woman in black sports bra holding blue and black kettle
All you need for most of these exercises is a mat and some motivation. Photo by Ave Calvar

Get fit in 5 minutes a day

This sounds like a scam right? But experts agree, 5 minutes of working out a day combined with taking steps to stay active can get you into shape – and keep you in shape. Here is how you can use mini workouts to game the system and get fit while getting it all done.

Let’s face it – we don’t have enough time for hours of working out

If you have a fast-paced career, you likely don’t have a full 60-90 minutes of continuous time in a day to exercise. The wonderful thing about these exercises is that you can do most of them right next to your desk for five-minute blocks. Or, if you are going into the office, you can squeeze one or two of these workouts before you head out, in the time it would take to drink a cup of coffee. If you don’t have time in the morning, you can sneak away at lunch to the office gym or just hit the deck right when you get home to unwind. It is just about changing a little habit here and there for example, instead of a 5 minute numbing social media scroll… say ‘no’, same goes for scrolls on the RealReal (guilty). Now that we are slowly starting to travel again, all of these can be squeezed into a quick hotel room or hotel gym workout space.

Mini-Workouts DO make a difference

In May 2013, The New Times made the 7-minute workout explode in popularity and many still swear by it; it was through this article that there was a new take on how one could incorporate fitness throughout their day. In 2021 the NYT delivered more good news for people with curtailed gym hours during the pandemic – another study that explores the benefits of a scientifically-proven-effective-11 minute workout!

The magic of mini-workouts is that you can do five minutes here, 10 minutes there, in between calls, a few minutes in the evening – and before you know it you have done a 45 minute workout, just over the course of a day. Research has shown that mini workouts throughout the day is just as effective as doing it all in one bout at the gym. It’s all about taking advantage of the micro-moments throughout the day. Even if you do only squeeze 5 or 10 minutes in, you still will benefit physically, according to experts. And you WILL benefit mentally. This is because you are focusing on what you CAN do, instead of focusing on what you don’t think you have time to do. By overcoming this in your headspace, you will feel accomplished and like you can conquer the rest of the day. Replacing any time sitting through out the day, even just three minutes, can automatically improve your mood.

woman running on stairs
Just running up and down the steps for 5 minutes can get your heart rate up and burn major cals all day long. Photo by Tyler Nix

The Program

So now that we have established mini-workouts are good, WHAT mini-workouts should you do? There are some app recommendations that I have listed at the bottom of this article, but I also worked with Neda Khalili, a certified trainer at Equinox, to design some bespoke routines for people like us who really need to just knock out some moves and go back to those spreadsheets.

For each workout, try doing each exercise for 30 seconds each, for up to 2 songs on a playlist. A great way to gauge when 30 seconds have gone by is by doing the set until the intro, outro, or chorus is over – this saves extra time you don’t have to set timers, etc. If you have more time, repeat the circuit once or twice to increase the workout to 15-25 minutes. It’s totally scaleable. You can also combine each one with a LISS workout (read my exercise formula for success for more on that) like walking, elliptical, or cycling.

The Workouts

The workouts are divided in the following categories. I have made a corresponding playlist for each category which I will link below. All of the individual movements are briefly described and also linked on youtube. You can jump over to the DAOFitLife YouTube Channel on the Plyomentrics, Strength, Legs, Arms, and Ab playlists. Where relevant, I have linked the video with the workout in its entirety.

  1. Cardio Quickes – DAOFitLife Plyomentrics (Plyometrics are explosive cardio movements done with your own bodyweight)
  2. Strength training Quickies (full body) – DAOFitLife Strength Training Playlist
  3. Ab quickie – DAOFitLife Ab Workouts
  4. Leg quickie – DAOFitLife Leg Workouts
  5. Arm quickie – DAOFitLife Arm Workouts

“Hey, where’s the yoga?” Most of these movements incorporate yoga and pilates-inspired workouts, so you will be getting those components in too. All of these exercises, whether yoga, plyo, pilates, or cardio – ALL use your bodyweight. Which is the best machine of all for the fastest results.

I will continually update all of these playlists, so be sure to subscribe to see all the latest ones!

Cardio “quickies”

Each of these can be a standalone 5 minute cardio workout, or combined for a longer workout.

Quick cardio circuit: 

  1. Kickboxing quick moves: Boxing Arms Punches ; Jab-Jab-Kick-Kick
  2. High Knees (From Slow to Fast/Marching to stationary Skip Like motion)
  3. Butt kicks  – this is usually a counterbalance move to high knees
  4. Jumping Jacks 5 in a Box: Do 5 Five jumping for each side of a “square” and then when you get back to the top, do 4 jumping jacks repeating the same orientation until you get to zero.
  5. Mountain climbers – these are a good way to get your heart rate up and work your core without jumping. Get into a high plank position with your abs taut and carefully ‘drive’ your knees towards your chest, almost as if you are ‘climbing’ up the side of a mountain. Try to keep your abs taut at all times to maintain the integrity in your spine.  This is a full body exercise you can do anywhere and get your heart rate up!

Other quick cardio options: 

  1. Doing a few rounds of going up and down the stairs safely closest to you, listening to two songs for about 5 minutes of stepping. 
  2. Dancing to 2 of your favorite songs. I feel that dancing is THE most underrated form of exercise and being an overall mood booster. Dance like nobody’s watching (or everyone, if that is your thing), with a partner or without… just get up, feel the beat, and groove it. You will be surprised how wonderful you feel. I like to take a moment and envision a mental holiday just for 5-7 minutes and I find that it really does help me get to the tasks at hand when this little break is up. 
  3. Walk or Jog around the block listening to 2-3 songs or 5-10 minutes of your favorite songs or parts of Podcast
  4. Jumping Rope – This old school classic will definitely get your heart rate going and are total body exercises that cost next to nothing and take up very little space. If you have no pre existing injuries or conditions (especially with regards to shoulders, back, and knees). You can get great jump ropes for cheap like this one from Amazon.

Strength training quickies

Quick full body 1

This is derived from Anna McNulty’s workout vlog. She does workouts that are suited for dancers, cheerleaders, and anyone wanting to get into shape. I highly recommend checking out her channel, especially if you want to get more flexible.

  1. Inchworms (Walk out from standing to plank, do push up and then walk back)
  2. Shoulder taps Come to a high plank position and without too much shifting from side to side, tap one of your shoulders with the opposing hand.
  3. Mountain climbers Get into a high plank position with your abs taut and carefully ‘drive’ your knees towards your chest, almost as if you are ‘climbing’ up the side of a mountain. Try to keep your abs taut at all times to maintain the integrity in your spine.  
  4. Pushup superman (also called lay-down pushups) Lie completely flat on your belly, navel tucked in towards your spine, carefully lift your legs and your forearms using the integrity of your lower back, then bring your hands underneath your shoulder blades and completely lift your body up, almost as if you are levitating into a full pushup position. Start to descend back into the superman position and repeat.
  5. Plank toe touches – from a plank position, move through downward dog and reach for opposite toe on each side.
  6. Plank hold (forty second) Either come onto your hands or forearms, extend your legs completely straight, bring your navel in towards your spine and brace-brace-brace!
  7. Side lunge taps – stand with legs past shoulder with apart, bend one knee in a side lunge position and stretch opposite arm in a twisting motion. Quickly move from side to side 
  8. Skater jumps – hop from one leg to the other, side to side, in a skater like motion. You can keep the working leg raised behind the supporting leg or tap it down to the ground.
  9. Side plank knee leg lifts – get in a modified side plank and do leg lifts 
  10. Table top half leg rainbows Come onto your hands and knees, essentially forming 2 90degree angles. Then extend one leg to be completely straight and imagine that your glute (versus your back) is carrying that leg to draw the biggest rainbow it can without twisting into your spine. Repeat on the opposite side.
  11. Sit ups (or crunches for modification) – here it is important not to use momentum and to keep your elbows wide so that you only see them peripherally.
  12. In and outs (start seated with arms bent behind you, then bend knees to your chest and extend)
  13. Russian twists – legs lifted and one foot over the other then twist from side to side 
  14. Crab toe touches – from a “crab” position on hands and feet rapidly touch each toe back and forth.

Quick full body 2  – From 5 Quick Exercises to Do During Commercial Breaks 

  1. Plié squats – I find these to be much better of an overall leg workout than a regular squat, in terms of lengthening and scuplting the thights and calf muscles. You can lift your heels to get a good balancing workout at the same time.
  2. Planks – side, forearm, straight arm, modification options 
  3. Standard Crunch: Here, lie flat on the ground, with your feet flat and knees bent at 90 degrees; while keeping your spine connected to the ground, tuck in your navel towards your spine. Gently, only using the strength of your abs, raise your head, neck, and tops of your shoulders- hold and repeat. 
  4. Standing Cross Body Punches While standing with your knees slightly bent/ or softened, ‘punch’ your arm in the air forming a diagonal motion. Alternate sides for one minute and pivot on one foot if you need to. 
  5. Mountain Climbers Place your body into a high plank (arms extended straight) position, while keeping your whole body straight, bring one towards the direction of one side of your chest, pause for a moment and repeat on the other side. Keep ‘climbing’ for one minute. 

Quick full body 3

The following routine is when you are in the mood for some conditioning but also want a good stretch and to keep it moving. It is saved with other great stretching-oriented workouts under the DAOFitLife Posture and Flexibility playlist.

5 Minute Stretching Workout (Anna McNulty/Youtube)

  • Neck rolls:  Roll through the following positions in super slow motion and then reverse: Chin to chest, ear to shoulder, back of head to back, ear to shoulder
  • Neck side to sides : Gently turn your head to the left, keeping your shoulders straight ahead at all times, then turn your head to center, then to the right ear and repeat. 
  • Side stretches with opposite arm reach over – Stand tall with a wide stance, now gently reach your hand, overhead and as if your arm is a windshield wiper lying flat- towards the opposite side of your body. Hold and repeat. This is also great to do as soon as you get up out of bed.
  • 10 deep plies (reach to the ground), then in plie position, with shoulder stretch in between (push each should in side to side with legs in plie position): 
  • 10 stationary lunges each leg : Stand tall, taking a long step forward and being on the ball of your foot on your rear leg, shoulder blades back and navel tucked in towards your spine, descend down into a lunge, forming an “L” with your front and rear leg. Squeeze your glutes at the end position, then, resembling an escalator, ascend your body back up- never flattening your foot until the set is finished. Repeat on the opposite side. 
  • 10 inchworms: Start out standing tall, carefully soften your knees to the  and bring your hands to your shins, then to the floor, “walk” your hands out into a plank position, let your body contract for a moment, then carefully start walking your hands back towards your feet, as close as you can to being in a toe-touch position, then come straight back up to standing and repeat. You can add a pushup at the end for more of a challenge.
  • 10 down dog swings each leg: Be seated, then come on to your hands and knees in a table-top position, then carefully straighten your arms and straighten your legs (softened but not locked out), forming your body into a pyramid/down-dog. Contracting your buttock, straighten your leg and then swing it towards your chest, then swing it back up. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.
  • World’s Greatest stretch– World’s greatest stretch – from a deep lunging position, push bent front leg to the side to deepen stretch in outer hip. With the opposite hand placed on the floor, reach up such that you are in a gentle spine twisting position. Repeat on the opposite side. 

Quick Ab workouts

Quick ab workout 1 – (10 Minute Intense Ab Workout Video (GainsbyBrains Youtube))

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I found this great workout on Youtube which incorporates some of the best ab movements for a strong core for just 10 minutes a day! This Is the list and a brief description of the movements (do each for 30 seconds only one time through for 10 minutes). Tabletop is used often in this sequence, so if you are not familiar with it check out this explanation on this yoga site – as you can see it’s a yoga pose! Some of the moves you are starting on your hands and knees but there is also “lying tabletop” which is essentially the same configuration but on your back.

You can also break these up into 2, even 3 ab circuits so you can work different parts of your abs each day.

  1. Single leg drop – Ensure that legs are in a tabletop position and exhale on the way down, with knees at a ninety degree angle. It is very important to avoid bending your knees in and losing the integrity of the extension out, otherwise it will not benefit your core whatsoever
  2. Dead bug – Lie down with legs in a tabletop and straight arms (like a “dead bug”) – and then slowly lower opposite arm and opposite leg 
  3. Swimmer crunch – cross lengthened arms behind your head and do a sit-up. Option to also cross legs at the ankles.
  4. Toe touch – like down with arms and legs extended, reach up as far as you can to your toes, and repeat.
  5. Reverse crunch – Grab a table leg or something stable. Lie on your back and then raise legs at a 90 degree angle, lower, and straighten.
  6. Leg raise – Lying on your back, raise legs to a 90 degree angle and lower down.
  7. Bicycle crunch – Criss cross your legs as you raise your opposite elbow to your opposite knee. Importantly, turn with your core, not your neck.
  8. Single leg jacknife – Raise straight leg and opposite arm as you raise your head, then lower down
  9. Bird dog – On all fours, reach opposite arm and opposite leg in different directions until your arm and legs are completely straight
  10. Plank crunch – In a plank position (on forearms or hands), slightly lift hips and “zip” your core (i.e., pretend someone is about to punch you in the stomach – that’s how you should be all the time in your core!)
  11. Brazilian plank crunch – Start in plank and then crunch up one leg, and then the other
  12. Crab walk toe touch – From a “crab” position (on hands and feet with your belly up), extend opposite hand to touch opposite leg as close to the toe as possible.
  13. Double leg pilates stretch- From a lying position bring in knees to chest and raise head to meet knees (like in a cocoon) and then extend back to straight lying position.
  14. Single leg raise (propped up on elbows) – Raise one leg and then the other slowly in an alternating fashion.
  15. Scissors – With head and shoulders raised and straight legs open them and cross them in a scissor-like motion keeping as close to the floor as possible
  16. Butterfly lift – Raise butterflied legs in (if you need to see the butterly pose, click here).
  17. Penguin – Lying with your feet bent on the floor reach for your heels from side to side (so you look like a penguin)
  18. Bicycles (without twist) – Propel legs in a bicycle like motion while pedaling keep elbows bent behing you
  19. Knee in (propped on elbows) – From bicycle extend hands on floor behind you and draw knees in and out
  20. Vacuum – this is a great finisher. Just get on your hands and knees in tabletop and then suck in your stomach so there is no air whatsoever, hold for a few seconds, and then release. It really flattens it out!

Quick Ab workout 2

This is inspired by Miss Auti’s beginner ab workout – Miss Auti is aYoutube channel that has workouts for dancers that is targeted for dancers but is very beginner-friendly and has a lot of excellent conditioning exercies. What better resource to get great workouts than dancers?

  1. Upper body crunch 360s – lie on your back and go in a crunch positions and then raise and swivel your upper body on a 360 level.
  2. Center-side-center reps – lift in a crunch with knees bent and then reach to the left, back to center, to the right and back to center
  3. Deadbug (see previous abb workout)
  4. Bicycles (see previous workout)
  5.  Plank dips – in a forearm plank, dip your hips in a rainbow-like motion but kee the rest of your body still like this:
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Find this on the DAOFitLife Ab Playlist!

Quick Leg Routine  

  1. Duck Walking  – it’s kind of what it sounds like, involving crouching low and walking as far as you can until your legs feel like they are going to explode.
  2. Wall Sit (with an option to raise one leg) Come to the wall and flatten your spine against the wall and descend into a squat. Everything should be pressed against the wall until the start of your hamstrings. Your legs should form a 90 degree angle and just hold there. If you would like a challenge in that held position, straighten one leg and hold. But just holding is plenty!
  3. Mountain Climber with Slow to Fast Progression Here start slowly and then speed up towards the end: place your body into a high plank (arms extended straight) position, while keeping your whole body straight, bring one towards the direction of one side of your chest, pause for a moment and repeat on the other side. Keep ‘climbing’ for one minute progressing in speed.
  4. Walking Low Lunge Standing in an already lunged, carefully without too much rise walk forward into a lunge on the opposite leg. Its is almost like lunging as if you are in a spy-thriller-movie!
  5. Glute Bridges  Lie flat on your back and position your feet so that your knees form a 90 degree angle. Carefully bring your navel in towards your spine while squeezing your glutes towards the ceiling. Hold at top position, then carefully descend back to a flat back. Repeat.
  6. Reverse Walking Lunge  Stand Tall and take a deep step backward with your hands by your side or at your hips. While keeping your spine completely erect, descent into a lunge until both knees form 90 degree angles. Ascend and have both feet meet and carry on “walking” backwards this way. If you don’t have a lot of space, just do standing reverse lunges. Reverse lunges are better than front lunges because they do not put as much pressure on your knees

For another quick routine, try this JLO leg workout on my leg Playlist.

Quick arm and upper body

  1. Incline Push Up – From any kind of stable incline – incluidng your couch or nonmoving chair – place your feet on the edge and keep your body straigh while you lower as far as you can down and then press back up).
  2. Shoulder taps – From a plank positon, quicly tap each shoulder side to side while keeping your hips still (you can actually combine this with Incline push ups as shown here).
  3. Lat batwing pulses – Drape fingertips over shoulders in a “wing” like position, and then engage lat muscles (the “bat” like muscles connecting your shoulder blades to your upper thorassic spine) and exaggerate them down. Repeat in a pulse-like motion
  4. Crab toe touches (also works core) – see above under Ab workout or reminder here).
  5. Body band rows – in a seated position with legs straight, pull an exercise band or a towel back straight towards your chest. Can be done as a narrow or wide row. (If you are on the hunt for a good body band, try Arena strength bands)

I also love MadFit’s quick 5 Minute arm workout:

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You can absolutely work out while working

If you absolutely have no time to get away from your desk, you do not have to sit still like a robot. In fact, that is terrible for your back and your neck. I will never stop repeating this – for eight percent of the cost of a Peleton, you can get a great standing desk. You can do so much if you have a standing desk – march your feet in place, practice balancing on foot and then another (whihc works your core), and do calf raises.

If you are sitting, you can still march your feet in place as you are sitting, You can easily do one of the exercises in this article, including seated oblique twists, chair tricep dips, and desk pushups. Here is a full list of exercises you can do when you are at your desk, or even on the couch OR bed. I have pulled a sample and created a quick circuit for you:

Couch-side, desk-side, or bed-side

  1. Assisted Side Plank
  2. Seated Straight Leg Raise
  3. Chair Squats
  4. Desk PushUp
  5. Chair Dip
  6. Desk Mountain Climber

There is equipment you can buy, too. You can get one of those under desk mini bicycles from Amazon:

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Apps that excel at short workouts

The apps have it. If you are a runner, or want easy short strength and yoga workouts from apos, here is a great selection for you.

Nike Train Club

As always, Nike is ahead of the curve in fitness movements. Their quintessentially cool yet unpretentious “Just Do It” vibe permeates into the app, but this time a little more than showy marketing. If you have ever done a Nike Team/ Run Club night IRL(be it a fitness class or a city long run), you know that the Nike Pro’s really do a great job in motivating you. Whatever your fitness level, instructors are encouraging  you through  their positive-yet-non-saccharine reinforcement.  It turns out that on the app, it is the same.

Fitness Blender

Oh, man I can’t tell you all enough of how I love Fitness Blender! Sadly, they shut their app down about four years ago, however they have their website and their Youtube Channel is still going strong! Some really solid short ones are the 10 Minute Abs and Oblique Routine, Relaxing Stretching Workout for Stiff Muscles and Stress (4 Minutes), The Most Effective Squat Challenge (8 Minutes), Fast 5 Minute Cooldown for Busy People.  

Do Yoga With Me 

DoYogaWithMe has a clear, organized interface, which is useful when you are in a rush. The app itself is free and many classes (especially the shorter than 10 minute ones) are free and with a subscription, you have access to even more classes and things like practicing challenges with specific teachers. Some good choices for those short on time would be the 9 Min Easing Tension, 5 Minute Yoga for Office Energy and Stress Relief, and 6 Minute Office Yoga for Shoulders

The Run Experience 

As a frequent reader of Outside Magazine, a few years ago there was a small bit about lunging exercises to help you become a stronger runner. The bit was contributed by The Run Experience and enticed me to investigate even more! Although The Run Experience is very runner-centric, there are plenty of strength and conditioning exercises and workouts that don’t require you to be a runner and no, you won’t be doing sprints around a track. In fact, I frequently have turned to it as a resource to help some of my very non-runner clients. Most of the strength and conditioning exercises are bodyweight and can be practiced anywhere and can range from learning the real basics of a lunge to more explosive skipping/bounding motions.

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