This is not a post where I complain about how busy I am. Nor will I try to convince myself that I am busier than you (and we know you are also very busy). This is a post where I tell you how I am figuring out how to train hard, using both cardiovascular and weight training exercises, and do it in a time block of about 20 minutes. My goal at this point is not to prepare for a bodybuilding competition, but to maintain my fitness level and muscularity while staying relatively lean. Can I do this in 20 minutes a day? Time will tell if this works in the long run, but so far, I am pleased with it.
Why 20 minutes? Lately, I have found that this is about how much time I have to squeeze in a workout between classes (I teach college), appointments, and driving my children virtually everywhere they need to go. Some days, I get a whopping 25 minutes, but that's a bonus that I can't always count on. Before I share my fitness routine, let me add a couple of important caveats. This does not include the time I spend changing my clothes (although I am frequently spotted exercising at work in my street clothes - no time to change!). Nor does it include the time I spend in daily flexibility exercises (essential at my stage of life). With that said, it's true that I can bang out a workout in 20 minutes most days.
My secret really isn't a secret, nor is it my idea. All I can take credit for is trying what fitness experts have suggested and observing "hey, this seems to be working!". Here it is. I'm reformating my exercise into high-intensity intervals of either one or two minutes, with 15 to 30 second rest breaks in between. I do total-body exercises using kettlebells or other weights, and I vary the exercises to work several different muscle groups. Sometimes I will repeat the same exercises in a circuit and other times I do a different exercise for each interval. I use weights that are heavy enought to make me work HARD to maintain the exercise for the entire interval. Here's an example of a circuit I can do in my living room or back porch. I will repeat it twice, using one-minute intervals with 15 to 30 second rests in between:
1. Kettlebell swings
2. Marching on a fairly high bench holding kettlebells, alternating legs
3. Kettlebell clean and press, one arm (repeat this for a second interval using the other arm)
5. Turkish get-ups
6. Walk up and down my porch steps holding heavy kettlebells
No joke, friend, I am dying (in a good way) by the 20-minute mark. It's awesome. AND I'm finished in 20 minutes, with time to shower, get my kids to school and get to work on time. AND I didn't have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to fit in a 45-minute lifting session.
No doubt you have read the same articles I've read that claim you can be pretty darned fit with as little as 10 minutes of intense exercise intervals each day. I think it's easier on my joints, too, since the exercise is not producing a prolonged pounding on my knees and ankles.
I once commented to my friend, fitness author Lou Schuler, that he should add another book to his New Rules of Lifting series called the New Rules of Lifting for Busy People: Fitness in 30 minutes or less. (Are you reading this, Lou?) He's probably too busy to write it, but I am hopeful and patient.
So how do you stay fit as a busy person? What advice can you share? I'm certainly looking for new ideas.