Problem

  • Do you struggle to find time to exercise some days?
  • Do you feel weak after traveling on a long plane trip or car ride?
  • Do you feel tired after eating lunch or a high-carb meal?

In five minutes you can have more energy, a little less fat, and a little extra strength. You can complete this bodyweight exercise routine in five minutes anywhere. Try it at the office or take a break outside. You can do it at the airport, rest stops, and even on a plane. It will curb that post-meal tiredness and mitigate that high-carb blood sugar spike. Once you learn this simple routine you’ll have better health in five minutes for the rest of your life.

Story

I’m a Type I diabetic and you don’t want to be. I was diagnosed at 14 years old right before Christmas. I developed an undetermined infection over Thanksgiving that caused my eye to swell shut. Prednisone opened the eye again, but my doctors forgot to wean me off the drug. Prednisone often causes inflated blood sugars, but it’s invaluable as a steroid for treating many medical problems. As an amateur medical detective I suspect prednisone played a role in overwhelming my pancreas and ability to produce insulin along with my infection, genetics, and other factors not fully understood yet my medical experts. My doctors told me I would have gotten diabetes eventually anyway, but this just sped it up. As a teenager, I didn’t know I could challenge the doctors with questions at this point.

I’ve accumulated many positive benefits from diabetes. I don’t drink alcohol. I eat high-quality food. I try every healthy habit I can find. And I know how many carbs are in everything you ate today. Carb-counting – it’s a diabetic thing. Diabetes led me to performing body weight exercises daily. Bodyweight exercise reduces the impact of blood sugar spikes. That’s normally what causes you to get tired after lunch or a high-carb meal. Why should you do it?

Benefits

Less fat
The right bodyweight exercises stress big muscles in a good way. Exercise breaks down your muscles and burns stored glucose. The subsequent response from your body is to re-build the muscles stronger and replenish your glucose stores. Where does that glucose come from? If timed right, it comes from your bloodstream after you eat a meal with carbs before they’re stored as fat. Your body prevents blood sugar spikes by releasing a lot of insulin. Insulin promotes fat storage and can lead to low blood sugars. Do you ever eat a lot of starch, soda, or sugar and feel like you want to take a nap about an hour later? That’s a blood sugar crash. You can reduce the crash, keep your energy level more stable, and reduce fat storage with this routine.

More strength
You can also use this routine to help maintain your strength and fitness with just a couple five minute bodyweight exercise sessions per day. Don’t expect to grow significantly stronger. However, if you’re not exercsing at all, this is a good start. If you can’t find time to exercise, this is one tool to help maintain your current fitness level.

More energy
You’ll get a boost in just five minutes from this routine. By hitting large muscle groups you’re getting blood flowing. You’re briefly stressing your body in a good way. You’re bound to breath a little faster, feel a little more powerful, and sense a sharper mind when you’re done.

Convenience
You get all these benefits and can immediately go back to what you were doing before. You won’t be too winded. You won’t sweat too much. You can do this routine in almost any clothing. It’s perfect for any time of the day when you need a boost or when commuting for an hour or longer. 

Bodyweight Exercise Habit

Perform this routine once or twice per day on days that you’re not exercising or need an energy boost. Check out the Common Cues below for other triggers describing when to use this habit.

Complete 4 sets of:

  • 10 Air Squats
  • 10 Air Overhead Presses
  • 10 Air Pull Downs 

If you have time constraints, set a timer for 5 minutes or less and do as many sets as possible with good form until time expires.

For anyone that doesn’t understand sets and reps, above you see we’re completing 4 sets of 10 reps of Air Squats, Overhead Pressess, and Pull Downs. This means you’d first complete 10 Air Squats, followed by 10 Air Overhead Presses followed by 10 Air Pull Downs. That’s one set each of Air Squats, Air Overhead Presses, and Air Pull Downs. Repeat that sequence 3 more times for a total of 4 sets to complete this routine. 

Diagnostic Adjustments

4 sets is the standard routine, but you can do more or less depending on your fitness level, time available, and skill level with these exercises.

To diagnose your skill level, ask the following questions:

  • Have I ever done these exercises before?
    • No = Low skill level
    • Yes = Next question
  • Have I performed these exercises 50 times or more?
    • No = Low skill level
    • Yes = Next question
  • Have I had someone qualified (trainer, coach, etc) review my technique and incorporated their feedback?
    • No = Medium skill level
    • Yes = High skill level 

If you’re at a low skill level, you may want to stick to 2 sets of these exercises for now or set a timer for 5-10 minutes and do as many sets as you can while focusing on form. Use the pictures and videos below to get started or to tweak your form. As noted below find a coach or fitness friend to give you feedback on your technique.

If you’re at a medium skill level, keep practicing 4 sets and find someone qualified to review your technique at least a few times. Take notes on their feedback and ask them to verify that you’ve corrected your technique after practicing their suggestions.

If you’re at a high skill level, you can do more than 4 sets but don’t feel obligated to do more. This routine is meant to be fast and not punishing.

If you start to sweat while performing these exercises and that’s not desirable in you current circumstances (work, dinner, party), slow down. If you’re rushing through the exercises, take your time and focus on form. Try to perform these exercises in a cool location when you don’t want to sweat. Go outside if it’s cool or crank up the fan or air conditioning. Finally, if all else fails cut the workout short. This routine shouldn’t cause you to derail your plans for your day.

Remember that you will not be perfect when you start, but you will improve over time. Your technique will get better. Your fitness will get better. Your pacing will get better. You will get benefits quickly after a just a few practice sessions.

Exercises

Air Squat

  • Stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward, and a proud chest like a lion as pictured below.
Air Squat - Top Position

Air Squat – Top Position

  • Sit back starting with your hips like you’re going to sit in a chair as shown by the green arrow.
  • Your weight should be on your heels throughout the squat as highlighted in yellow for the right heel and the same applies for the left heel with weight split 50-50 between each leg.
  • Keep your chest upright and continue lowering until your hips go below the level of your knees. In the picture below you can see my hips on the left side are slightly below the orange line, which is the level of my knees.
  • Modification – You may not be able to get your hips below your knees to start and that’s fine. Remember, over time that “hips below knees” is the goal. You may need time to improve your ankle or hip flexibility to get there. Yoga, mobility, and physical therapists can help. Often, just focused practice over a few months will improve your flexibility and you’ll squat lower.
Air Squat - Bottom Position

Air Squat – Bottom Position

  • Stand up completely so your hips are fully extended (i.e. Shoulders, Hips, Knees, and Ankles stacked in a straight line) and you return to the starting position.
  • Repeat.
  • Check out this video for a demonstration of the Air Squat.
  • Before you read the next exercise, stand-up and complete 10 Air Squats. Seriously. I’ll wait. Did you stand up yet? No? You will never start a good habit unless you practice. Now is your chance. The probability that you’ll pick-up this easy, life-changing habit increases dramatically if you just stand up right now and do 10 Squats. Do you want to get healthier? Do you want another tool in your toolbox? Stand-up. 

Air Overhead Press

  • Stand upright, feet hip-width apart with fists at shoulder height and elbows vertically under your fists as pictured below to prepare for the overhead press motion shown by the green arrows.
Air Overhead Press - Start Position

Air Overhead Press – Start Position

  • Press your hands above your head until your arms are fully extended and elbows locked out like in the picture below.
  • Lower your fists to return to the starting position.
Air Overhead Press - Finish Position

Air Overhead Press – Finish Position

  • Check out this video for a demonstration of the Air Overhead Press.
  • Before you read on, stand-up and complete 10 Air Presses. If you’re tired from doing the Air Squats, you can even try this sitting down just by stretching your hands up really high. You’ll make mistakes. That’s okay. It’s part of the learning process. 

Air Pulldown

  • Stand upright, feet hip-width apart with fists clench overhead and a foot or more of space between your fists as pictured below.
Air Pulldown - Finish Position

Air Pulldown – Finish Position

  • Pull your fists down to shoulder height by squeezing your lats highlighted in yellow above then pulling down from your elbows and wrists as shown by the green arrows. Keep your elbows under your fists throughout the movement until you finish in the position pictured below.
Air Pulldown - Finish Position

Air Pulldown – Finish Position

  • Raise your fists overhead to return to the starting position.
  • Check out this video for a demonstration of the Air Pull Down.
  • Before you read the next section, stand-up and complete 10 Air Pulldowns. By now this should be routine. Unless you haven’t stood up at all for any of the exercises. This is your last chance. You can complete 10 Air Squats, Presses, and Pulldowns back to back. It takes less than two minutes. Your friends will be jealous of the healthier you. Your kids, friends, or parents will be happy you live longer. You’ll be proud of yourself. Lao Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step” and he’s still right. Just try it. Stand-up.

Common Challenges

  • Injuries – Get your injuries checked out. Don’t wait. Call the doctor. Get rehab. You only have one body. Treat it well. If you have health insurance or money constraints, brainstorm other options for that can help you. Scan your network for healthcare profressionals, physical therapists, or even a trainer or coach.
  • Technique – If you don’t have the technique to perform these exercises properly, watch a video online. Practice. No one starts with perfect technique. You’ll improve your form over time. Find a trainer, coach, or fitness friend and ask for feedback on your form. If you don’t have access to anyone knowledgable on these techniques, find a friend with a good eye for physical technique in sports or other disciplines. Ask your friend to compare your technique to a video showing good form. That’s not the ideal approach, but it’s a good way to start improving your technique when you don’t have access to a qualified coach.
  • Time – Given that this habit takes 5 minutes or less if time is still an issue, the only question at this point is: What are your priorities? Where can you find five minutes in a day to sacrifice to introduce this routine? Browsing the web? Facebook? TV? A break at work? Find your cue for a routine like these and replace that habit with this one or combine watching TV with five minutes of watching TV and exercising.

Common Cues

Use the situations below as triggers to complete this routine. You don’t need to do all of these. Select one or two that work for you.

  • Food
    • Before eating a high-carb meal or dessert
    • Before breakfast, lunch, or dinner
  • Time
    • Start of a work break
    • Before leaving the house
    • Before leaving work
  • Places
    • Bathroom breaks
    • Car before or after driving
  • Travel
    • Airplanes
    • Rest stops on long road trips
    • Hotel room

You don’t need to pick all of these cues. Pick one or two and get started. Learn the techniques.

You may think it’s impossible to complete these exercises on airplanes. I understand why you’d think that, but I’ve done them on multiple airplanes. You need to answer two questions: (1) Where can you perform the exercises and (2) Is your health more important than looking a little strange on an airplane? For #2 answer based on your priorities. I prioritize health over other people’s opinions of me.

For #1 you can find often small nook between sections on larger planes or use the space by bathroom on smaller planes. You may have to cut your workout short if a line forms around you. When seated on an airplane, remember that getting your blood moving and muscles engaged every few hours is great for your health. 

Summary

The first wealth is health.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you need an energy boost during your day or while traveling, use this bodyweight exercise habit to increase your energy and strength and burn fat. It only takes five minutes to complete once you learn the routine. Stand up to practice while watching the videos. Pick a one or two cues for when you’ll perform this habit. After a week you’ll know the basic routine. Take the time to give yourself the gift of better health. Be proud of creating a another tool in your toolbox for staying healthy for the rest of your life.