15 Ways to Exercise in Under 5 Minutes


You've probably heard of interval (or circuit) training — it has to do with interspersing regular workouts with short, intense bouts of activity, and getting better results. Interval training can be helpful even for people who aren't highly athletic. Pressed for time? Hate going to the gym? That shouldn't keep you from engaging in basic interval training. You don't need to buy expensive equipment, or spend hours every day, to get fit through short workouts. In this article, I've outlined several basic, equipment-free exercises that take under five minutes. You can do them at home, or even at work, to burn fat and build muscle tone and improve your balance. (See also: 10 Exercises to Do at Work That Don't Make You Look Silly)

Although the following exercises themselves are quick, you should never attempt them without first adequately warming up and stretching. Of course, a healthy adult should participate in at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, so if you want to try some of these quick exercises as your daily workout, choose three or four of them and combine them to work all of the major muscle groups.

1. Push-Ups

Done properly, push-ups work your shoulders, chest, upper and lower back, core abdominal muscles, triceps, biceps, and if you are really into it, your buttocks. Done improperly, like most of us do them, they work your shoulders. As I've been told by many people, doing a push-up (or even half a push-up) with perfect form is much better than doing one or more shoddy push-ups.

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But how do you do a perfect push-up? There are several things to keep in mind. First, your body needs to be as straight as possible — tighten your tummy muscles if you have trouble with a sagging midsection. Your hands should touch the ground more or less below your shoulders, and your elbows should be turned out no more than 45 degrees from your body.

Now, push-ups aren't easy. Nearly 85% of American adults can't do a single push-up properly (I just made that up, but it's probably true). If you can't lower yourself down to the ground and come back up in a fluid motion, you can start by simply lowering your body to the ground using perfect, straight plank form. Once you have mastered that, you can slowly work your way up to doing a full push-up. Too easy? Do them one-legged.

2. Bicycle Crunches

God, I hate these crunches. They are difficult, but they work a large number of muscles (back, core, legs) and are a great way for runners to train quads for more rigorous running.

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3. Hip Thrusts

If you have access to a good surface like a weight bench, and are planning on starting a new career as a porn star, a set or three of hip thrusts will work similar core, back, and leg muscles as the bicycle crunches.

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You can add some light hand weights (or even hold some books) and work your triceps in between...uh, thrusts. You'll be the strongest, most well-read thruster out there!

4. Burpees

If there's anything that I hate more than the bicycle crunch, it's the burpee. A throwback to the horrors of gym class (remember when they tried to make you climb a stupid rope? I do.), the burpee is a dizzying exercise that may make you want to vomit. But if done correctly, the burpee gives you a full-body workout in a short amount of time.


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5. Full Locust Pose

Full locust pose uses all of the major muscle groups, but especially concentrates on the core abdominal and back muscles. It is one of the most challenging of all Bikram Yoga poses and should be practiced with care.

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6. Duck Walk

Duck walking is not for the faint of heart — or knee. Seriously, don't do this if you have bad joints. It's not as easy as it looks (and it doesn't look that easy). Do it forward for 20 feet, and then backwards for 20 feet.

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7. Wall Plank

No, not that kind of planking. Real planking. Bracing your feet against the wall, you hold you body parallel to the ground, with core muscles engaged. Add some leg curls if you aren't getting enough exercise just holding yourself up.

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8. Side Plank

Side planks are like sideways hip lifts that work core, hip, and arm muscles. Do them slowly, and don't forget to breathe. If you have dumbbells, you can incorporate some light hand weights into the overhead motion.

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9. Side Lunges

Side lunges work inner and outer thigh muscles, but add a rowing motion, and you've got extra work for your lower back and abdomen. If you do have free weights at home that you can use in the exercise, feel free to employ them, but if not, you're still going to be engaging major muscle groups.

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10. Donkey Kicks

This super-short video gives you the essence of a good donkey kick. Bring the knee close in to the chest, then slowly raise the leg back and up. Be careful to take your time so as not to smack your knee into the ground.

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If you're not really feeling the burn enough, you can alternate between Donkey Kicks and Dirty Dogs. Which would also be a great name for a band.

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11. One-Legged Calf Raises

Calf raises are so easy to do that I often do them at Starbucks while waiting in line. Sure, people look at me weird, but that might also be because I forgot my pants. You can use a step to increase the range of motion, if you like. Also, to work more muscles, raise your arms at the same time. This will require slow movement, and lots of balance, but you'll be working your stabilizer muscles like crazy, which is good.

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12. Jumping Rope

Like all P.E.-related activities, I hate jumping rope with every ounce of my being. I hate it nearly as much as dodgeball. But jumping rope an excellent way to get a quick, intensive cardio session in a short amount of time. It takes a certain amount of rhythm (which I don't have) and coordination (ditto), but if you were to jump rope for five minutes a few times a day, you'd be getting in some wonderful heart conditioning and circulation improving exercise — and it would certainly help break up the monotony of sitting at a desk all day.

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13. (One-Legged) Squats

Squats are great for toning and strengthening your quads and glutes, but if you want to do a squat that will work your core muscles, try a one-legged squat. Watch how the Russian-engineered, mega-fit, cheerful Cylon Zuzana does them.

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*Disclaimer — Squats, even one-legged, will not produce the kind of boobage that you are seeing in this screen still.

14. Explosives

Like an evil sibling of the burpee, the explosive works leg muscles, core muscles, and even arms. Do not try this in a basement with low ceilings, is what I have learned.

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Again, if you do have access to dumbbells or hand weights, you can up the ante a bit by adding some resistance to your workout.

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15. Dead Lift Rowing

I actually refer to this as "sadistic rowing," as it's something that my personal trainer makes me do while standing on one bent leg for the entire set (10 reps, then 15, then 20). As much as I dread doing this particular exercise, it does incredible things for your balance, working stabilizing muscles in your legs and core. You don't have to use a weight — just reach toward the floor and lift your arm.

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I'm not a trainer or even a particularly intelligent person. As with any exercise regimen, it's your responsibility to be certain that you are capable of doing the following exercises without injury. Consult with a physician first if you have any conditions that make exercise hazardous.

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Meg Favreau's picture

Oooh, I haven't tried the wall plank before; that looks like a good challenge. Now if only my walls weren't white...

One of my favorite quickie exercises is tricep dips. Not that I actually remember to do them that often.

Andrea Karim's picture

I guess I should have clarified that the key to getting fit at home is to have tall ceilings and black walls.

Meg Favreau's picture

The image in my mind of that house is amazing. And very goth.

Andrea Karim's picture

Sorry, but five minutes was the "cut off" (that's a little body dismemberment humor there for you).

Guest's picture

I was glad you posted a yoga posture (full lotus), but "practice with care" is an understatement to those who are not familiar with yoga. In the Bikram sequence, Full Lotus has mindfully been placed at the end of the sequence after the body has been fully warmed up. Because of this, I would not recommend performing full lotus as part of a 5-minute exercise plan. Otherwise, great suggestions- very helpful!