The 5 minute workout

Who made the rules that exercise has to take a long time and has to be exhausting?  Can you really workout for only 5 minutes and get results? Short answer, heck yes you can.

The motivation problem

I’ve gotten people asking me over the years of what kind of workout they should do, and they all say they have the same problem, a lack of motivation. I believe I first heard the idea that motivation is an emotion from Jocko Willink, and I completely agree. Motivation is an emotion. There are times when motivation is high and times when it is low. Motivation is liquid. That is the case for all of us. If I only worked out when I felt like it, I would be weak and out of shape. Discipline is a far better attribute to strive for than motivation. Discipline will drive you to do something even when you don’t feel like it.

Myth Busting

There are a couple of myths surrounding exercise that I want to debunk. The first one is that exercise should be lengthy. The other is that exercise should be really, really hard. Both are bogus. A lot of people think they need to hit the gym for an hour a day 5 days a week. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s how I worked out for several years. Sometimes I’d even do 2 hours. What I found out by working out that long is that it really tasks your nervous system.

Working out at high intensity for 2 hours would leave me feeling drained the rest of the day. It took a few years before it occurred to me that might not be the best method. I was kind of a slow learner. On the other hand, if you feel obligated to workout for 1-2 hours, you may find yourself holding back to keep from feeling exhausted the rest of the day.   

What ends up happening is people are really motivated and will go hard for a few weeks, maybe a month or so, then life gets in the way and they stop altogether. The mindset is since I can’t do my hour-long workout, I can’t workout at all. I think people would have a lot more success if they had a far lower time commitment. These days I exercise for 30-45 minutes usually, maybe an hour tops.

A more realistic goal

If you’ve had trouble sticking to a workout before, try committing to less time. go for 30 minutes 3 times per week. More attainable, right? But what about the super busy people who just can’t find 90 minutes per week but know they need to exercise? I got you. Go for 5 minutes a day. Yep, just 5 minutes. What’s the point in that? I think one of the biggest reasons people stop exercising is because they can’t commit to the time, get overwhelmed, and just stop altogether. 5 minutes per day is sustainable enough for anyone in the world to do it. Even If you’re a busy CEO, a single parent working 3 jobs, or running the country you have 5 minutes per day. The average US adult spends about 40 minutes per day on Facebook. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it makes my point.

What can five minutes per day do?

But what can you accomplish in 5 minutes per day? Stop brushing your teeth and you’ll see just how big a difference 5 minutes a day can make to your health. But is that a fair analogy? After all, it’s not like you can burn that many calories in 5 minutes. True. But if you’re trying to lose weight, that happens in the kitchen, not the gym. But that’s a conversation for another time. There is a plethora of benefits from exercising. A few my favorite are strength, stamina, musculature, endorphin rush, blood flow, lowering blood pressure, lymphatic movement, stress reducing, lubricating joints, bone strengthening, stronger immune system, mental clarity. The list goes on. So, the question is, is it worth it to exercise for 5 minutes? If the alternative is not exercising at all, Of course, it is.

What this looks like

 Say you get up every morning and brew a pot of coffee. While you’re waiting for it to brew, you do sets of bodyweight squats in the kitchen. For the duration of those 5 minutes, the squats are making your heart stronger, building your legs, circulating blood all throughout your body, improving blood flow and blood pressure, helping your joints and plenty of other benefits. You instantly feel awake and alive. You also feel a wicked pump in your legs.

You carry on the rest of your day feeling great because you got your workout in. After a week, you notice the squats seem easier. Now you can do more. You’re getting stronger every day, feeling great every day. A few more weeks go by and they still seem easy, so you start doing them a little slower to keep it challenging. After 90 days you will look and feel better as opposed to if you hadn’t exercised because you thought you didn’t have the time.

Start your day with an accomplishment

A common morning habit that successful people often talk about is they make their bed. The reason for this is they accomplish something first thing in the morning. It’s a great feeling and it motivates them throughout the rest of the day. I love the idea, but I tend to want something a little more practical. If I’m going to accomplish something first thing in the morning it needs to have more benefit than my bed looking nice.

If you still struggle with the discipline to exercise for 5 minutes a day, you just have to decide its part of your daily habit, again, like brushing your teeth. You don’t have a conversation with yourself about whether or not you have the time or motivation to brush your teeth. You just do it.  You don’t try to schedule in taking showers during your busy week. It’s not something you have to even think about. It’s no different with exercise.

Anyone can exercise

But what if you can’t do bodyweight squats? What if you have a hard time moving? The answer is exercise however you can. There’s a fantastic form of exercise I’ll be writing more about in the future called qigong. It’s an eastern form of exercise comprised of slow gentle movements but has been reported to have incredible benefits, particularly for mobility, stress, and even healing disease.

It’s similar to yoga and has been used in eastern healing modalities for centuries. The benefits have even been reported by patients who were bedridden but just imagined themselves doing the movements. That’s incredible. If you have a beating heart, you have the ability to exercise in some form or fashion. The point isn’t only exercising if you can train like a competitive athlete. The point is to move your body because we were made to move. We function at our best physically, mentally, and emotionally when we’re in motion. A sedentary lifestyle is a quick path to disease and depression.

Exercise should make you feel better, not worse

Exercise should leave you feeling energized and accomplished. If you finish exercise feeling defeated and drained, you’re going too hard in my opinion. Unless you’re a professional athlete, don’t train like one.  Whatever your abilities are, exercise to what suits you best. In my 20’s it was all about hitting the weights 2 hours a day, 4 -5 days a week. Now adays I lift for 30-45 minutes 4 times a week, but also incorporate stretching, walking, breathwork, and a bit of yoga 7 days per week. I do more lower intensity than higher intensity. For me, this is how I feel most balanced. Your mileage may vary.

Take action

My challenge to you is if you have been putting off exercise due to time, start. Do 5 minutes per day. Decide to make it a daily habit and don’t overthink it. If you decide to do more that’s great. If not, that’s fine too. Make it as normal as brushing your teeth. Let me know how it goes.

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