Little time, more muscles.
July 18, 2011 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I have 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night to do some muscle toning exercises. What should I do that would be the best use of my time?

In an effort to take a little bit of time each day to have stronger muscles, I want to start small by giving myself a few minutes of exercises in the morning when I wake up and at night when I go to bed. I already bike a few miles to and from work every day, and I wait tables, so my life is not terribly sedentary, and I feel like my legs are pretty strong. I would like to know of some exercises that would help strengthen/tone my core muscles (abs, back) and my arms/shoulders and that would give me the maximum benefit in those 15 minutes. I’m already a healthy BMI (5’7”, 130 lbs, female, 28 years old), so I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to lose weight.

Of course I know that crunches/sit ups and push ups are good for these things, but I’d like to know if there are more effective exercises that I might be doing that best use my limited time.

A few things:

I have limited space in which to do these things. I have essentially the length and width of my body on either side of my bed, and that’s it. I live in a small apartment with roommates, so there isn’t sufficient common space either. So no jumping rope, or things where I need to have a wide range of movement.

I really don’t have extra money to spend, so please nothing that requires equipment of any kind. Though I might be happy to get a few cheap handweights if that’s recommended.

And yes, I know that there are many fitness gurus out there that might say that this is not ample time to really get any effective results, but I’m doing this as much to introduce routine into my day as I am to strengthen muscles.

Thanks for your help!
posted by greta simone to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Look at Tim Ferris's kettle bell/ab workout. You can fabricate a "t-bar" (poor man's kettle bell) for a few bucks, and upgrade with bigger plates as needed (he explains all this).

As for the workout itself, it's a standard kettle bell swing. There are plenty of YouTube videos for this. For the ab section, look up the myopic crunch and the "cat vomit" exercise. Both have been starting to show muscle definition where I haven't seen it in 10 years after about two weeks of doing it. Granted, diet is a large part of losing that belly fat, but I've slimmed down before with no perceptible muscle tone in that area.

As much as I hate exercise, it's a good way to spend 20 minutes total for both workouts.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 12:43 PM on July 18, 2011

What about some basic Pilates? Many Pilates exercises don't require equipment (a mat is helpful though) or much space.

This video podcast offers some basic instruction that might help you out.
posted by golden at 12:45 PM on July 18, 2011

A cheap, durable ab roller costs about $12 on Amazon. It's a short but rigorous workout, and doesn't take more floor space than one body length.
posted by Nomyte at 12:46 PM on July 18, 2011

Pick up some dumbbells via Craigslist and do shoulder presses, bench presses, one handed rows, goblet squats 3 X a week. One set at about 50% to warm up, then one set up to 12 reps. When you can do 12 reps add weight. Or you could add reps if you can't buy additional weights. That covers most of the major muscles.

Find somewhere to run. Sprint absolutely as fast as you can for 30-60 seconds - to the point of exhaustion, The walk for 3-4 minutes and repeat the cycle 3 times to start. The key is the sprint must really push you to the can't run another step point. That covers aerobics.
posted by COD at 12:46 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know someone who is in ridiculous shape through: push ups, pull ups, crunches, and jumping rope. Agree that plank poses are also great for toning.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:48 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Definitely crunches of all varieties (and a ball is always a good idea). This site page is helpful if you can get inside it.

Also, Pilates. All you need is a video and some rubber tubing.
posted by bearwife at 12:49 PM on July 18, 2011

Stretches to improve flexibility and using different muscle groups to stay toned are the best use 2x 15 minutes. If you maintain the routine for a few weeks it gets really easy and you will likely love that time.


posted by DavidBenton at 12:49 PM on July 18, 2011

Seconding the Iron Gym.
posted by unixrat at 12:54 PM on July 18, 2011

Most of the crossfit exercises are easy to do without any equipment.
posted by schmod at 1:00 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

P90X ! See youtube
posted by tvdveer at 1:01 PM on July 18, 2011

Push-ups! As a bonus they are totally free of charge for a limited time only!
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:06 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

More details on the "if you're not ready for pull-ups" front

you can hang for awhile which will help your shoulders.
You can jump up so that your chin is as high as it would be for a completed pull-up and, as slowly as you can, lower yourself to the hanging position.
posted by jander03 at 1:39 PM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

200 Squats, 100 Pushups and 200 Situps only take a few minutes a day 3 times a week and its an easy to follow, structured program with measurable results. They've recently added a 150 dips one as well but you may not have suitable furniture for that one (I know I don't)
posted by missmagenta at 1:52 PM on July 18, 2011 [14 favorites]

Seconding CrossFit (lots of demo videos!). I pay to go to group glasses twice a week and on other days I do modified workouts in my tiny NYC apartment.

But if that seems to be too much variation and craziness...

Squats, sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups... when they start getting easy do more. When that starts getting easy easy, buy some free weights -- hold them while you squat, put them on your chest while you sit up, put them in a backpack while you do push-ups & pull-ups.

Also you can do push-ups with your feet raised (steps) to add more challenge.
posted by LZel at 2:16 PM on July 18, 2011

Response by poster: The Iron-Man looks awesome, but would I need a door-frame/door-moulding for it to work? Because I do not.
posted by greta simone at 2:45 PM on July 18, 2011

You can do some version of 5BX in 11 minutes. 4 minutes a day saved! (Previously)
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:23 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pull-ups/push-ups/squats are great, of course. Try also burpees. Finally, Sun Salutations are a good full-body exercise as well and there are a lot of little variations you can throw in.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:26 PM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a woman about your size and with similar goals, I've recently started doing push-ups & plank poses on a nearly nightly basis and have been really impressed with what a difference that small effort has made. And I like that I can measure my progress by how many more push-ups I can do without feeling like I'm dying.
posted by dino might at 7:02 PM on July 18, 2011

if you did nothing but pushups and burpees you would be way ahead of the game.
posted by facetious at 7:40 PM on July 18, 2011

Get an adjustable set of dumbbells, a chin up bar, a chair, and a situp mat.

That gives you chin ups, pull ups, rows, military presses, dips, pushups, squats, lunges; pretty much all of the core strength exercises besides heavy squats.
posted by talldean at 7:59 PM on July 18, 2011

I recently started doing the ridiculously-named Convict Conditioning workouts. I like this program because it requires no equipment (later on you will need somewhere to do pullups, but worry about that in a few months), and it starts out really gently and lets you progress at your own pace. I find it more sensible than some of the fashionable extreme workouts everyone is into these days, and its kind of old-fashioned and well-thought out. You use only your own bodyweight, instead of weights, machines, kettlebells etc. You don't need any space, just a chair or a table or a wall for each exercise. Its not complicated, there's only 6 exercises, but you progress to harder versions of each one as you improve. Despite the rather stupid macho name, I think its a good solid program which focuses on the basics of strength training. I found the tone of the book rather silly and I'm not sure I believe the story of the author, but it doesn't really matter because the workout program itself is great.
posted by Joh at 10:43 PM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


i am also starting on a strength workout. Good luck. it will definitely help to spend a little time reading up on the science behind strength training it development helps.

a couple of important points that i have learned might help you on your way. Firstly if you want to build your strength up i.e have increased power and strength in your muscles then you don't want to "tone". Tone derives from the word tonus meaning the firmness of any given muscle when your aren't deliberately flexing it. what you want to do is train your type 1 muscle fibers. These are the ones that do the power and strength stuff, your type 2 are your endurance ones. The only way you will do this effectively is making them work.

another important point is that men and women's muscles are essentially the same and whats good the gander...If you only have 15 mins - look at working your muscles hard for those 15 mins around 3 times a week. look at doing low rep, high weight.

Also recovery is just as important for growing your muscles, increase your protein intake on the days you work out.

hope this helps... i am doing my workouts at the gym - but push ups squats are all good - with only a short amount of time - look at exercise that work multiple muscle groups - its really not worth for example doing an exercise that just works your small muscle groups on their own.
posted by katelizabeth at 1:43 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by trevyn at 6:45 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also like Convict Conditioning - I've always had somewhat weak wrists and recurring tendonitis. While it seemed silly to go from my tens-of-manly-pushups to the inclined wall ones, I found that doing them slowly with control really worked the muscles and strengthened my underlying tendons and ligaments.

This step-by-step movement building has helped me in each of the exercises that Convict Conditioning has you do.

Also, due to the lack of equipment, I even can work out in the bathroom at work (for sufficiently prison-like bathrooms) to wake up from a slow day.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:23 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do a deck of cards workout. Use only the non-face cards to keep it short, then add in face cards as you get faster. E.g. Ace of clubs = 1 pushup, 6 of hearts = 6 froggers, 10 of diamonds = 10 situps, face cards are 10X. Choose four exercises that don't all work the same muscles to get a good rounded workout:

Suggested exercises that don't require a lot of room:
- Burpees
- Pushups
- Jump squats
- Froggers
- Mountain climbers
- Lunges or jumping lunges
- SEAL jacks
- Dive bomber pushups
- Side planks with dip
- Hip raises
- Plank pushups (pushup one arm at a time from plank then down again)
- Bicycles (alternating side situps with knees to opposite elbow)
- Tricep pushups (need a chair or platform for these)
- Swimming pose on your stomach with legs and arms upraised
- Get ups (roll forward into standing position)

You might want to cut the deck in half while you are working on speed, then add cards back in as you get faster.
posted by benzenedream at 4:32 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

15 minutes? Here's what I would do:


- pushups (works all "pushing" muscles, including triceps and chest)
- pullups (works all "pulling" muscles, including back and biceps)


- kettlebell swings (works posterior chain)
- bodyweight (or dumbbell) squats (works quads)


- "cat vomit"
- myotatic crunch
- plank

During ALL exercises, suck in your gut - HARD - like you're trying to look good at the beach. This stabilizes your core and makes every one of these exercises a core exercise.

If necessary, modify exercises to reduce difficulty. For example, put your knees on the floor to make pushups or planks less difficult.

You'll need a kettlebell to do swings and an exercise ball to do the myotatic crunches. If you don't want to invest in a kettlebell, you can do unweighted one-legged deadlifts.

If you do the exercises one after the other at a decent clip, you will also reap some anaerobic benefits.
posted by halfguard at 7:10 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hey, the fine folks at Precision Nutrition just sent this article out - maybe you'd be interested? The workouts are just 6-10 minutes long. It has a treadmill component, but I think the important aspect there is the interval training, so just pick any simple exercise where you can work very hard for 15 seconds, then stop, over and over.

Also, Stumptuous has an interesting page on DIY gym equipment if you want to jury-rig some weights.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:23 AM on July 20, 2011

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