This is supposed to be your moment. January, start of the new year and the new, fitter you. The only problem: It’s harder to find 30 minutes to get your sweat on than you thought.
The solution: Learn to “snack” on your fitness. Instead of devouring a full workout, squeeze in five minutes here and there for short segments of exercise—say, a few sets of 20 pushups or a circuit of five squats, five lunges, and a 30-second plank. These five-minute workouts—let’s trademark them as “fitness snacks”—help your overall health more than you’d expect, burning fat and building muscle over your entire body.
Heck, they may even recalibrate how you view the term workout. CrossFit, group classes, and eight Rocky films’ worth of montages may have left you feeling every workout has to be epic. “Not everyone can find time for an hour-long workout,” says trainer Gunnar Peterson, C.S.C.S., who’s worked with the likes of Sylvester Stallone and the Los Angeles Lakers. “But everyone can find a few quick minutes a few times a day.”
Spend five minutes between meetings doing the fitness equivalent of chomping on a handful of almonds (okay, fine: M&M’s) and you excite muscle fibers and nudge your heart rate upward without wiping out your body. And since you’re never pushing yourself to max levels during a five-minute workout, you don’t even need a warmup. “The only problem with this approach is that no one believes it’s going to work,” says Dan John, a Utah-based fitness historian and strength coach.
The science of the five-minute workout
Science says fitness snacks can be effective. A 2018 study from the National Cancer Institute revealed that short bouts of vigorous movement throughout the day—taking the stairs, walking, and cleaning—prolonged life span as effectively as longer workouts. A separate Australian study showed that a few 30-second bursts of high-intensity training can power up your mitochondria (the energy dynamos of your cells), reducing your risk of chronic disease.
This approach has an older pedigree forged in the gym. In the ’90s, trainer Pavel
Tsatsouline, known for bringing Soviet workout principles to the Navy SEALs, championed something he called greasing the groove. That training technique involved doing, for example, a few sets of five reps of a difficult exercise every hour up to ten times a day. It’s still one of the best ways to master pullups.
Now more and more trainers are embracing five-minute workouts. Sure, they’d love for you to be in the gym for hours, but they also know your routine’s greatest benefits occur early on. “Ten to 15 minutes earns you 80 percent of the value of a longer workout,” says Angelo Poli, who’s worked with NFL star Aaron Rodgers.
All of this is practical in part because it’s closer to traditional training than you might think. Classic bodybuilding sequesters you in the gym for more than an hour, but that includes warming up, changing weights, and resting between sets. Calculate the time actually spent working hard and it’s often 20 minutes or less.
Or, you know, four daily intervals from our menu of muscle-building, fat–melting, and metabolism-fueling snacks.
The benefits of a five-minute workout
Sharper Brain Function: A quick bout of mild exercise, like slow stationary—bike pedaling, can improve memory.
Rosier Mood: A 15-minute daily session of higher-intensity exercise, like running, can reduce depression risk by 26 percent.
Faster Fat Burning: Shorter-interval workouts lead to greater fat loss than long, low-intensity sweat sessions.
Zippier Metabolism: Three 20-second all-out intervals can boost insulin sensitivity for a whopping 72 hours.
Five-minute workouts for every fitness level
There’s a five-minute fitness snack for every situation, whether you’re aiming to lose weight, build muscle, or simply learn a new bodyweight exercise. Can’t make it to the gym today? Try these fitness snacks out a few times a day.
The Starter Snack (6 minutes)
Fitness snacks are great for gym vets—and even better for those who don’t exercise at all. If you’re going from a sedentary lifestyle to fitness snacking, expect to see major changes. Rip through this 3-move workout with no rest 3 times a day.
Bird Dog: Get on your hands and knees, hands below shoulders, back flat, abs tight. Lift your right leg and left arm off the floor; keep your hips and shoulders square as you do. Return them to the floor. Repeat the process on the other side. That’s 1 rep; do 20.
Plank Pushup: Get in a plank, elbows below shoulders. Put your right palm on the floor below your right shoulder; straighten that arm. Do the same with your left arm; you should be in pushup position. Return to plank position. That’s 1 rep; do 20.
Walking Squat: Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder width. Step your right foot 6 inches forward. Bend at the knees and hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Press back up. Step your left foot forward, in front of your right by 6 inches, and repeat. That’s 1 rep; do 10.
The Swole Snack (7 minutes)
Yes, you can build muscle with your bodyweight. Just use a tempo, says bodybuilding coach Menno Henselmans. Do this circuit that way.
Handcuff: Lie on your stomach, arms lifted. Keeping your thumbs up, draw your arms outward in a wide arc. As they near your hips, bend your elbows and point your thumbs toward each other. That’s 1 rep; do 8.
Tempo Pushup: Get in pushup position. Lower your torso to within an inch of the floor; take 3 seconds to do this. Pause. Push back up. That’s 1 rep; do 10.
Skater Squat: Stand with arms extended. Lift your left foot, a pad or pillow on the floor under your left hip. Bend your right knee and lean forward slightly, lowering until your left shin touches the pad. Stand up. That’s 1 rep; do 5 per side.
The Strength Snack (3 minutes)
The “every hour on the hour” workout can help you improve. Pick a challenge move from the list below and, at the start of the hour, do 2 or 3 reps of it. You’ll do 18 to 40 reps daily.
Supported One-Arm Pushup: Get in pushup position, grasping a support with one hand (the leg of your desk will work), palm turned forward, arm fully extended. With your other arm, slowly lower your chest to the floor; press back up. That’s 1 rep; do 2 per side.
L-Sit: Sit on a desk or chair, hands near your butt. Lift your legs, driving your knees straight. Straighten your arms, lifting your butt in the air. Hold for 3 seconds. That’s 1 rep; do 3.
Pistol Squat: Stand, then lift one leg off the floor. Bend at the knee and sit back, lowering your butt near the floor; hold a chair if needed. Stand back up. That’s 1 rep; do 3 per side.
The Weight Loss Snack (5 minutes)
Your heart rate stays elevated after just a few minutes of ultra-intense activity, so the right move at the right intensity can send you to your next meeting still burning extra calories. Do these 2 moves back-to-back and you’ll believe it.
Seal Jack: Start standing, arms in front of you, hands together. Jump lightly, opening your feet as you do, and spread your arms wide. Jump back to starting position. That’s 1 rep; do 15.
Mountain-Climber Burpee: Start standing, then squat, place your hands on the floor, and kick your feet back into pushup position. Tighten your abs, then lift your right foot and drive your right knee to your chest. Return to pushup position and repeat with your left leg. Do 4 total mountain climbers, then stand quickly. That’s 1 rep; do 15.