Microworkouts, A Sign of the Times

Like a lot of people I’ve become so busy these days that spending an hour or two working out makes me feel like I’m squandering my time. I’ve come to terms with this, and have even developed a method of fitting in any kind of workout I’d like to do in just a few minutes, a couple of times a day.

With the exception of marathons or other endurance races this method of workout has been accomplishing what I’m after right now; to stay healthy, to feel healthy, and to at least maintain my strength levels, if not increase them.
These workouts are quick, but heed my words of caution: As with any exercise routine you need to warm-up to prevent injury. In these workouts, the warm-up usually consists of taking the first exercise and using very light weight, if there is free weight involved, and moving slowly and steadily. When the primary movements involve nothing but your bodyweight, you will start at a slow pace and use pauses throughout the range of motion.

Here are three exercises with three different tools that you can do in 5-10 minutes. The goal of the majority of these workouts is to get through as many rounds as possible without stopping. For lighter weights or higher reps your rest should be minimal, less than 30 seconds. If you decide to build up to a couple of heavy rounds, whether it is a body weight exercise or free weights, rest 60-90 seconds between sets or rounds. for our purposes a round is any exercise or combination of exercises performed continuously for time.

Your body weight is an amazing thing. Because you carry it around all day, maybe workout heavy at the gym a couple times a week or put yourself through grueling triathlon training, you might think body weight exercises are negligible warm-up techniques only. That is true, and it is not.

For instance, take a simple exercise like a push-up, and someone who frequently does heavy chest work may find the exercise to easy to take seriously, at least for building muscle. Take that same exercise and raise your feet to a higher angle and it becomes more difficult. Widen the position of your hands, and the level of difficulty is yet again increased. The same is true of most body weight exercises, they can be as grueling as you want them to be.

A note on free weights: Unless you’re performing a power exercise like the snatch, clean, clean & jerk, don’t rush through the movement. It isn’t necessary to move like a turtle, but if the workout calls for a curl or exercises specifically for your shoulders, don’t jerk the weight all over the place.

With that in mind:

Microworkout #1:

Good morning walk out: Take a wide stance 3-4 feet apart, or whatever is wide for your body. Reach your arms out wide to the sides, lock your lower belly, and with a flat back reach your arms down to the floor in front of you. Ideally your hands will touch the floor between your legs.
Now, first on hands, then if you can on fists and then fingertips, walk your hands out as far as you can in front of you. Concentrate on keeping your belly tight and your butt down as you get flatter. Walk past the push-up position if possible. The goal will be to have your body fully extend, arms out as far as they will go.

Pause for a second, or two, or five in your furthest possible extension, then walk your hands in reverse all the way back to your good morning position. Tighten belly, arms out to the sides, pull up with hamstrings, butt, and lower back. Then repeat.

*I find it easier to get a longer extension if I bring my legs a little closer together as I walk my hands out.

Do this exercise until you are warm. That may be 5, 10, or 20. If you like, keep going until the work breaks you, rest briefly, then repeat. However I recommend you now switch to:

Hindu push-ups + Squat: The Hindu push-up is basically like down dog pose for yoga. Start with your legs in a wide stance and your palms on the floor. Back flat and butt in the air. Swoop down through your arms and finish with your arms locked out as you look up. Pause for a couple of seconds, then:

+Squat: As you rock back on your arms to the starting position, drop you butt and jump into a squat, then fall forward and repeat the Hindu push-up.

*Keep the motion smooth and continuous and your heart rate will climb faster.

Microworkout #2:

Kettlebell Snatch + Windmill OR Bent Press: Obviously you will need a kettlebell for this one, and if you don’t have one, consider investing in one. This piece of equipment is portable, and a single bell of moderate weight can provide a variety of workouts. That said, use a weight that challenges you after a few reps. If you’ve reached 10-12 reps and are asking yourself if this really works, you need a heavier weight.

To warm-up for this exercise, use a lighter bell if you have more than one, and switch when you are ready. Alternatively you can start by doing kettlebell swings holding the bell with two hands, or locking the bell out overhead and walking around in circles. If you choose the latter method, gently get the weight over head to begin with and tighten up your midsection to support it. Don’t lock the bell out for too long until you get warm. When ready begin the snatch.

Watch the second video below for some good tips on proper snatch form, and the windmill in the first. Remember to drive the movement with your legs and shrug the weight to the overhead position. Unlike the swing, the ballistic motion of the kettlebell when doing the snatch should not be allowed to float back through your legs, at least not intentionally.

Start with 5-12 snatches on one side, depending on how heavy your kettllebell is, then switch to the other hand. Use the first set to determine how many reps is difficult without going to failure. When both sides are complete, lock the bell out overhead and execute a windmill. Which you can see here:

If you only have one kettlebell, and are not able to perform the windmill in the correct, strict form it requires, try a bent press instead. With the bent press, clean the weight to your shoulder, point your feet as for a windmill, and fold your body as you press up, then stand up as with a windmill. Again, with either exercise, do several reps, but not to complete failure.

Once you have finished a round of both exercises, the snatch and the windmill or bent press, rest about 30-60 seconds depending on how heavy your weight is, and repeat. See how many rounds you can fit in 5 or 10 minutes.

Microworkout #3:

Barbell complex: Complexes are just several exercises, really two or more strung together one after another. You can create endless barbell complexes, but here is one that references coach Javorek’s methods. The type of barbell here is not important. So long as you have a solid piece of equipment at least 5′ long, you can do these exercises.

Do each exercise for 6 reps. Rest 30-60 seconds, repeat. For heavier weight, take up to 90 seconds. Start lighter and increase weight as you warm up. The weight you choose should be lighter than you would normally use for any individual exercise.

-Barbell Upright Row X 6: Start with the barbell at hip level and pull up to your chin in a straight line. Avoid excessive rocking with this exercise.

-Barbell High Pull Snatch X 6: As with the kettlebell snatch, from hip level, shrug the barbell forcefully upward, bending your elbows only at the last second. Think of “punching” the barbell through the apex of the movement to lock it out.

-Barbell Behind The Head Squat Push Press X 6: After the snatches, let the barbell come down behind your head, squat to parallel and press the bar out as you stand up. The harder you go up, the harder you come down.

-Barbell Behind The Head Good Morning X 6: With the barbell still behind the head, resting on your upper back and shoulders, keep your eyes straight ahead, tighten your glutes, hamstrings, belly, and lower back, and bend forward to a 90 degree angle. Come back up to standing to complete. Do not rush this exercise.
-Barbell Bent Over Row X 6: With knees slightly bent, and as with Good Mornings, everything tight, row the barbell to your upper torso using your back muscles.

Repeat this cycle once before you decide on the number of rounds you can handle. Getting through three rounds of this will finish you off for the day, working your upper back, lats, lumbar, shoulders,…well, you get the idea. Of course, there are other combinations you can do, and I’ll be posting many of those here. In the meantime, take 5 minutes and GO!

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