When life robs you of your time to exercise, you can steal a little back without breaking a sweat.
Whether you are a working professional or stay-at-home parent, staying fit is a vital part of your ability to survive. In addition to helping you maintain the strength and flexibility needed to prevent injuries, staying fit can reduce stress and lengthen your life.
But some days just don’t afford you any time to work out, leaving you feeling drained, defeated, and caged.
For the working folks, it’s not unrealistic for a consultant to wake up at 4:00am, drive to the airport, rush to catch a plane, sit en route for 2.5 hours, then sit for another hour while driving to a client’s office, followed by large chunks of hours sitting through client meetings and conference calls, followed by more hour hunched over a laptop in the back of a sedan on the way to the airport, the a few more sitting on a plane, then sitting in a car, and upon finally arriving home, slumping over into bed, only to be woken up at sunrise in order to sit through a critical conference call with workmates eight time zones away.
For the stay-at-home parent who seems to have a little more freedom to move, the day might start at 3:00 a.m. with a sick child. Instead of making it to the gym before sunrise, mom or dad ends up hunched over a bed or a toilet for hours. Then the day unfolds as follows for this “stay-in-the-car” parent. He or she sits in the driver’s seat of a car: driving kids to school, driving two hours round trip to purchase an urgently-needed dance recital costume, driving back to school to collect the kids, returning home for a quick change into sport gear, driving again to drop one child at soccer, then another at an advanced basketball training facility whose exclusiveness warrants the 45-minute drive it takes to get there. Finally nearing the day’s denoument, but also approaching rigor mortis, this parent cruises back down to the soccer field, back up to the basketball training center, arriving home at 8:45 p.m.
There is no absolute remedy for an over-packed and under-active schedule. If you find yourself in this situation regularly, your primary focus should be to fight the forces that are imposing these schedules and identify solutions and some means of simplifying the demands on your day.
But, if on occasion days like this do happen, the following plan will enable you to stealthily squeeze out a solid workout from a day that would otherwise deny that your body exists. Over years of taxing days as consultant and parent, I’ve refined this suite of 60-second exercises down to the few that really work in any space. These exercises use the full power of muscles throughout the body, yet are not likely to induce sweat.
You must be assertive about fitting these in; don’t let the first person to dial-in on a conference call to trump your efforts with small talk. Clearly state “I’m going to hit mute for a minute while we wait for the other participants to log on.” The average busy day is filled with many such 60-second lossy gaps. From booting up your PC and listening to long-winded voice mails, to running software updates, to waiting for conference call participants to join a meeting, there are many opportunities to slip in a quick fitness boost.
By inserting these exercises into a busy and otherwise inactive day, you’ll end up feeling more like a champion and less like a martyr. In addition, physical exercise may cause immediate bio-chemical changes that improve the brain’s performance. So your success in the next hour’s meeting may be boosted by slipping in one of these 60-second routines.
Note: The author is not a doctor. You should consult a doctor before beginning any health, diet or exercise program.
One Day of Stealth Exercises
8:00 a.m. – Do 16 push-ups: You can do these on your office floor, even if squeezed between a credenza and a desk. Place your hands on tissues, paper towels, or a hand towel; placing your feet against a wall will prevent you from slipping. If an office is not possible, use a bathroom or a locker room and again, place a paper towel product under your hands.
- This is likely to require only 30 seconds; if you’ve had a strong coffee, double it up by adding another 30 seconds to pump out a personal best.
- If you prefer modified push-ups, place a towel under your knees. If you feel comfortable doing modified push-ups, consider challenging yourself with non-modified push-ups. The goal is to get a spurt of energy to start off your day. (I am not a doctor. Consult your health professional, as always.)
9:00 a.m. – Assume a plank position (such as the preparation for doing push-ups). Bend your right leg and work to keep the leg as close to your chest as possible, with your knee pointing to your chin. Keep a flat back and long plank position.
The exercise motion is to make small circles with your knee, moving it slightly left, then up, closer to your chest, then right, then slightly down and left again. Make 32 circles with your knee and return your leg to the straight position, toes on the floor. Repeat this on the left leg. Repeat the entire set again while making the knee circle in the opposite direction. Your lower abdominal muscles will burn, though the movement is very small.
10:00 a.m. – Do a 60-second wall sit (if there is time, extend that to 90 seconds). You can place your laptop on your knees and check e-mails in order to be productive while gaining muscle tone in your quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor and gluteous maximus muscles. If you need to type on the keyboard, just be sure to type lightly and avoid using the keyboard as a crutch.
11:00 a.m. – Stretch:
- Hamstrings, using forward bend – Wearing flat shoes, or with your shoes off, place your feet five inches apart. Keep your back straight, and lean forward. As you feel your back and hamstrings being to stretch, allow your back to curve downward with the top of your head pointing the floor. Reach for the floor or hold your ankles to gently stretch. Bend your knees, then gently straighten them, but do not hyper extend your knees. Repeat the bend-and-stretch movement five times.
- Calves, leaning against wall or desk – Stand three feet away from a wall. Place your feet together, flat on the ground. Lean forward, placing your hands on the wall. Feel the stretch in your calves and allow your heels to lift from the floor slightly if you feel pain.
- Arms, triceps – Reach one arm up in the air, bend it behind your head. Use the hand on the other arm to place gentle pressure on your bent elbow. Repeat this with the other arm.
- Arms, forearms – Reach one arm out in front of you and place the hand up at a 90-degree angle, as if to say “stop.” Use the hand on the other arm to gently pull back on the palm and fingers of the extended “stop” hand. Feel the stretch in the forearm of the extended arm. Do the reverse, with your “stop” hand pointing downward (as if allowing a gentleman to kiss your hand). Pull gently on this hand with the free hand to stretch. Repeat this entire stretch on the opposite arm.
12:00 p.m. – Do 16 side bends on each side: Stand with your feet one foot apart. Hold a 5-10 lb. object in your right hand (suggestions: a laptop bag with laptop inside, a metal hole punch, a desk phone, a ream of paper, a diminutive workmate… be creative).
Stand straight, facing forward, knees slightly bent. Holding your weight in your right hand, lean as far as you can to the right while keeping your hips square; your right hand should reach the level of your right knee. Stand back up by contracting your left oblique (side waist) muscle. Return to the straight standing position. Do this 16 times to the right, then repeat to the left with the weight in the left hand.
1:00 p.m. – Abdominals: Lay on your back, either on the floor, on a bench or on a chair that has no arms. (Be smart and safe in selecting where to do this.) Lie fully extended as if lying on your back on the floor. Lift your legs about 15 degrees off the floor, straight, toes pointed/extended. Place your hands behind your head and lift your upper back off the floor (in a ‘stomach crunch’ position). With your legs straight, make a scissor movements (alternating right leg up to 45 degrees, then left leg up to 45 degrees; continue to switch making a scissor movements). Make 32 scissor movements; pause; then do 32 more.
Follow this with 32 “bicycle” movements. Bend your right knee to your chest and touch the opposite (left) elbow to the knee (twisting abdominal crunch), then reverse that position, pulling your left knee in to your chest and touching it with your right elbow. (Consult professional advice on the position of your elbows in relation to your shoulders, head and neck.) Repeat this right and left alternation 32 times.
2:00 p.m. – Gentle dead lifts: Start with a brief forward stretch as described in the 11:00 a.m. hamstring segment. Then stand straight, facing forward, feet a foot apart, holding a symmetrical weight (such as a ream of paper, or a hole punch device, or a hand weight). Slowly and gently lean forward and lower the weight down toward the floor with your arms, keeping legs very slightly bent to prevent any pulled hamstrings. As you lean forward, the weight should move directly down toward the floor (not out in front of you). Count slowly to four as you lean forward toward the floor, and count to four as you stand. When you stand, use your core muscle to straighten your hips, lengthen your abdominals, and tuck your rear end under, back to your original straight posture position. Repeat 16 times.
3:00 p.m. – Walk: Many companies, social groups and schools promote their concern for healthy living. Help them put their money where their mouths are. Identify one discussion you have planned for the day that could be transformed into a walking meeting. Oftentimes meetings have a flow; the first half of the meeting may involve heavy content review, wherein all eyes must be glued to a spreadsheet or a presentation. In contrast, the entire second half of the meeting may focus on more broad discussions to exchange ideas or discover solutions. If you have a meeting with one or two trusted contacts, suggest that the first or last 15 minutes be considered a ‘walking’ meeting. If your group is meeting live, you can get up and walk down the street to buy a coffee. In the case of a teleconference call, the walking portion of the meeting just requires that participants use a cell phone with ear buds to remain joined to the conference call while they walk. After the walking discussion segment is complete, participants can all return to their PCs to document the agreements your team has just reached. When your schedule hardly allows for lunch, taking fifteen minutes to walk-while-you-work is no crime.
4:00 p.m. – Plie, releve, work the e-mails away: When you get a chance to catch up on e-mails and play inbox tetris, double up on your ‘value add’ by doing some ballet-based knee bends and rises. Place your laptop on a chest-level counter, bookshelf, or window sill.You will alternate, doing a knee bend (plie) and a rise (releve) lifting your heels off the ground.
The plie (plee-AY) is a bend at the knee. Your heels should be touching each other, toes pointed away from each other (in pointing your toes away from each other, a 90 degree angle is fine; your toes do not need to be at a complete 180-degree angle). This is called “first position.” As your knees bend, your heels stay on the floor.
After each plie, you will then rise up, in releve (re-le-VAY). Keep your toes flat and relaxed on the ground while you lift your heels off the ground several inches with your weight on the balls of your feet (this is demi-pointe; do not stand up upon your actual toes without ballet training and pointe shoes!). Use the strength of your quadriceps to keep your knees straight as your rise. You will feel your calves work to lift you while your rear end tucks and tightens to keep your torso straight.
Do this plie (bend) – releve (rise) routine 32 times. If you have time, repeat this entire routine in second position, in which your heels are about one foot apart from each other at either side. While your heels should remain touching the floor when you bend, you’ll be able to get a deeper bend in the knee when in second position. When you’re done you’ll feel great and you’ll have wrangled the worst of your inbox.
Tips for Making this Stick
Have fun with counting. I do all my exercises in 8’s, 16’s and 32’s because most pop music is written in counts of 4 and 8. So I try to recall the latest song I’ve heard and exercise to that tune in order to have a little fun. The juxtaposition of doing ballet moves in time to the song “Thrift Shop” is just wicked. “I’m gonna pop some tags, I’ve got twenty dolla’s in my pocket…”
While these exercises shouldn’t induce a heavy sweat, to be safe, you may wish to keep a refresher kit on hand: 1) A clinical-strength deodorant (mini-versions are often available at Walgreens or CVS) is important as a preventive measure and, 2) A small flat pack of handi-wipes that slips nicely into the side pocket of your laptop back.
Be crafty and assertive. You can still be effective in business while slipping in the exercise you need. Dial in to your conference call at the top of the hour. Wait for one other participant to join and say “Hi Francesca, it looks like we’re still waiting for a few others to join. I’m going to hit mute for just a minute or two to wrap up some open e-mails.” Boom, done. In 60-seconds your peers will still be milling about trying to open the latest meeting agenda and you will have accomplished something physical by dropping to the floor to pump out some muscle-toning exercises. Don’t let location issues trump you either. You can do these exercises in a bathroom or locker room by placing a paper towel or hand towel on the floor to keep your hands clean. Where there’s a will, there’s a (sanitary and professional) way.
Lobby to build acceptance for outdoor walking meetings. Stepping into the green landscapes offered in nature and city parks can combat mental exhaustion and distraction, according to research by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh. It’s not always practical, and when you are onsite with clients it hard to go against the culture. But, for example, you can start by suggesting a walking lunch, which enables you to network with business contacts while capturing the benefits of exercise.
Many days don’t end at 5:00 p.m. If your work is dragging on into the wee hours, continue to take 60-second breaks even if only to walk back to the coffee machine. (Yes you should always drink plenty of water, but those who have really experienced tough all-night-ers know that water alone doesn’t make PowerPoint magic at 2:00 a.m.) Keep moving as long as you are awake and working.
Mary Heckert is a corporate communications consultant who blogs on the side for BizDecoder.com, a collection of straight-talking explanations of how businesses and careers really work.