to Ellen Barrett, creator of the DVD series The Studio by Ellen Barrett and a yoga and pilates instructor in New Haven, Conn. She says an ideal 15-minute routine includes five minutes of cardiovascular exercise, five minutes of strength training to tone, and five minutes of stretching to release tension. “After a session like this, you should feel energized and refreshed,” she explains. For Zechman, shorter workouts help her feel grounded and calm. “I feel like I have more control of my life—even when I’m being pulled in many directions.”
GET STARTED. Barrett offers a range of options to help you build the perfect 15-minute routine. You’ll get more from the workout if you view it as a personal retreat, not an obligation. “It’s an opportunity to feel balanced and powerful,” says Barrett.
Take slow, rhythmic breaths during a challenging workout: This can teach you to stay calm and focused during stressful situations, says Stanforth. It worked for Carol Zechman, who finds that a few minutes of deep breathing before she gives a presentation at work helps her keep her composure. “I focus on my breath whenever I need help settling down,” she says.
5-Minutes of... CARDIO
Start your session by getting your heart rate up—maybe even breaking a sweat. Barrett suggests the activities listed below; do one or a few, or swap in your favorite cardio workout. As for exertion: On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the toughest), aim to hit around 7 or 8.
►JUMP ROPE: Bend your knees slightly and avoid “thumping” by keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and landing lightly on the balls of your feet. Get a steady rhythm going that you can maintain for the full five minutes.
►BOUNCE ON A TRAMPOLINE: Target and Wal-Mart carry reliable exercise trampolines. HSN.com and Dick’s Sporting Goods stores sell the model by J.B. Berns, creator of the Urban Rebounding workout.
swap in your favorite heart-pumping activity.
►DANCE: Put on some upbeat tunes and boogie around the living room.
►PRACTICE POWER YOGA: Flow through several poses without pausing in between. A mini-workout starts with five minutes of cardio. Try jumping rope or walking, or swap in your favorite heartpumping activity.
►MARCH IN PLACE: Hold a light (3 pounds or less) dumbbell in each hand. Pump your arms and lift your feet fully off the ground as high as is comfortable. If you want to go outside or have a treadmill, you can do some brisk walking instead. Aim to walk four miles an hour or faster with your arms bent to 90 degrees, feet rolling through each stride from heel to toe. Contract your glutes and core.
5-minutes of... WEIGHTS
Choose exercises like the ones suggested here that have an added balance challenge or yoga inspiration; they'll engage the muscles in your core (back and abdomen). Do each move for 45 seconds, resting for 15 seconds between each. You should feel the muscles "squeeze" and heat up with each repetition.
►LUNGE WITH HAND WEIGHTS: Holding a 3- or 5-pound weight in each hand, step your right leg about four feet in front of your left leg. Lower your left knee toward the floor while bending your right knee (make sure it doesn't extend past your right toes). Return to standing and alternate legs for 45 seconds.
►TIPTOE PLIÉ: Stand with your feet two to three feet apart and turn your toes out about 45 degrees. Hold your arms straight out from your sides at shoulder height. Raise your heels off the ground and hold the position, balancing on your tiptoes, for 45 seconds.
►PUSH-UPS AGAINST WALL: Stand about two feet away from a wall. Place your palms shoulder-width apart on the wall at chest height. Keep your body in a straight line by engaging your core muscles, and bend your arms to lower your chest toward the wall. Push back to starting position and repeat for 45 seconds. For more of a challenge, add a hand clap between reps.
►CHAIR POSE FRONT ARM RAISE: Stand with your feet approximately three to six inches apart, toes pointed forward, arms down by your sides. Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and lower your hips as though you were sitting in a chair (make sure your knees don't go beyond your toes). Extend your arms straight out in front of you at chest height (palms facing down) to counterballance. Feel your weight move into your heels. Hold for 15 seconds; repeat two times.
►ARM CIRCLES BALANCED ON ONE LEG: Holding a 3- or 5-pound weight in each hand, stand with your arms extended straight out at your sides and your palms facing the floor. Bend your left knee and lift it about one foot off the ground. Then bend your elbows slightly and circle your arms clockwise (trace a circle that’s about the size of a salad plate). After about 20 seconds, switch legs and circle your arms counterclockwise.
5 Minutes of... STRETCHES
The five poses suggested here all help release tension and increase circulation. Do each for one minute (or substitute other stretches you like). Focus on your breath and use the time to unwind.
►HAMSTRING STRETCH: Step your right foot forward one to two feet and land on your right heel. Lean forward from the hips until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your right leg (rest your hands on your left thigh for balance). Hold for 30 seconds then switch legs.
►STANDING KNEE HUG: Stand up straight and bend and lift your right knee toward your waist. Clasp your hands in front of your right knee and gently pull it toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, release, and switch legs.
Five minutes of stretching at the end of a mini-workout helps calm and clear your
mind, release tension, and prepare you for the day’s challenges.
►CHEST STRETCH: Bring your hands behind your back and, palms facing each other, interlace all ten fingers. Press the heels of your hands toward each other. Keeping your elbows straight, lift your arms slowly away from your lower back until you feel your chest opening. Hold for one minute.
►DELTOID STRETCH: Extend your right arm straight out in front of you at chest height. Keeping your right elbow straight, wrap your left hand around your lower right arm and gently pull it toward your chest, making sure to drop your right shoulder away from your ear. Hold for 30 seconds then switch arms.
►STANDING QUAD STRETCH: Lift your left leg behind you and grab your left ankle with your left hand. Pull your left heel gently toward your butt until you feel a stretch in front of your left thigh. (If you have trouble keeping your balance, press your right hand against a wall or hold on to the back of a chair.) Hold for 30 seconds then switch legs.