Take a break and try one of these 10-minute workouts at home. No equipment needed! A growing body of research suggests that sneaking in one or several 10-minute bouts of exercise builds strength, mobility, and impressive health benefits.
That’s good to know, especially in poor weather or stressful times when—face it—low or no motivation encourage us to move less and just get cozy with some banana bread.
Most guidelines—such as those of the American Heart Association—call for at least 30 minutes of exercise. So, if you don’t find the time one day, do you just forget about it? Or, do you exercise in shorter bursts?
“Combining brief bouts of moderate to vigorous exercise over the course of the day can add up to good health,” according to recent studies.
Life is busy. And if your goal is not becoming an athlete but stay strong, stable, mobile, and flexible, 10-minute activities are proven to be extremely helpful.
After all, what does a body need to be able to do? A bicep curl? We need to be able to pull weeds, reach up to cabinets, lift luggage, carry groceries, play with kids, and live life without hurting our back, neck, shoulder, or knees!
So, what constitutes a 10-minute workout? Simple: keep that body in motion for 10 minutes.
Listed below are two types of workouts: pure cardio and strength/mobility. I tend to alternate between these workouts but you can mix it up any way you wish.
10-Minute Cardio Workouts
For cardio, most exercise specialists say intensity—getting your heart rate up to the point of discomfort, and keeping it up for several minutes—works best for maintaining or increasing overall fitness. Warm up slowly for a couple of minutes before you pump up the intensity; slow down for a couple of minutes toward the end.
NOTE: If you’re pregnant, sedentary, severely overweight, suffering from a chronic disease or injury, talk to your doctor before beginning any high-intensity exercise, even short bouts of it.
1. Jump rope for Joy!
Jumping rope for 10 minutes will give you a rip-roarin’ workout. It burns more calories than running. It boosts your mood. It improves your balance and your body’s natural rhythm. You can jump indoors or out. You can pack your rope and jump on vacation. You don’t need fancy clothes. You don’t even need a rope. Twirling your wrists as if you had one works about as well.
Start by marching or running in place for a minute or two, then begin jumping slowly. Beginners can try alternating 30 jumps with 30 steps of marching in place. (Even after years of hard-core triathlon training, it took me two months to work up to a few minutes of glitch-free jumping.) Learn the basics and a few intermediate tricks.
2. Around-the-Block Trot
Having trouble concentrating at work (even at home)? Pull out that pair of shoes you keep under your desk and substitute a snack break for a brisk 10-minute walk or trot around the block. Or, perhaps it’s around the perimeter of a parking lot, driveway, or grounds. During the winter months, parking lots and driveways are nearly always plowed and sanded or salted for safety.
Physical exercise helps break the abstraction of “knowledge work” and the fatigue of repetitive-motion physical work. I’ll testify that it works wonders for breaking writer’s block.
3. The Why Wait Walk
Most of us spend a lot of time waiting: for a child to have his teeth cleaned or finish her swimming lesson, for the doctor after you’re told she’s running 30 minutes late, for a car repair, for the casserole to bake.
Put a pair of comfortable shoes in your car to have at the ready, check your watch, and head out. Don’t just sit around on your phone!
4. Step It Up
Stuck indoors at home with a small child? Dinner in the oven? Turn on some tunes and work those stairs! Yes, just go up and down a flight of stairs. Warm up with a slow half-dozen flights up and down. Then charge up, walk down, charge up again, walk down, and repeat.
Note: This workout requires stairways, strong knees, good balance, and good concentration, especially going down, to avoid falls. Add more work to this effort by swinging light hand weights as you go up.
If you work in an office building with several floors and well-lit stairwells, or have an appointment in one, walk up and down the stairs for a few minutes. Hold the handrail going down in case you feel dizzy.
5. Woodbox Workout
Remember the old saw about necessity, the mother of invention? In our wood-burning household, we have to cart firewood from the woodshed into the house every day to stay warm. When it’s my turn to load the living-room woodbox, I begin with few shoulder raises with a couple of heavy chunks, perform half-squats with a heavy armload, push the big-wheeled wood carrier around the driveway four or five times before I bring the wood indoors.
You get the idea here, stretch almost any necessary job into an energetic 10-minute workout.
6. Airport Aerobics
You have a flight ahead, during which you’ll probably sit most of the time. Your flight doesn’t leave for an hour or two or more. Although large airports offer plenty of opportunities to eat, drink, shop, and sit, why not walk the concourse?
Many large airports offer special walking paths or fitness spaces. I’ve never used one of these, but I’ve logged as many as three miles of brisk walking throughout the concourses before boarding a flight.
What do you do with your carry-on luggage? Well, you could roll it or carry it, rent a locker and stash it, or do what I do, carry it all in a backpack and hike along with it.
7. After-Dark Snow Shuffle
This one’s for those of us with four or five months of snow! I discovered this one many years ago while homebound with a sick child during a three-day blizzard. I bundled up and pulled on my insulated boots after dinner, turned on the outside light, and began tramping around the unplowed circular driveway.
The deep snow and my clunky boots cushioned the impact and offered muscle-building resistance. The heavy snow muffled noise from the street and falling snow transformed the night. I’ve continued this magical practice every year during big snowstorms, running, walking, skipping, jumping, or shuffling, often for much longer than 10 minutes.
If you live in a cold, snowy place, see my article on winter fitness, “Winter Exercise: No Excuses.”
10-Minute Strength and Mobility Workouts
You can easily use your own body weight to increase strength. But also, if you have light weights, add them as you get comfortable. If you have a small space and the weather is poor, just work out in place while you watch the TV! You can use your chair as support if needed.
I tend to do each of these exercises for one minute, followed by the next. However, you can certainly mix it up. For example, do two minutes of steps 6 to 10.
- Lift your knees high, alternating each knee. Tap your knee with your hand as it come up.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step your right foot forward, crossing it in front of your body and tapping the floor. Return to starting position, and step your left foot forward, crossing it in front of your body and tapping the floor.
- For one minute: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bending your knees and step one foot to the side, tap the floor, and bring it back. Then do your other foot.
- For one minute: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step back with one foot. At the same time, raise your arms to clap your hands together in front of your chest. Return to starting position, and repeat with your other foot.
- For one minute: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step your right foot back, crossing it behind your body and tapping the floor. Return to starting position, and step your left foot back, crossing it behind your body and tapping the floor.
- Lunges: Now that your body is moving, do one minute of lunges. Stand in a split stance with the right foot roughly 2 to 3 feet in front of the left foot. You may need to hold onto a chair when you start. Keep your torso and back straight with your core engaged. Bend the knees and lower your body until the back knee is a few inches from the floor. At the bottom of the movement, the front thigh is parallel to the ground, the back knee points toward the floor, and your weight is evenly distributed between both legs. Push back up to the starting position, keeping your weight on the heel of the front foot. If this is too difficult, start from a seated position. Aim for 10 to 20 reps per minute.
- Squats: End with one minute of “Squats” which is great for the hips and pelvic floor. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bending your knees in alignment with your toes and lower yourself as far as you comfortably can, holding for one second, keeping your head up and arms in front of your chest. Repeat. Aim for 10 to 20 reps per minute. If this is too difficult, start from a seated position. Make it harder but getting into a deeper squat.
- Crawls: This one requires that you get on the floor, but it’s the bes way to carefully move your spine to keep it mobile. Great for people who sit all day! Get in a crawling position on your hands and knees. Then reach out with your right arm and left leg. Bring both in to touch your elbow o your knee. Then repeat with your left arm and right leg. Do 6 to 10 reps per minute
- Glutes: Now lie on your back. Put your feet flat on the floor, bending your knees. Then press your hips up, contracting your butt. Do not arch your back! Do 10 to 15 reps per minute.
- Stay lying down. Relax your body. Put your arms straight out to each side and then bring both above your head as if to clap (keeping arms straight), then back again. Do this 5 times. Then put your arms straight out again, but bend the elbows up at right angles. Then bring arms above the body again but touch your fingers together as if you’re about to dive into a pool and then back again. Do this 5 times. Finally, raise both arms above your head as if you’re holding a beach ball; then lower that invisible ball to your thighs. Raise back up. Do this five times. These exercises will help you stretch out and increase your shoulder mobility.
End on your back (with knees bent if it’s more comfortable) and just breathe in and out deeply for 30 seconds. Take your time. By the way, many people of all ages don’t know how to go from lying down to standing up properly to avoid back issues. Just get onto your hands and knees, then put your stronger knee up and press off that knee with your hands to get up, keeping your core engaged. Do the reverse when you go down to the floor. This way you keep your midline stable.
Remember: A little exercise is better than none! Don’t miss exercise due to lack of time for a longer workout.
Do you sit at a computer or desk all day? This article is for you. “Sitting Too Much? Get up and Move!”
That’s not to say you can’t do more
Of course, brief workouts help beginning exercisers ease into a more active life. Begin with one 10-minute block and you could gradually stretch any of these to 12, 15, or 20 minutes if the situation permits.
Veteran exercisers and athletes can use a 10- or 15-minute workout as a motivational tool on those days when they lose their oomph and can’t work up the get up and go. When that happens to you, negotiate with your lower angels. Say, “Okay, we don’t have to bike for an hour. We’ll only go for 10 minutes.” I’ve found this trick effective. After a few minutes, I almost always find myself willing to stretch it to 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or even longer.
A final note: Poke around in the activities of your ordinary days for opportunities like these to boost your activity level.
See why getting outside is so good for the body and mind.