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Take advantage of breaks at work by walking for them. When running errands park far away so you can walk more, then carry things back to your car without a cart. Also, when I go to the bathroom at work, I'll take the handicapped stall if not in use and will do wall push-ups, squats, and tri-dips on the sink in there.
Integrate walking into your life (as noted above) and focus your exercise on occasional sprinting and high intensity strength workouts (either body weight or with equipment). The keys to make the brief bouts of exercise worth it by ramping up the intensity. Leave yourself exhausted. This can be like 2-3 15 minute sessions a week. Add a little more for warmup and some time for lying on the ground trying to catch your breath while uttering profanities, and you are done. Finished. Spent.
I've never met anyone who couldn't fit numerous sets of 25 pushups into their day...if they wanted to.
If you do 200+ pushups throught the day, most days, you will be in pretty good shape. Throw in a few squats and you are really getting there.
I found that the more I got in shape, the more I looked for ways to incorporate easy exercises into my life. I work 9 hours a day with 2 15 minute breaks and 30 min for lunch. On my breaks, I do pullups, pushups, squats, and walk. Same as lunch. I eat a couple cans of sardines at my desk later.
I have a pullup bar and treadmill at home. I sprint 2X week in the evenings. Mostly, 'no time' is just a poor excuse. 25 pushups takes about 1 minute.
1. Focus on intensity - whatever physical activity you do, make it brief and intense.
2. Utilize things you can do outside the gym - bodyweight work, do some sprints, etc.
3. As others have said, if you have a desk job, walk a little when you have a break at work. Standing up and moving periodically throughout the day, even if only for 5-10 minutes at a time is good for your health, relative to sitting continuously.
I think one of the key themes here that nobody has explicitly stated is that you should try to find a way to integrate exercise into your existing schedule without taking up more of your valuable time. High value targets are:
- Run/bike/walk to work.
- Do 'stair sprints' instead of taking the elevator. I know at my workplace I have the stairs pretty much to myself!
- Do bodyweight or sprints over your lunch break.
Tim Ferriss' book "The 4 Hour Body" is concerned with exactly this. He talks about the concept of the "Minimum Effective Dose" i.e. getting the biggest results from the least effort. He even goes so far as to suggest that doing more than the minimum could be counter-productive. I'm not 100% sure about the guy - if he were British he would be called an eccentric - but he has a lot of ideas and his books make interesting reading, if nothing else.
He talks about kettlebells and Tabata sprints (4 minute workout!) both of which I've found to be very effective. As has been stated above, hi-intensity (especially intervals) and short duration will give the best results. I also second the suggestions above about integrating movement into your life, e.g. walk/cycle instead of drive, stand instead of sit, etc. Go for a run on your lunchbreak instead of chatting/surfing the web?