Fitness Hacks For When You’re Too Busy To Work Out

No time to work out? Try these fitness hacks you can do in four minutes or less!

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Truth: My pre-pregnancy workout style was lax at best. For a long time, I hated to exercise because I thought working out meant going to the gym. I was intimidated by the swole bros who hogged the weight machines, so I just didn’t go. Instead, I exercised at home in the comfort of my living room, which is conveniently located next to the kitchen for water and snack breaks (hey, gotta keep that energy up). Unsurprisingly, my at-home workouts didn’t do much good, probably due to my snack break to workout ratio. Then I discovered running, a workout that does not require any equipment or gym time. I love to run, and I loved going for long walks during my pregnancy, but post-pregnancy?

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Most days, my workout consists of carrying my 10-pound little nugget from the living room to the changing table a dozen times a day. I’m not all that concerned with losing baby weight, but I noticed recently that I feel sort of gross all over. Running has always given me an energy boost, and I miss those post-workout endorphins. “It can be challenging to stay positive about your ability to include exercise in your day when you’re thinking about all the other things that have to get done,” says nutritionist Melissa Halas-Liang, “but it all adds up!”

Instead of beating yourself up for skipping the gym (again), Halas-Liang suggests busy moms “try reframing your concept of how to incorporate physical activity into your schedule. Don’t have time for an hour-long workout at the gym or a 45-minute spin class that you have to commute to get to? Then do two or three short 10-minute workouts at home while watching TV or in-between chores. …By the end of the day, you’ll have done 20 or 30 minutes without having to rearrange your entire schedule.” I know I’m not the only mama who wishes she could squeeze in some exercise, so I spoke to a few fitness experts who shared their hacks on scoring an equipment-free workout on your schedule even if you only have a minute to spare during naptime.

1. Stretch it out.

Stretching isn’t just a pre-workout ritual. Done correctly, stretching can be a workout all its own.

Pilates instructor Lesley Logan tells HealthyWay, “[The double leg stretch] is the exercise I give to every client.” To do the double leg stretch: Lying on your back, pull your knees into your chest and your head and chest toward your knees. Be sure your low ribs are on the mat. Place one hand on each shin/ankle and hug your heels tight together. Your knees will be about shoulder distance apart (not wider). Reach your arms straight back overhead and your legs straight out on a diagonal. Hold for a moment in this position—your legs are hugging together, arms reaching back, and your stomach pulling into the floor (double check your chest didn’t drop as your arms reach back). Then circle your arms wide as you bend your knees into your chest. Grab your ankles and pull your legs into your chest two times. Repeat this motion 10 times.

Logan says the double leg stretch is great because it works the entire core, strengthening your back, arm, and leg muscles in under a minute. Yoga instructor Claudia Matles also agrees that stretching can be a workout. She recommends starting the day with a few Sun Salutations to challenge your entire body. “Sun salutations help lengthen and strengthen, and they burn calories to aid weight loss. Sun [Salutations] can improve cardiovascular conditioning, prevent fatigue, promote a calm nervous system, relaxation, and provide a range of other mental and physical benefits. They help tone, strengthen, and add flexibility to the entire body and can be performed in about the same time you would take a run—or even less! ”

Matles continues, “As a warmup, this primes the muscles to become more flexible, preparing the body for deeper poses. But Sun Salutations on their own are an effective cardiovascular workout.” To do sun salutations:

  • Start in Mountain Pose with hands in prayer at the heart. Inhale and sweep your arms up overhead to prayer and gaze at your hands.
  • Exhale into a Forward Fold by circling your arms down with hands to the floor next to your feet.
  • Inhale as you move into a Half Forward Fold, looking up with your hands still on the mat by your feet.
  • Exhale as you move into Plank Pose, similar to a push-up position. Your hands and toes should be on the mat, hips and shoulders aligned at the same height.
  • As you exhale, lower into a push-up and in the same motion, inhale as you move to Upward-Facing Dog by pressing your hands into the mat and lifting your chest while keeping your hips pressed into the mat.
  • Exhale into Downward-Facing Dog, pushing up with your hands to let your body become an upside down V shape. Hold this posture for five breaths.
  • During the last exhale, move your right foot between your hands to move into the High Lunge/Warrior Pose and again, hold the posture for five breaths.
  • Finally, step your left foot forward, inhale, and circle your arms to come back to Mountain Pose.

2. Get fit with HIIT.

Who has time for a lengthy sweat session at the gym? People who don’t have kids, that’s who. If you’re missing your gym time, then high intensity interval training (HIIT) might be for you.

Personal trainer Marcey Rader explains, “HIIT or high-intensity interval training of 20 seconds hard or fast and 10 seconds off for four minutes, gives a great heart rate boost and has been proven time and time again to maximize calorie burn and energy expenditure.” Fitness guru Jen Jewell recommends this 20-minute workout.

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It can be done just about anywhere, without equipment. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds back to back without rest. After one round, rest for one minute and repeat until you’ve hit your 20-minute goal.

Bonus: We’ve got our own series of HIIT workout videos right here!

3. Short on time? Try Tabata.

If you’d rather spend your baby’s naptime napping yourself instead of working out, consider Tabata, a super-charged form of HIIT that only lasts four minutes per round!

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Personal trainer Eloise Le Santo explains: “The idea is you give it your all for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds and repeat it eight times, which brings you up to a total of four minutes. You can complete as many rounds as you like. Four minutes may not sound like much, but I promise you it will leave you sweating!” Le Santo recommends this equipment-free Tabata workout:

  • Step Ups (onto a chair or similar sturdy piece of furniture)
  • Squat Jumps
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Jumping Jacks

Trainer Joe Pepe says, “With the right move, [Tabata] can burn up to 56 calories in those four minutes!”

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While four minutes is plenty, Le Santo recommends doing her Tabata routine for four rounds in 20 minutes for optimal results. “Complete one four minute round of each [exercise], working as hard as you can for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds until the four minutes is over. Take a one minute break in between exercises, then move on to the next move.”

3. Make a workout that works wherever you are.

Even on days when you don’t have time to make yourself lunch, much less schedule a 20-minute sweat session, you can still get your workout in by modifying your daily tasks. “I think it’s important to make every second count, since I know time is often limited with our crazy schedules,” fitness instructor Shana Schneider says. Any room in the house can turn into a gym; you just have to be creative. “There’s at least one room you know you’ll be in every day, and that’s the kitchen,” says Schneider.

She recommends a setting the stove or microwave timer for 10 minutes, then using your kitchen appliances as gym stations to complete the following circuit. Do each exercise for one minute and complete the circuit twice if you’re extra motivated:

  • March in place to warm up
  • Calf raises at the microwave
  • Push-ups using the kitchen counter
  • Side leg lifts at the sink
  • Squats at the oven

“You can also just do each exercise on its own while you’re at that particular appliance or station in your kitchen,” Schneider says.

Another good place to sneak a workout in is the laundry room, Schneider tells HealthyWay. The next time you’re folding laundry, Schneider recommends these fitness tips:

  • Do a set of squats as you move the clothes from the washing machine to the dryer.
  • Use the laundry detergent bottle as a hand weight to do a set of bicep curls.
  • March in place and pull in those abs while you fold clothes.

You’ll keep the largest muscle group in your body working (legs) and start to build stomach muscles (pulling your abs in is like doing sit-ups without having to get on the floor).

4. Get the kids involved.

Even though I like my workout to be my “me” time, that rarely happens. More often than not, if I’m trying to get my 20-minute HIIT in, I’ll be interrupted by my well-meaning babysitter (i.e., husband) every 30 seconds because “the baby likes Mommy better than Daddy right now.”

It’s time! #backtoshape #letsdoit #workoutwithbaby ‘‍♀

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When you just can’t get a minute to yourself, get the kids involved instead. I’m not fitness expert, but one of my favorite ways to burn a few extra calories is to wear my son in his carrier on a long walk. He adds an extra 10 pounds of weight and helps me work on my posture at the same time. Kid’s yoga instructor Amira Freidson says, “My best advice for busy moms is to remember that you can exercise without working out. Playing with your kids is an excellent way to bring your heart rate up, keep your body active, and get the whole family moving together!”

Katie Martin
Katie Raye Martin is a freelance writer, navy wife, new mom, and chocoholic. In addition to HealthyWay, she has contributed to NextGenMilSpouse, a blog for the millennial military spouse, and Pregnant Chicken, a pregnancy blog. Since welcoming her first son a few months ago, Katie has become a pregnancy expert and cloth diapering connoisseur. When she’s not writing (or changing diapers) Katie is training for her first half-marathon.