January 7, 2009

Short and sweet: kicking your routine up a notch

Today I worked from home, and I finished my work 30 minutes before the conference call we had to discuss our progress. So what? Well, that meant I could squeeze in a quick 15 minutes down at the gym before I had to be back to collect everyone’s work and compile it into a deck. You may be chuckling to yourself, thinking, “she’s going to spend only 15 minutes at the gym? That’s nothing!” If that’s your thought process, you are sadly missing out on one of the best motivational techniques of all: the short but sweet workout.

I first discovered part of this technique when I discovered how much I hated getting up early in the morning to work out. I would set my alarm for 5:45 so that I could get in an hour long workout before getting ready for work. This was a great idea in theory, but a horrible idea in practice. Rather than getting up when my alarm went off at 5:45, I would hit snooze 6 or 7 times, finally dragging myself out of bed at 6:39 or 6:48 (to save you the math, my snooze cycle is 9 minutes) all groggy and pissed that I had wasted the last hour of sleep by having to continuously hit the alarm clock. I was no more well rested than if I had just gotten up at 5:45, but I just couldn’t make myself get up to work out for an hour.

Eventually, I discovered that if I just set my alarm for 6:36 with the intention of doing one segment of my 8 Minute Fitness DVD before getting ready for work, I actually got up. After all, skipping just one snooze cycle was not a big deal. 9 more minutes of sleep? That’s nothing. I got a greater amount of real sleep by doing this than I got by constantly hitting my snooze alarm, and I realized that an 8 minute workout was better than none at all.

Following this theme, when I had a free 20 minutes today, I threw on my workout clothes and headed down to the gym. I realize this technique is a lot easier with a gym just an elevator ride away, but there are plenty of exercises you can do in your own home if the gym is too far to make the effort for a quick workout. To make the 20 minutes worth it, I decided I was going to go all-out with the workout. I started with 5 minutes on the rowing machine to warm up my arm muscles and get my heart going, but then for each of the machines I used in my weight lifting, I tried to set it one or even two levels harder than I normally do.

I discovered that I could do a lot more than I thought! When I did tricep dips with the little bar that you can stand on to give yourself an assist, I was able to set it to about 10 pounds less assistance than I normally give myself… and then about 15 pounds less for the last set! The same was true for the pullups I do on the same machine, and for the lat pulldowns, and for the bicep curls… etc. Knowing that I only had 10 minutes to lift, it was easy to push myself harder than I’ve done in the past, but it gave me a bit of a kick in the pants. The next time I go work out, I won’t be satisfied trying for the same old levels I’ve been doing – now I know I can go harder.

So if your workout has gotten stale, try a short and sweet workout where you attempt to push each exercise a little harder than you’ve been doing in the past. You never know what your limits are until you try to push them.

How do you push your fitness levels to new heights – have you ever tried something like this? Leave your tips and suggestions in the comments!


13 thoughts on “Short and sweet: kicking your routine up a notch”

  1. I hate getting up in the morning.. exercise just seems so far away and unachievable.

    I really need to do something about getting up, though. We have a 9 minute snooze cycle as well.. we visit it many times in the morning

  2. “short and sweet” is the premise behind CrossFit (www.crossfit.com), which is what i do in addition to running. many of the workouts are only 15 or 20 minutes long but they are super intense for those 15 or 20 minutes. example: as many rounds as possible of 5 push ups, 10 sit ups, 15 squats in 20 minutes (i got 20 rounds … 100 push ups, 200 sit ups, 300 squats total!). i can’t begin to count the number of times i’ve been sore from such a short workout!

  3. It’s good to know I’m not alone in the “I just can’t get up in the morning before work to workout” club. I did the snooze thing for an hour this morning and now feel horridly tired and guilty for not running three miles at 6a. I appreciate your honesty, it’s very motivational! Now I’m determined to get up early tomorrow morning for a workout.

  4. I am always stuck on a workout needing to be a long thing – minimum of 30, 60+ minutes preferable. I occasionally do Jillian’s 30 Day shred, but don’t feel that I actually work out long enough to make it a ‘workout’. I should maybe try that more – especially on days I’m a little more crunched for time.

  5. Laura, the main CF website (www.crossfit.com) posts a “workout of the day”. a lot of the workouts are body weight only and can be done pretty easily (like the example i gave in my last comment), but some of the more complicated moves may require some teaching. for example, i would probably never do olympic lifts (heavy squats, clean & jerk, deadlifts) w/o an instructor present.

    some ppl do CF workouts at other gyms, the only difficulty is making sure all the equipment is available so you’re not stuck waiting, and making sure its cool with the owner/manager of the gym. 🙂

  6. That’s a great idea! I do the same thing.

    The other thing I do is punish myself if I miss a workout. I’ll get busy and miss my afternoon workout and then when I do make it into the gym the next day I’ll increase every machine by a weight or add a few more reps.

    You’re right, you sometimes can find yourself doing what you never thought you could.


  7. Everyone has those days.

    There is fine line between under training and over training, both can result in injury.

    I think consistency is a good plan.

  8. That’s absolute(ly) brilliant. I have never been able to convince myself to get up an hour early to do a workout… but a 10 minute run on the treadmill before work seems easy!

    I’m gonna try it!

  9. I could not agree more. Now that I’m working I’m planning on doing a 5 day a week short-but-sweet workout. I only get an hour lunch and the gym is like 5 min away, but with walking and changing into gym clothes I’m guessing I’ll get a 30 min workout everyday.

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