It’d be nice if regular activity was woven into our daily lives so that we could stay lean, strong, and fit without really thinking about it, but that’s not the world most of us live in. We have to set aside time to move our bodies. But, as I always say, this doesn’t mean we have to exercise atop a conveyor belt with a TV in front of it doing everything we can to forget that we’re even exercising in the first place. It doesn’t mean the workouts have to take an hour to complete. And it certainly doesn’t mean you need a gym to get in some good activity. That’s why I started writing the Workouts of the Week, a compendium of fun, effective, varied workouts for you to try. Readers still visit the archives to shake up their routines, so be sure to check them out if you’re in the market.
Today, I add ten additional fast but effective workouts to the list.
Max Reps Multiplied
Choose two movements – one upper body focused, one lower body focused – that are complementary and do not conflict with each other. Pullups and squats, good. Deadlifts and squats, not so good. For each movement, perform the maximum amount of consecutive reps you can do. Multiply that number by four to give you a target amount of total reps. You have ten minutes to reach the target rep count in each exercise using any set and rep scheme you desire. So if you were able to do eight pullups and six front squats in a row, you need to do 32 more pullups and 24 more front squats. For weighted movements, 50 reps (including your initial max set) is the upper limit. For bodyweight movements like air squats and pushups, the upper limit is 100 reps. If you reach the upper limit, add weight next time.
Very few of us launched right into full-blown bipedalism out of the womb. Instead, we crawled, crawled, and crawled some more. Contrary to the popular belief that crawling is just a useless placeholder for walking, moving around on all fours develops shoulder mobility and strength and contralateral awareness, plus the basic ability to move around and explore the environment. Adults should crawl too. It’s a little different for us, though. We’re heavier than babies, so crawling can be taxing, particularly on the upper body. We’re also not used to crawling, so it’s a new movement all over again for many of us.
The easiest way to learn how to crawl correctly is to start on the hands and knees. Assume the position. Place your left hand/left knee close together and your right hand/right knee further from each other. “Step” forward with your left hand and right knee, then follow with the right hand and left knee. Continue in this contralateral fashion. You can certainly try to crawl ipsilaterally (right hand/right knee forward), but your movement will be suboptimal. Once you’re comfortable on your knees, move to the balls of your feet and hands.
For the workout, crawl for seven minutes out of the allotted ten. The three minutes of break time can be divided into as many break periods as you like (e.g. three 1-minute breaks, or ten 18-second breaks, etc.). Crawl forward, crawl backward, crawl uphill, crawl downhill. Crawl sideways. Just explore the environment from the vantage point of a big baby.
Short and Heavy
Rather than a description of Gimli son of Glóin, this is a prescription for heavy kettlebell swings and short sprints. Every minute on the minute, do ten swings with a weight that’s heavy for you and follow it immediately up with a short 5 second all-out sprint. Because the actual workout part of the workout will be short (but very intense), put every fiber of your being into the swinging and especially the sprinting. It doesn’t sound like much, but it will be after ten minutes.
If you don’t have a kettlebell, any weighted object that’s able to safely pass between your legs will work. Sandbag, weight plate, dumbbell, small child, etc.
The basic kettlebell swing is detailed in this video by Dan John. Watch it if you need to know how to perform the swing correctly. To switch things up from the standard swing, check out this video from Clifton Harski for some ideas on how to do it.
Here in the United States, a single guy is liable to get the cops called if he so much as glances at a jungle gym set. Heck, most of the ones I see actually have signs explicitly forbidding childless adults from being there, so for this workout, you’re going to have to be covert about it. Stick to times when the playground is empty, partly for your security and partly so you don’t bowl over any kids during your workout. Or, bring a kid (hopefully your own) to join in with you.
The makeup of this workout depends on the equipment at your disposal. Most jungle gyms allow you to do some sort of pullup, so do some of those. If you can swing across from bar to bar, all the better. Climb poles, vault over barriers. Avoid taking the stairs and instead climb the structure itself. Crawl up slides, then slide back down and finish with a roll onto the ground. Just keep moving as if you’re a kid on a candy-fueled bender. Maybe there are some hot lava monsters afoot, too.
Spend ten minutes doing everything you can think of to move around on and interact with the playground equipment. Ten minutes is long enough to get a great workout but short enough to evade suspicion. For more ideas watch this, this, this, this and this Primal Blueprint Fitness videos.
The burpee is a simple yet humbling exercise. You begin with a pushup – that’s easy enough, right? – and spring up to the bottom of a squat, then stand and jump as high as you can before repeating the movement pattern. The first seven or eight burpees are always pretty easy, because you’re so focused on doing the movement that you barely realize the amount of taxation your body is accumulating. Once you finish that first set, though, the realization that you’re in for a rough time sets in.
Do ten of these the first minute, nine the second, eight the third, and so on. The faster you perform the burpees, the more rest you’ll get until the next set. The slower you perform the burpees, the less rest you’ll need since the burpees will be easier. What do you choose? Where do you strike the balance between intensity and rest? That’s for you to find out.
For this one, you’ll need a couple pieces of equipment. First, a medium sized garbage can. Second, a bunch of sand, diggable dirt, or gravel (the beach would work nicely here). Third, a shovel.
Using the shovel (or your hands if you prefer), fill the can at least a quarter of the way for women and halfway full for men. Once the can is at the requisite fullness, squat down so that you’re straddling the can and wrap your arms around it. Pull the can toward you (bear-hug style), maintain proper neutral spine, and stand up with the can in your arms. Perform three sets of 5 squats. If the can isn’t full enough to be a challenge, add a bit more material in between sets. After the third set, spend the rest of the allotted ten minutes filling the can up the rest of the way.
I often find that traveling affords me unique and effective ways to exercise. Either the place I’m staying at has a great gym with all the equipment I’d ever need, or perhaps the location is such that outdoor activities are encouraged and unavoidable. But sometimes you end up in those joints with a few mismatched dumbbells, a broken elliptical trainer, and surrounding environs comprised entirely of strip malls and parking lots. When that’s the case, how’s a guy supposed to get a good workout in? Burpees in the bathroom and dips on the chairs are effective, but those get old fast.
Next time you’re stuck in a hotel room, antsy to work out, consider rearranging the furniture. I’m serious here. That old CRT TV that weighs a million pounds? Move it over to the opposite corner. The entertainment center? Slide it across the floor to the other side. Flip the sofa up and over, flip the mattress, lift the easy chair. Pull, push, slide, lift, carry, and heave furniture around. Do this for ten minutes and work up a great sweat. But of course, be careful. We wouldn’t want any damage charges added to your hotel bill.
Beach Sprints, Modified
If you haven’t seen my old beach sprint video, check it out now. The cool thing about sprinting on the beach is that it’s easier on the joints and yet harder on your muscles because you’re working with a softer, more forgiving surface that absorbs a lot of the impact. How about we take it a step further and move toward the surf?
For Beach Sprints, Modified, you’ll be sprinting through shin to knee deep water. Wade out to where the water is lapping at your thighs and run sprints up and down the beach. Do 30 seconds on, one minute off, until the ten minutes are up. Classic beach sprints are also a dependable staple, of course.
You’ll need a partner for this, partly to steer the car and partly because you’re going to need a rest. You’ll also need a car.
Choose a street or parking lot with a slight elevation. It shouldn’t be such that you have to turn your wheels toward the curb when parking. In fact, it should be barely perceptible to the naked eye.
Have your partner sit behind the wheel with the car in neutral, the engine off, and the parking break released. Get behind the back bumper, face the car, and push the car up the slight incline. I recommend around 20-30 yards depending on the weight/size of the car. Don’t sprint it so much as walk it. Think of this as a test of your strength rather than something to throw yourself blindly upon. It’ll be a grind. Take full steps and be sure to place your heel on the ground with each step. Take a minute to rest, then push the car back the other way, slightly downhill, only going twice the distance as the first run, and sprint. You’ll find you go about twice as fast going downhill. It’s a very different feeling than the grind-it-out sensation of the uphill push.
Switch places with your partner and try to get another round of pushing in before the ten minutes is up.
Try not to throw up. And again, be extremely careful when attempting this challenge.
Could You Carry Your Prepubescent Self?
Forgive the convoluted name, but it makes sense when you learn what the workout entails: carrying a weight equal to 1/3 to 1/2 your current bodyweight for a full ten minutes. Use a barbell loaded with the requisite weight, a heavy sandbag, or an actual prepubescent version of yourself. Carry it for ten minutes using any method desired; just don’t put the weight down. Carry it on one shoulder, or both. Carry it in the front rack position, or placed on your traps. It doesn’t matter, and variety is actually probably best.
While merely standing there might seem like the easiest way to reach ten minutes, from my experience you’ll end up focusing too much on the weight and get discouraged. Instead, try walking around. Be the crazy guy who walks around the neighborhood with a barbell. Walk around your yard. If you’re game, throw in a few lunges and presses while you’re at it. Just don’t drop the weight until the ten minutes have passed.
If you have a little more than ten minutes and access to the outdoors, might I recommend the Outdoor Stamina workout?
That’s it, guys. Hope you’re able to get some use out of these workouts. I definitely have.
What about you? What are your favorite ten minute go-to workouts?
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.